Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Brazil vs Nineteen Eighty Four

Recommendation from a friend and the tag dystopia prompted me to watch the movie, Brazil and it was worth every frame of it. People compare it a lot with Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four but I beg to differ. Comparison of a movie and a novel is futile as both of them are completely different media of expression but nonetheless one can look at subjects and themes they delve in. If put a gun on my head I would any day say Nineteen Eighty Four is a far greater work than Brazil. How can I not choose a novel, after reading which I hated to wear my office badge!

The comparisons rely on a totalitarian, anonymous, unwieldy, inhumane bureaucratic system which plays a major role but not definitive role in Orwell's classic. Brazil gives one aspect of the anomalous system, burden of innocence where a bug (literally a bug) in the system sucks in the protagonist in an absurd whirlwind classifying him a terrorist. The notion of guilt reminds me of Kafka's The Trial but the two works are quite different as in guilt is much more emphasized and central in Kafka's work. Nineteen Eighty Four goes beyond a government system and paints a horrific picture of a perversion that seeps in every aspect of society. From a language which is being continuously "simplified" to remove all shades and ambiguities of a natural language to schizophrenic doublethink to abolition of family and orgasm, 1984 is an all engrossing quagmire of a system.

Brazil on another hand is an absurdist satire on a consumerist self obsessed society so disconnected to reality that after witnessing a terrorist bomb attack high society ladies still discuss their beauty treatment! Life in the world is a game of rules with individuals as pawns pushed and pulled by obscure forms. This where Brazil limits itself and probably Terry Gilliam would have added more depth if he had read the novel. Protagonists in Brazil unlike 1984 are neither too villanous nor heroic, they are just doing their jobs - playing by the rules or trying to get a way around them like Sam Lowry (contrast his intent of helping a loved one with defiance of Winston Smith of 1984 and you will get the idea)

Nonetheless Brazil stands as a brilliant piece of work in itself. The overpowering buildings remind me of Orson Welles rendition of Kafka's The Trial. Welles used geometrically aligned compositions in his frames to create an overpowering surrounding but both of them use behemoths, shadows to get that eerie feeling. Background score esp. Acquarela do Brasil (Watercolor of Brazil) is haunting but only discerning audience would find the relevance and meaning of the song in the movie and hence the title. The dream sequences are a visual treat and the climax uplifts the movie. Few users of IMDB term aspects of the movie as surreal but I won't beg to differ but simply differ. If you want surreal go watch Luis Buñuel (note: start with "Diary of a Chambermaid" his most accessible movie). The movie clearly demarcates the real from the imaginary so I won't classify it as surreal but absurd yes. Do watch the movie if especially if you like dystopia.