Welcome one and all as this month’s film discussion centers around writer/director Terry Gilliam and his futuristic trio spread out over thirty years. I am much obliged to share today’s event with Australian movie buff, Jordan at Epilepticmoondancer, who shared his admiration for Brazil(1985),12 Monkeys(1995), and Zero Theorem(2013) with me; the more we emailed about this set, we discovered there was a lot to discuss. Fantasy Drama? Thriller/Tech noir? Dystopian Dark Comedy? Science Fiction? However you decide to classify them, the eccentric mind of Gilliam is a fun ride. Let’s go!
Though a brilliant satire, darkly hilarious and filmed by the inimitable Terry Gilliam, giving the film some crazy angles and busy sets, at its core, Brazil is a love story. Poor government worker Sam Lowry is lonely, and dreams about Jill from the beginning of the movie, while the film is essentially poking fun at the government by making it impossible for Lowry to track down information on this person, burying him under paperwork and government malarkey.
12 Monkeys also has dreams that link the film together, but here they are much more thought out, as the dreams slightly change each time we see them. They impact the story in very different ways. Again the film focuses on a lonely protagonist, Cole, played by Bruce Willis. This film is set in a dystopian future, and to begin with it seems that love is impossible for Cole, living underground, a prisoner. But through his travels through time, and his stressed relationship with what was his psychiatrist, he finally finds someone he can bond with, someone he loves. Importantly, this love doesn’t feel forced; it is so psychologically draining it would be odd for the two to not form some sort of connection. Additionally, like Lowry, Cole doesn’t possess much in the way of showing initiative – both seem rather naive to their respective words. Both films satarise society in one way or another too, and this, added to his incredibly unique style, is what somewhat successfully links the three films.
In my opinion, the Zero Theorem deviated from the formula- the dreams, the love story. Qoen is also a lonely protagonist, another common motif of these trilogies, and he, like Sam and Cole, is naive to the world he lives in. The Zero Theorem also pokes fun at modern society, too. What differs isn’t the lack of dream sequences (though they really were done perfectly in 12 Monkeys) but the fact that this lonely man doesn’t find love is what stilts the film. And I’m not a sentimental guy, I usually hate romance, but the love was what made those first two so special. That love isn’t present in Zero, rendering the story a little jarring and confusing.
I’m a fan of contrasts, and Terry Gilliam delivers oxymorons in abundance to my delight. Through Gilliam’s imagination, the ludicrousness of governmental control is the vessel for all three films: inefficient bureaucrats, Homeland Security(?), preservation of the aesthetically insipid, and worshipping technological advancements, made by humans, cripple them.
For all the invasive warnings in Brazil; the topsy-turvy future where animals rule and humans are caged in 12 Monkeys; and the complete loss of the cognizant individual to the simulated state of being in Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam has been warning us for decades about the devolution of man. With this heavy message, he delivers his ultimate contrast: give the bad news with a healthy dose of laughs. His perverted sense of humor has had me in stitches since I was a teen. His garish sets in Brazil and Zero Theorem, the vaudevillian sound effects punctuating conversations, the askew camera angles and frenetic conversations such as Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys (his best performance) or Robert DeNiro and Bob Hoskins in Brazil, or Tilda Swinton as Dr. Think-Rom in Zero Theorem come immediately to mind. You are scared because you’re in a bad-acid nightmare at the carnival and laughing with the clowns glaring in your face. Brilliant.
Need more contrasts? How about the artistic images that have you morbidly curious? The baby face, the flying man in glitter, that red techno-suit, the youth-obsessed, cheek-pull of Mom, and the zoo animals running amuck the city? The infinity sets and industrialization displayed like evil traps of the mind and body? Oh, I love that wicked mind of yours, Terry Gilliam. Thanks for the laughs.
Which dark message resonates with you? Which lonely character at odds with his world do you like best?