A squashed fly on a printed page next to the name "BUTTLE."

Late to the Party: Brazil

I’ve been a Monty Python fan since I was twelve, but I have to admit that Terry Gilliam’s cartoons always seemed like the most disposable part to me. I appreciated his weird vision in theory, but in practice it didn’t often do for me what the sketches did.

As such, I haven’t gone out of my way to check out his later film career. I think Time Bandits and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus are the only other two of his movies I’ve seen all the way through, and while I liked them both (God explaining the problem of evil with a vague “I think it’s something to do with free will” would make a shortlist of my favorite jokes ever), they didn’t spur me on to seek out his other stuff.

Brazil is the only one I’ve been Meaning to Watch Forever. It’s supposed to be a classic, and the basic gist — bureaucratic totalitarian dystopia, Michael Palin torturing people in a baby mask — certainly sounded promising. But frankly, I was anticipating a sightly frustrating final product with a meandering script and a surplus of trippy, self-indulgent setpieces.

Well, shut my mouth. The movie is much tighter than I expected it to be. It is longer than necessary, and the chase scenes and so forth do start to pile up once Sam and Jill meet, but those are problems a lot of good movies have. More to the point is that the crazy visuals and worldbuilding details I was expecting are all there, but they don’t get in the way of the story. The most Gilliam-y thing of that type is Sam’s running fantasy of fighting monsters to save his damsel in distress, and I didn’t mind that at all (possibly just because Jonathan Pryce looks really good with that hair and Bowie-esque face paint).

Pryce is great. Everybody is great. I love the mix of different decades’ aesthetics. The script is full of quick absurdist or observational jokes that could belong to any comedy, and the overall plot is, like Dr. Strangelove or The Death of Stalin, a familiar farce that just happens to take place against a backdrop of terrifying inhumanity. The regime in question isn’t especially competent, being staffed largely by office drones who are as bewildered as everyone else by the bureaucracy they serve and just want to get through the day. But you don’t need competence when you have body armor and machine guns. Whatever their particular ideology is, or started out as, is left to the imagination; once they’re stuffing people in sacks and dragging them away for questioning, the “why” is kind of beside the point.

Stray observations:

  • I watched this on Tubi with ad breaks. I normally mute commercials and look at something else until they’re over, but in this context they seemed unusually interesting. Especially the Amazon and pharmaceutical ads.
  • Speaking of which, ads make some of the best background jokes in the movie, including a billboard for toilet paper whose slogan appears to be “Mountain Smooth.”
  • On the other hand, one of my notes just says “What the fuck is that one joke doing in there?” — that one joke being a very young toddler telling Sam to go ahead and change in front of her: “Put it on, big boy, I won’t look at your willy.” Nope. No thank you.
  • This takes place at Christmas! Why don’t I see everybody nominating this as their favorite Christmas movie to be edgy?
  • And finally, RIP Ian Holm. Nobody else would have played this part like this and it’s perfect.