by Terry Gilliam
Played by: Erik J. Lundquist
|Game I Core Wave: "The primary distinction between inside and outside."|
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This movie asked me to ask myself many very fundamental questions. What is reality? Are we "All in it together?" Is this a good thing? Are we just cogs in a machine? Who can you trust? Who is the enemy? Could it be myself? How closely are we connected with our friends, our lovers, ourselves? This amazing movie will ask you some of these same questions and probably many more. It may even provide some answers.
The movie Brazil is, in my mind, Terry Gilliams' most brilliant work. That's saying quite a lot with credits like his; including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, Fischer King and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It didn't hurt to have a little help from co-scriptwriters Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and Charles McKeown. Terry is more than at home in this jungle of ductwork and paperwork.
It's 8:49, somewhere in the 20th century, and Sam Lowry is dreaming. Soaring through the clouds on wings of white, until he is awakened by a bird of another sort. It's the sick duck sound of his telephone. His boss, Mr. Kurtzmann, is on the other end. Immediately, we are introduced to what I feel is one of the film's main questions, "What is reality?" Throughout the entire movie we go back and forth from "dream" to "reality" until, by the end, we have virtually no idea which is which . . . and do we ever? . . . really?
Sam works for the government. This particular government is particularly monstrous. It is in complete control of everything from heating and air conditioning (Central Services) to the Central Bank and Information, Information, Information. The way that this government handles it's extreme overabundance of information shows us another of Brazil's main themes. People crawling around like ants, carts full of paperwork, act very much like the wires and circuits in your computer. These people are, quite literally (and sadly I think), nothing more than cogs in a great machine, a hideous monster of a machine.
And what am I? What are you? Are we just cogs in a machine? I'm reminded of a quote that I used to bandy about in my politically active college years. "Silence is the voice of complicity." If we are not actively fighting the evils of this world, then are we not a part of them? Are we truly individuals or are we just parts of a whole?
One thing that I find extremely beautiful in this film's depiction the societal monster is its very organic and animal qualities. The ducts reveal this point best. Ducts are everywhere, and when Harry Tuttle commits a little "freelance subversion" in repairing Sam's cooling system, the ducts in the walls are heaving and groaning and gurgling just like an animal's innards. The computers are rigged with extended magnifying screens that look very much like big buggy eyes. All the electronic machinery, from the sick duck telephone to the toaster, beep and whistle and click like they,ve got their own language. There isn't a scene in this movie that doesn't include imagery that reminds me that we are in a beast, a strangely beautiful beast. After Tuttle's covert delve into its belly, he shows us where our hope lies, "Hey kid, we're all in it together."
Even this bit of hope has been co-opted by the government and used as a propoganda billboard. Considering the plethora of these types of propoganda signs it's no wonder that Gilliam considered calling his screenplay 1984 1/2.
The following are a few more examples. "The Truth Shall Make You Free" "Information Is The Key To Prosperity". "Help The Ministry Of Information Help You" "Be Safe: Be Suspicious" "Power today. Pleasure tomorrow." "Loose Talk Is Noose Talk" "Suspicion Breeds Confidence" "Trust in haste, Regret at leisure" "Don't suspect a friend, report him" "Who can you trust?"
The main plot of the film is "boy sees girl, falls in love, and tracks her down." Our hero, Sam, is the boy and Jill is the girl. In Sam's recurring dream, he is the winged hero, about to save the veiled princess, Jill, who keeps calling his name . . . Sam . . . Sam . . . Sam. But there are obstacles. In one dream, Sam is about to reach Jill when these huge skyscraper-like objects burst through the ground and soar into the sky, blocking Sam's path.
The obstacles in his dream are (in his waking life) his lack of security clearances and "There's one way around it. I could always accept promotion to Information Retreival." You see, Sam works in Records, a lowly job, where he is just a small part of the system which he seems to despise. He likes it this way. But his need to try and find the girl of his dreams drives him to accept his promotion.
Back in his dream, Sam successfully navigates through the maze of towering monoliths (thanks to his security clearance) only to find another, more menacing obstacle. A giant armored monster. And Sam's battle with his demon begins.
The giant monster is, on the surface, a metaphor for the monstrous government, but the monster is wearing a mask. After numerous battles, Sam is successful in killing el monstro. He removes the mask to find a very familiar face! (Whose face I won't say, but it is Sam's not so pleasant answer to one of our main questions.)
Another question: How much government intrusion are we willing to accept in the name of security? Namely, security from terrorism. And if this intrusion is incremental, will we even notice it? A frog thrown in a pot of boiling water will jump out, but a frog put in cool water that is slowly brought to boiling will soon be frog soup. I think that we should be ever leery of giving our government more power. There is only so much to go around, and the more the government has, the less the individual has.
After Sam's promotion to Information Retrieval, he gets right to work on his search for Jill. He doesn't have his own computer, but Harvey Lime (played by co-scriptwriter McKeown) in the next office does. Sam hits a roadblock that requires an even higher security clearance. Obsessed with his search, Sam heads up to one of the big bosses' offices to try and get more information.
It just so happens that the office is that of his friend Jack Lint, who is happy to see that Sam is finally starting to make something of himself. Sam's not so happy, though, to learn that Jack is an interrogator. An interrogator covered in blood. Sam does get the information he's looking for in the form of Jill's file, but learns that she is suspected of terrorism.
Through a series of unlikely events that made me start to question where reality stopped and dream began, Sam and Jill end up together travelling in a large transport truck that Jill is driving en route to making a pick-up. Jill doesn't trust Sam because he works for the government, and Sam doesn't trust Jill because she may be a terrorist. At one point Jill asks Sam, "Doesn't it bother you the sort of things you do at Information Retrieval?" "I suppose you'd rather have terrorists."
"Who can you trust?" And who is the enemy? Jack or Jill? Or is it ourselves? How are we connected with our society, our employers, our friends, our lovers, ourselves? Do we exist on the most fundamental level inside ourselves or outside ourselves? I feel that this is where striving for balance can play its most important role. For us, as individuals and members of many different groups, the attempt to realize perfect balance between the individual and society is probably the greatest contribution that we can make to our species. Are we truly individuals or are we parts of a whole? The answer is different for everyone, but to acheive perfect balance between the two should be among our highest goals.
-- Erik J. Lundquist
I find the movie's simplistic beauty most eloquently during the first "reality" sequence. We observe a technician tucked away in some closed room, deep in the "inside" when an invader from the "outside" disturbs his peace and simplistic perfection.
It is a bug crawling across the ceiling. The technician is greatly disturbed by this intrusion and after some awkward maneuvering, kills the insect. But it falls from the ceiling into the precise mechanism of the computer causing a short and a mistake. The proverbial "bug in the system."
Now with the confusion over Buttle and Tuttle, the empire of information that has striven so hard to epitomize perfection is suddenly fallable. An outside intrusion into the inside causes chaos and a carefully orchestrated system to fail. A clear pictorial description that whenever we seek to create the difference between outside and the inside, we lose one in order to create the other. But the other is never lost, and will eventually make its presence know.
See Tales of Power by Carlos Casteneda, and in particular, the discussion on the nagual and the tonal. -- Richard
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