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February 01, 2005

Comments

Anthony

How about this: 20 mins before the end, when Sam's about to get rescued by Tuttle, a big text scroll comes up which explains that really the film is finished and people can skip to the credits, but anyone who wants to watch a bunch of surreal/nightmarish scenes that go nowhere but have interesting visuals should keep watching.
Alternatively just spice on the end of Bladerunner. That'll confuse em.

Anthony

Or you could splice it on. Spice optional.

LizardBreath

I thought the original ending was a happy ending, intended as an inversion of 1984. Whatever they do to him, they can't make him love Big Brother -- they can't even get inside his head to take his dreams away.

But I haven't seen it since it came out in theaters in the '80s sometime.

jholbo

Well, I've seen happier. But, yes. He's got a smile on his face.

Kip Manley

I don't think of Sunshine's ending as amor vincit omnia; I think of it as "I would, but I need the eggs." --Which makes it a better ending, I think. Vincit is for the weak. --As for Brazil, I haven't seen that in, like, forever. (But again: that drive to conquer all? Only the weak pursue it. Cold comfort for Sam, but at least he's got that smile.)

Matt

"Gilliam's material feels like the sort of thing you could cut-up and mash-up in some new way..."

You say it like it's a bad thing. Well maybe it is, but for surreal dystopian dark comedy (or something) it's still the best film ever. And I like the pessimistic ending very much.

Matt

Something about the non-triumph of the ordinary hero. Wondering if to accuse Gilliam's style of being hackneyed is to miss the point, if maybe in his films the hackneyed is turned into a virtue.

Matt

Something about the non-triumph of the ordinary hero. Wondering if to accuse Gilliam's style of being hackneyed is to miss the point, if maybe in his films the hackneyed is turned into a virtue.

jholbo

Kip is right about Sunshine not having a 'love conquers all' theme. I was just straining to make the Brazil link. But it's not really a 'need the eggs' theme either. The implication is not that Joel and Clementine will do the impossible and escape their fates. At least I don't take it to be.

Kip Manley

Well, yeah: they know the impossible's not possible. They know they're going to break their hearts again. The rational thing to do is walk away. They know this like it's never been known before. But they need the eggs, so they don't. Alvie and Annie didn't escape their fates, after all. Of course--if given a similar chance, would they have gone in again?

jholbo

Good point.

Kent

Let me say first off that I love Brazil. Great movie. I rented the DVD a while ago too, and had some thoughts about it that seemed important. (Thanks for providing me with a place to write about it.)

But I'm going to disagree strongly with both John and Anthony. I think you are both underestimating this film.

OK. Here goes my analysis.

Obviously, much of the ending of the film is supposed to be taking place nowhere except in the fantasizing imagination of Sam. But when does the fantasy begin (and the real world end)? Obviously the bit at the very end where he's strapped down is real, and reality intrudes a few times into the fantasy. But what is the last moment of pure reality in the film?

The obvious spot in the film to place the last moment of reality is the scene where Tuttle and the boys miraculously come down into that crazy room and rescue Sam from his chair. (We know that is fantasy because after a bunch of ever-stranger scenes, Sam is right back in the chair.)

But I place the last real scene much earlier, just after the bombing in the department store. Sam wakes up after that in the van carrying prisoners; he looks for the girl (sorry, don't remember her name), can't find her, gets knocked unconscious.

After that, the rest is fantasy. That includes the memorable poop-in-the-air-tubes scene and everything after it. These are Sam's fantasies of the way the world should go, but none of it is happening in reality. Reality goes straight from the van full of prisoners to Sam being tortured (or whatever is going on there) by the Michael Palin character.

Why do I think that? Because the stuff after the van scene doesn't make any sense: it loses all realism about the characters, including both Tuttle and the girl. The girl is now in love with Sam and hanging on his arm, and Tuttle is now a brilliant warrior out for revenge on the bad guys. As the film goes on, the fantasies get stranger and stranger and stranger, both darker (the weird stuff with Tuttle) and more wonderful (triumph over the machine; sex with the girl).

