by Shane Hnetka
Have you ever re-watched a movie you first saw 20 years ago and marveled at how well it holds up? I revisited Terry Gilliam’s Brazil at Cineplex’s recent Great Digital Film Festival, and I was shocked at how much it still resonates.
For those unfamiliar with Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, Brazil is a dystopian black comedy that stars Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, an ambitionless, low-ranking bureaucrat living in a dystopian, Orwellian society. At night he dreams of being a flying hero pursuing a beautiful, smiling woman.
While investigating the case of an innocent man who was tortured to death by the government, Lowry discovers his dream girl actually exists — and his carefully ordered, anonymous existence begins to fall apart as he pursues her.
It’s Only A State Of Mind
If anything, Brazil might be more shocking in 2014. While the movie is a farce, some of its gags hit too close to home.
Brazil’s world is a bureaucratic nightmare. Everything needs paperwork but very few things actually work. Computers have tiny monitors with giant magnifying glasses to make the screens seem larger. Cosmetic surgery is disfiguring and fatal. Alarm clocks don’t go off and appliances drop toast into coffee.
Restaurants and shops occasionally explode.
The government says it’s terrorism, but there don’t seem to be any terrorists — unless you count rogue repairmen or child arsonists. But propaganda posters are everywhere, with messages like “Don’t Suspect A Friend, Report Him”, “Suspicion Breeds Confidence”, “Be Safe: Be Suspicious” and “Loose Talk Is Noose Talk”.
Sure, it’s straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 but it seems an awful lot like the today’s political propaganda that says government needs to spy on us and restrict our rights because there are terrorists around every corner.
And that might not be the worst of it.
Power Today, Pleasure Tomorrow
One scene at power plant/refinery/construction site hit especially close to home. Workers load a pre-fab house onto a truck which drives down a highway to the city. Though the surrounding area is hidden from the truck driver’s view behind a wall of picturesque billboards, an aerial shot reveals terrain that’s been stripped and scorched by the search for precious fuel and resources.
One billboard has the slogan “Power Today, Pleasure Tomorrow.”
It was sure interesting driving home past Regina’s urban refinery after seeing that.
Brazil may have been, according to Jack Mathews’ book The Battle of Brazil, “satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving Gilliam crazy all his life”, but it’s much more. Brazil mirrors everything wrong with the world today. It’s more than just a cult film; it’s an overlooked masterpiece that needs to be seen by more than the 10 people in the theatre the night I saw it.
Remember: “We’re all in this together.”
Shane Hnetka is a Regina film and comic book nerd. Read his weekly “Sunday Matinee” column at prairiedogmag.com.