Brazil is an extraordinary film, and I'm better for seeing it. But I must admit, it took me about two weeks and a year to recover from the experience (that means less than one flashback per day). It's as if Terry Gilliam has some special knowledge of the human mind and how to disturb it.
The scene with Michael Palin in the ministry of information ‘gathering’ was probably the single most disturbing scene of any film between 1983 and 1987. In the scene, an office secretary transcribes torture sessions as if they were ordinary business meetings (like, say, at Microsoft mergers and acquisitions). In this way, Brazil utilizes the powerful juxtaposition of civility and violence both as a tool for satire and a means of unsettling the viewer. If you formed a think tank and said, "You people aren't leaving this room until you've come up with the most disturbing thing possible for a torturer to be wearing," they would emerge from the room approximately two years later and say ‘giant baby mask.’ But Terry Gilliam isn’t the only one man think tank. This baby concept was actually utilized in Tarkovsky’s Solaris where a whole segment of the film culminates in a purely verbal description of a grotesquely large baby floating in a supernatural ocean. This image, which in Solaris is entirely from your own imagination, then haunts you throughout the remainder of the film. [Stop here if you haven’t seen the film]. Most viewers go from unsettled to unraveled as Sam learns the second most disturbing possibility, that the person wearing the baby mask is your own best friend. Gilliam is both willing and, more importantly, able to cross the line.
Gilliam's uniquely weird vision á la Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, David Lynch's Dune finds roots in his own animation work for Monty Python. Gilliam uses "clip and paste" sets, mechanically naked effects to create a low-budget-esque alter-reality that is all the more convincing for it.
This visual style is a perfect match for the orchestrated clumsiness of Gilliam's society, where technology and law seem to have plowed right ahead in spite of a mutation or two early on. So we have pencil sharpener's that are uber complicated and computer screens that can do everything but show you your work. All of this not unlike Woody Allen's The Sleeper, but in a darker light.
The effectiveness of Brazil's cheap looking but hard-hitting special effects stands in stark contrast to the computer-generated movies of today, which are far more expensive and far less compelling for reasons too aggravating to discuss here.
What about The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys? Surely, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis do not come cheap. Jeff Bridges does, but that isn't the point. The Fisher King looked pretty much like a normal movie. But 12 Monkeys sure didn't. It went right back to the watch with gears showing, only this time it was a rolex.
In any case, the point that you don't need a high-budget set to make a great film is probably less useful than the simple observation that some film makers are better than others.
Note: I think the people who make the television series Red Dwarf were probably inspired by Terry Gilliam. Either that or its just a British thing, some sort of imperialistic revulsion to the more clean computer-generated style of American science fiction. And don't write in telling me he's an American either.
Real excerpts from the personal ads: …hobbies include fishing, sightseeing and reading what people have written about Terry Gilliam films.
Comprehensive Brazil Site *
Essay the Size of Brazil *
See How It Confused Roger Ebert *
And Failed To Engage Scoopy