Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Great Moments from 'Brazil'

Terry Gilliam's second non-Python feature is a perfect movie for misanthropes; the people above you in life's hierarchy are a nasty, mean spirited, hateful bunch... and the people below you are pretty much the same. Best to take your truck driving girlfriend and try and escape the lot of them then; aided by your only friend, the renegade heating engineer. This is the fate of Sam Lowry; a mild mannered public service drone who dreams only of donning a pair of mechanical wings and flying away. One of my very favourite movies, 'Brazil' screened last week in 35mm at The Astor.

5 of my favourite moments.

1. Receipts

‘Here is your receipt for your husband. And this is my receipt, for your receipt.’

(iPhone users, find the clip here)

Functionaries of totalitarian governments are normally portrayed in the darkest vein possible; large, jackbooted and malevolent, they swagger around clubbing heads and locking people into underground dungeons. But history shows that extreme governments attract quite a different sort of person, in equally large numbers: bureaucrats. 'The banality of evil,' famously ascribed to Adolf Eichmann, is on full display in 'Brazil,' where the wheels of government are kept turning by an army of utterly impersonal jerks. We've all had to deal with this type when trying to make an insurance claim, query a mobile phone bill or dispute a parking ticket and it's not much of a stretch to imagine the same pedantic mentality applied to a society where abductions and torture are commonplace.

2. Kurtzman

'Well perhaps we could lose it under a filing cabinet or something? Burn it? Eat it?’

(iPhone users find the clip here)

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam’s boss, Mr Kurtzman. I've worked in some crummy offices over the years and I often felt sorry for the bosses I had in them; only marginally better paid but working much longer hours and having to endure their own managers spouting at them about ‘facilitating results’. So you feel sorry for Kurtzman (wonderfully played by Ian Holm, who still looks about sixty even in 1985) while at the same time despising him as a living incarnation of everything that has gone wrong with the world. Kurtzman will do anything - lie, swindle, forge - to keep his shabby office in middle management, a characteristic he also shares with many of the managers I've had over the years.

3. Twenty Seven B  Stroke Six

'This whole apartment could be on fire and I couldn't so much as turn on a tap without a twenty seven b-stroke-six.'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

If any one thing, moment or symbol could best encapsulate the world of 'Brazil,' it's the 27 B/6, the notoriously complex form whose very mention induces a panic attack in one of the Government repairmen sent to Sam's flat. The 27 B/6 reveals the true nature of the totalitarian Government of the movie, and of all such Government's from history; Government's who are effectively at war with the people that they're meant to represent. Forms, stamps, queues and red tape are the first line of defence in such a battle, as they misdirect, obfuscate and generally retard any efforts people make to try and force the Government to serve their will. And for anyone who navigates or avoids these obstacles, there's always the balaclava-ed militia waiting in reserve.

4.  Credit

'All you're requested to do right now is to sign this form!'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

Running throughout the film is a constant riff on credit and credit ratings; the fundamental necessity of one and the dire consequences attached to damaging the other. This reaches a comic zenith after Sam is arrested for 'freelance subversion' and taken to a holding cell. He meets not with police or Government agents, but with a series of private credit representatives, all offering different ways for him to pay for the torture he's about to endure. And he gets some very sage advice from one of his guards: 'Don't fight it son. Confess, quickly.If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating.' Useful words to remember, when our government introduces this same policy in the years ahead.

5. Escape

'He's got away from us, Jack.'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

George Orwell's '1984' is an obvious inspiration for the film and Orwell has his own protagonist, Winston Smith, reflect on his dilemma this way:

Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed. No escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your head. 

One of the horrors of Orwell's piece is the way Smith is disabused of this notion, once he realises that the Thought Police have truly infiltrated everything and everywhere. More happily, Sam Lowry still has this option available to him, once all other escape routes have been blocked. It's a measure of how well the nightmarish reality of 'Brazil' has been rendered that you're pleased to see that the lead character has gone insane. Insanity is undoubtedly preferable to the world Sam has found around him, once his eyes have been opened, something that the director of this film undoubtedly kept in mind once shooting was over and the battle over who had final cut began. But that's a story... for another time...

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