No, I don't think anything is "tacked on." A major point of the whole movie is Sam's flight from reality into his fantasy world, because reality is just too damned awful. Early in the film -- and then again at the end -- it's really obvious to the audience which parts are which. But for a big hunk toward the end it's not at all obvious.

To me, the interesting thing about the film is that we, the audience members, become complicit in the fantasy. We are willing to believe plot twists that make no sense (where did Tuttle come from to send the poop at the bad guys? Where did the girl come from to find his apartment, and why all of a sudden is she acting like his girlfriend? etc., etc.)! We are willing to see the film possibly moving toward a happy ending, despite everything! Why? We are looking for the way to the happy ending. We love our Hollywood movies and the way they work. Like Sam, we can't believe the world could ever be as truly horrible as the world of "Brazil" is. (Thus the title of the film: sing happy songs while good people are destroyed.)

OK, but is the real world ever as horrible as the world inside the film Brazil? Yes. Yes, it is. Right now it's going on in parts of Iraq and elsewhere. Abu Ghraib. Hell, the film could hardly be more apropos right now. "What have you done with his body!?!" Not just a fictional question these days. "Brazil" shows a society where government-sponsored torture is normal, there are (or are not) terrorists blowing things up, and all that anybody cares about is filling out the appropriate forms.

In movies, things always work out for the best. Brazil is a movie that says No, they don't. Sometimes evil goes unpunished, and those who resist are destroyed. At the same time, Brazil also tells us something that is true both of Sam and of ourselves, the audience members: we have been brought up in a world of popular music, popular culture, popular movies, which says things always turn out OK. And as a result we, like Sam, find ourselves pretending that things are going fine, even when they're so obviously not.

Matt Weiner

Haven't time to read the original Eternal Sunshine script now, but I will ask this [SPOILER, as if that mattered]:

Where does your judgment line up with/against the judgment that the movie should have ended as soon as it loops back to the present, minus all the stuff about Kirsten Dunst blowing the gaff to all the customers? I am tempted by that judgment.

Kip Manley

I'm a wee bit staggered at the idea, myself: without the gaff, Joel and Clementine don't acquire the knowledge that they then act in despite of. They must know how it probably will end and go back into it anyway, with that knowledge, or else you haven't gotten out of Groundhog Day. —You might perhaps muse on alternate mechanisms, but you've got to do it somehow, or else it loses, well, a lot.

And I seem to recall similar arguments re: Brazil's tipping point from college.

Matt

Is it just me, or wasn't "eternal sunshine" essentially just a less bloody version of "Momento"? I mean, a lot of the way the story was told, and some of the basic idea, was very much the same, but w/ a worse leading actor in sunshine. I thought that was an okay film, but not original, and what was going on was obvious in the 1st 30 minutes or less. I don't at all see it as something great.

Matt Weiner

Oh, so getting out of Groundhog Day is a good thing? In my version actually ESotSM would be a lot more like Memento--one of the things about Memento [BIG SPOILER] is that Leonard can keep resetting himself for new targets because he doesn't know that that's what he's doing. So Jim & Kate could forever keep setting themselves up again because they don't know that that's what they've done.

So I'm probably missing the point, somehow. I was just basing this on feeling, throughout the last fifteen minutes or whatever of the movie, "Shouldn't this movie have ended fifteen minutes ago"?

Kip Manley

Okay, let's shift the metaphor slightly:

Sam stays in Groundhog Day, which is the only way out for him. A triumph, even, but duecedly Pyrrhic.

Alvie didn't want to leave Groundhog Day, even though it was both of them that walked out of it together, and he wishes he could get back into it, even though he thinks he can't anymore.

