Saturday, March 1, 2014


Terry Gilliam's The 1984 Life of Walter Mitty (okay the actual title is Brazil, but the title I made up is much more descriptive) is a slog and a half to sit through. Gilliam is a talented filmmaker with a distinct vision, but his cluttered, caricatured universes don't appeal to me. I've been meaning to revisit this movie, typically considered his masterpiece, ever since I loved his The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but only got around to it now. I now remember why I'd been so hesitant.

The movie concerns Sam (Jonathan Pryce, doing his damnedest to make something of the role) a low level bureaucrat in an undisclosed future who frequently dreams of grand things like being the hero saving the girl, or fighting a giant samurai or whatever. He gets mixed up in a blah blah blah, who cares? Gilliam sure as hell doesn't. There are people who today, nearly 30 years after the movie came out, couldn't describe the plot. I think a big reason is that Gilliam doesn't give a shit about it, so why should we? Gilliam cares only of giving us cool things to look at.

Visually astounding, the many creations in the production design of the world have certainly dated to 2014 eyes, but Gilliam's vision was so singular that it doesn't really matter because he'd created an entire new world anyway. The dream sequences are all terrifically filmed. I don't know what the budget for the movie was, but it looks like it was considerable. The problem is that Gilliam's characters and the situations he puts them in are all too arch, too exaggerated, too much like a caricature of what a story looks like that it's simply impossible for me to be able to sit through 2 1/2 hours of it an have a good time.

The movie is dark and depressing and stunning to look at, but Robert De Niro (in his 3.6 seconds of screen time) was the only actor to bring any life to the party. I was continually impressed by the sets and SFX, but I also continually didn't care about them. Gilliam didn't create anything that means anything. He created things that look cool, and he tries satirizing the inane bureaucracy surrounding government, but he doesn't really have anything smart to say about it other than "it sucks, and government sucks for having it", the same with the beauty obsession in this (and our) world. "It sucks" is about all Gilliam has to say, but he tries also distracting us with impressive and often grotesque visuals. It's not enough for me.

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