A Tunnel in the Sky

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Reviewed by Alex Strickland
Posted March 9, 2002

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Somewhere In The 20th Century. . .

8:49 PM. . .

So begins Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s surreal masterpiece of an overly oppressive bureaucratic society, a world so controlled and over-run by paperwork that even receipts must have their own receipts. Some have described it as being ‘George Orwell with a Python twist’, but the film is so complex, thought-provoking, and exceptionally well-made that I find it hard to describe this film justly to those who have not experienced it for themselves.

It follows the misadventures of Sam Lowry (Pryce), a middle-class everyman working in the Records Department of the Ministry of Information, who’s only escape from the day to day strife are his dreams. Sam is but a naïve cog in the machinery of his society. After an error in the Information Transit’s computer print-outs, an innocent man named Buttle is mistakenly killed for ‘subversive activities,' and Lowry is forced to seek out the widow to reimburse her for any inconvenience the Ministry may have caused. Also seeking to rectify the situation is the Buttle’s upstairs neighbor, Jill Layton (Greist), who Sam is convinced is the woman of his dreams. Literally.

Originally content to stay put in the Records Department, Sam resists any attempt of his slightly demented upper-class mother (played wonderfully by Katherine Helmond) to use her influence to get him a step up the corporate ladder. He soon has a change of heart, however, knowing the only way to find out who Jill is, and to get around the security clearances surrounding her, is to take the promotion. This is where things start to go bad for Sam Lowry.

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What ensues is a bizarre, demented, and wonderfully told story that will remain a classic for years to come. It seems relevant without being heavy-handed, and Gilliam feels no need to pander to the audience with a fairy tale ending. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gilliam has made some of the most memorable movies of all time, and Brazil is certainly one of them. Although not as dark as his later film 12 Monkeys, it is certainly more serious and mature than his earlier work with Monty Python or Time Bandits.

It’s really hard to articulate just what about the movie is so spectacular - it just is! The acting, writing, and directing are all top-notch; and Gilliam’s vision of a not-to-distant future is at all times both familiar and other-worldly. It feels like 1940 and 2040, and anywhere in-between, in every scene. The entire film is filled with subtexts and undercurrents which you probably won’t notice upon first viewing. The supposedly advanced gadgets that should help, don’t; not only do they break, you can’t even touch the inner workings of your air conditioner unless you produce a 27B/6. As you walk through the city, you might notice some propaganda posters such as "Be Safe: Be Suspicious," "Consumers For Christ," "Don’t Suspect A Friend, Report Him" and others. Or perhaps you’ll drive out into the country, where billboards promising happiness and beautiful countryside block the view of the wretched wasteland that lies beyond them. There’s something new to notice every time you watch. I cannot recommend this movie enough. Do yourself a favor and check out Brazil.

And remember - "We’re all in it together, kid."


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Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam
Tom Stoppard
Charles McKeown

December 18, 1985

Jonathan Pryce
Ian Holm
Michael Palin
Katherine Helmond
Robert De Niro
Bob Hoskins

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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