12 July 2007


In 1984, Michael Radford directed a film adaptation of Orwell's 1984, while Terry Gilliam directed his film Brazil. John Hutton compares the two.
Terry Gilliam's Brazil was created literally in the shadow of Radford's 1984. In an interview shortly before the film's release in the fall of 1984, Gilliam stated,
I was scared stiff when I went to see 1984 ... After 10 minutes I was moaning, ‘They've got it all.’ They even used some of the same locations as us, although we shot them differently ... However, when I sat through the whole film, I realized it didn't matter—the thrust of theirs is completely different.
Comparisons between the two are inescapable. Like 1984, Brazil is set in a bureaucratic police state. Winston in 1984 rewrites history for the Ministry of Truth. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Prye) the protagonist of Brazil, is employed by the Ministry of Information. He repairs the computer systems, which bill people for the right to be tortured (“information retrieval”). Winston falls in love with Julia, a mechanic who repairs the machines that write pornography for the proles. Lowry falls in love with Jill Layton (Kim Greist), a truck driver. In both films, it is this love affair that dooms the couples. Both films posit a world from which in a real sense there is no escape or refuge.

At base, however, Gilliam reassembles and reworks these elements with a freedom altogether absent from Radford's film. Gilliam's fears are not Orwell's, and the world he creates is simultaneously more fantastic and far more engaged with our time than the 1940s nightmare so painstakingly recreated by Radford.

He not only argues that Gilliam's film is far more sophisticated than Radford's, he says in many ways Gilliam's film is more sophisticated than Orwell's novel. (Though I have to interject that I think that in it's own, understated way, the production design in Radford's 1984 is every bit as clever as the famously gonzo production design of Brazil.)

This kind of reminds me of Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, another two very different films about the same thing with eerie similarities that were released the same year. And in that case, too, the comedic one was also the smarter one ... and the one we still watch.

No comments: