onsdag, oktober 11, 2006

Suspicion Breeds Confidence

Last night I watched Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie Brazil for the first time. It's one of the many cultural oddities I've neglected, though have often felt people might think me deficient for doing so.

The basic plot is this: a man named Buttle is apprehended as a top suspect in a terrorist bombing campaign, though the man the government really wants is named Tuttle. The government, somewhat Kafka-esque, is characterized by an obsession with forms, a belief it can do no wrong, a tepid strategy to placate folks with consumerism, etc. A daydreaming, unfortunately content civil servant (Jonathan Pryce) discovers the error and attempts to undo it, as does a neighbor of Buttle's. As you might imagine, this is not an easy error to correct, given the government's incomprehensible structure, distance from the people, and farcical ability to bumble.

That generic summary does not do the story justice, really. It suggests a pretty common story, and, yes, many of the elements are. Kafka nearly said as much long ago, but Kafka didn't have the British sense of dark humor and the way it highlights the consistent absence of what we might call rational humanity.

Plus, something about our current world and American political situation gives this film extra voice today, right down to the many small things that appear in shots, such as signs in the government office that read SUSPICION BREEDS CONFIDENCE.

Three exchanges in the film I adore:

Ian Holm plays Pryce's boss and hopes that Pryce never accepts a promotion because Pryce is much more competent than Holm. In the scene, Pryce discovers the Tuttle - Buttle error.

Ian Holm: My god! A mistake!
Jonathan Pryce: At least it isn't our error.
Ian Holm (stunned): Isn't it? Whose is it?
Pryce explains the mix up.
Holm (delighted): Thank god. Well, finish your tea, then.

At an upscale dinner where a bomb has just gone off (though dinner continues and the quartet resumes playing):

Woman With a Leopard-Pattern Shoe For a Hat: What about dessert?
Pryce: I don't want dessert! I don't want promotion! I don't want anything!
Woman: Of course you want something. You must have hopes, wishes, DREAMS?
Pryce: No, nothing.

Pryce is apprehended as a terrorism suspect and for wasting government time and paper (for which it's said he'll be fined a considerable sum). He's being strapped into a chair. He's surrounded by implements of torture and lobotomy. The guard strapping him in speaks.

Guard: Confess quickly, son. Don't fight it. You'll ruin your credit rating.


All in all it's just loaded with gems: men in suits seated on public transit while a one-legged woman is forced to stand; a hole in a floor that can't be fixed because the people who made it used metric specs while the repair team uses English units; grotesque plastic surgery; ridiculous police entrances, including that always-senseless man repelling through a window; and an ever-greater importance in retreating into one's own fantasy in the face of a society and government whose contract and effort has grown stale. The group incompetence is so immense that all seem to accept tacitly the folly in objection, that in a world given over to vanity there might be no greater vanity than burrowing against the grain.

Have some champagne and get on with it, right?
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