Quick Film Review – Before Its Time: Brazil

brazil_stretchBrazil is a film that is as famous for its storied history as it is for its subject matter and story. Released in 1985, Brazil is the second in an informal trilogy from Terry Gilliam, bookended by Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. You may think that its Orwellian subject matter is derivative, especially considering that it was originally going to be titled 1984 ½. You would be right.

What makes it a movie ahead of its time isn’t its primary subject matter. If that were the case, nothing would be ahead of its time because everything is derivative of something. It is the nuances, the stunning visuals and the way the story is told that makes Brazil not just timeless, but somewhat prophetic.

Brazil is the story of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a middle-management government functionary living a humdrum life in the ultimate police state. When a man named Buttle is mistakenly kidnapped, tortured and killed by an anti-terrorist force because he is mistaken for a renegade repairman named Tuttle, it is Sam’s job to deliver a check to the man’s widow. That sets off a chain of events that leads to the highest level of government. All of this seems pretty standard, so what is it that makes this film ahead of its time?

1. Sam’s mother is obsessed with plastic surgery. In 1985, this mocking satire seemed a bit absurd because plastic surgery wasn’t nearly as typical then as it is today.

2. Sam frequently avoids work by switching his monitor from what he’s supposed to be doing to that which entertains him. In 1985, this seemed like science-fiction, but in 2011 we just call it Facebook.

3. The first real bad guys we see are an anti-terrorist police force that captures and tortures people they merely suspect of terrorist action. If you can’t figure out why that has more relevance today than it did then, you’re not paying attention.

4. Robert De Niro’s role is completely comedic. Mind you, he had just come off of the amazing Once Upon A Time In America and nobody could conceive of him doing comedy. It wasn’t until Analyze This and Meet the Parents, nearly twenty years later, that people realized that De Niro was as much a comedic genius as a serious actor.

There’s plenty of more reasons, but rather than explain them in the short space I have I’ll leave it up to you to watch this amazing classic and figure it out for yourself.

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