In this entry of the 101 Sci-Fi Movies we have illegal air conditioning repair, bureaucracy, vivid dreams, consumerism a keep calm and carry on attitude and mountains of paperwork.
Terry Gilliam’s films have always been odd, eccentric, and you either like them or you don’t, there’s usually no two ways about it. Personally I find them very appealing with Time Bandits and the adventures of Baron Munchausen topping my list of favorites. As a point of reference I used the Director’s Cut as my viewing choice as opposed to the original Universal theatrical cut, who insisted on a happier ending and cut 20 minutes from the film.
This time around, Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, a poor soul caught up in a go nowhere job in the Ministry of Information, before accepting a promotion to Information Retrieval. His only escape from the retro-noirish world he lives in is his vivid dreams – outfitted in armor with a set of wings, he soars like Icarus high above the world trying to rescue a damsel in distress (Kim Greist), but even his dreams are invaded by troubles as the ground erupts beneath him changing the green landscape into grey buildings, and monstrous baby-faced creatures attempt to steal the damsel while Sam faces off against a giant computer chip constructed samurai.
In the real world, a printing error results in an innocent man Buttle (Brian Miller) being interrogated and killed instead of a terrorist named Tuttle (Robert De Niro) – who also clandestinely repairs air conditioning units illegally much to Central Services’ employees’, like Spoor (Bob Hoskins), dismay.
As Lowry investigates he learns the upstairs neighbor witnessed everything and is now a loose end, he also learns that she is the physical representation of the damsel in his dreams, Jill Layton (Greist). He attempts to pursue her only to learn she’s very much her own woman, and drives a giant truck. Lowry finds himself caught up in an insane world of paperwork, facelifts, portable housing, and odd characters.
The film is loaded with familiar faces like Python alumni Michael Palin, Jim Broadbent, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson and Katherine Helmond, and every single one of them gets a chance to be wonderfully eccentric, and cause poor Sam problems.
Or they problems they find themselves in, Palin’s character begins calling his wife Barbara because his boss called her that instead of Allison, and what’s wrong with the name Barbara anyway? Palin is always a delight, and I love when he shows up in anything because he’s simply brilliant.
There’s a brilliant bit when Sam gets his new office only to realize that he’s sharing half his desk with another office on the other side of the wall. It’s just the kind of bureaucracy you would honestly expect in today’s world to cut corners and use as much space as possible.
This one isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the production design, the costumes, the whole retro-future look that seems to be Gilliam’s trademark style are all front and center in this film, so if you know what you’re getting into, you might really enjoy it. There were a number of laugh out loud moments that caused me to smirk simply because I could recognize today’s society on the screen, perhaps the story isn’t so far-fetched after all.
What’s your favorite Gilliam film and what’s your preferred cut of Brazil?