Josh and Clementine get out of Groundhog Day, but allow themselves to walk back into it, together, knowing that it's Groundhog Day—knowing, in fact, that knowing that it's Groundhog Day isn't going to make it any more likely that they'll avoid the pitfalls they tripped the first time round. But the piercing ache of seeing them see so clearly that what was good in the end is worth the all pain (too weak to get by without it, they wound themselves again for another dose) is what kicked my heart flat the first time I saw it, and will again, when I get around to picking up the DVD.

Doug Muir

Kent --

Love the analysis of _Brazil_. I would only add that there are a couple of points even earlier in the movie where you could set the "now he's dreaming" line. Up to and including everything after the opening scene.

(Could Gilliam signal this any more clearly? I mean, a fair chunk of the movie is /explicit/ dream scenes, and the rest tends to grow steadily more fantastic over time.)

Note that Sam is not all that sympathetic a character when you look at him closely. He can be clever, and resourceful in a pinch, and he has flickers of self-awareness, but he's basically a nerd who has never grown up.

His fantasies are completely juvenile. He has no girlfriend and no friends beyond casual acquaintances. He's dominated by his mother. He likes his dead-end job because it lets him watch movies when he's supposed to be working. He gets the occasional small frisson of professional satisfaction from solving a tricky problem, and his boss is totally dependent on him, but that's as far as his ambition goes. In our world he'd be deputy head of the IT department at the local Motor Vehicle Bureau, and would have a huge shelf of fantasy and science fiction, and would spend most of his work hours posting to rec.arts.sf.written.

Gilliam does show us a couple of times that Sam is a protagonist, not a hero. There's a scene where he's on public transportation going home from work (bus? subway? sky gondola? It's left unclear). He's doodling on the picture of the mysterious female "terrorist suspect". We look over his shoulder and see he's added the flowing hair of his Dream Girl. But in the moment before we do, we get a glimpse (and I mean a glimpse; it lasts less than a second. In the days before cassettes and DVDs, you might need multiple viewings to catch it) a glimpse of a woman standing next to him. She's massively pregnant. Though well dressed, she has only one leg, and is propping herself up with a cane. Sam, seated, completely ignores her while he doodles.

There aren't any heroes in that movie, except maybe Tuttle. And he may be imaginary. And while Sam doesn't /deserve/ what he gets -- nobody does -- it's hard to think of it as a tragedy. Nobody will miss him, and he's happy now.

John, there's a cross-connection to _The Matrix_ here. I'm thinking of the scene where the traitor character asks the Agent to erase his knowledge of the Matrix once Neo and the rest are done away with. He wants what Sam gets. (Though it's never clear whether he wants it out of disgust at the reality of Zion, or loathing for his own betrayal. One of the high points of the movie IMO.) (But then, Sam has his own little betrayals to forget. So, does he want a better world, or does he just want to stop being Sam?)

-- Man, Brazil is such a great movie. Garbled and messy, yes, but not in a self-indulgent way. It's a very deliberate and thought-out mess. Which is probably why Gilliam screamed so hard at the knife. It's like looking at one of the creations from "Scrapheap Challenge" or "Junkyard Wars" and seeing a pile of junk. Well, yes it is a pile of junk, but it's also a combination wall-climbing and door-smashing machine, and a great deal of thought and effort went into it, and it's actually quite good at what it does.

Cripes, the signs in the background. Those deserve a post or an essay by themselves. 'Don't Suspect A Friend -- Report Him!' How Homeland Security is that? (Is the TIPS program still running? Of course it is.) 'WHO Can You Trust?' -- isn't that the first sign we see? Let's subvert the cinematic epistemology right from the outset.

Well.

Note that I live in Romania, where nobody thinks _Brazil_ was either surreal or particularly funny. If you lived through the Ceausescu years -- I didn't, but my friends and neighbors and colleagues all did -- apparently it's not too far from a documentary.


Doug M.

jholbo

Yes, Kent, that is quite a convincing interpretation of "Brazil". Damn. Good.

surya

The phrase "Love conquers all" is redefined in the recent novel "Rule of Four". And Charlie Kaufman is surely the best screenwriter of the new millennium.

Kent

Thanks for the kind words, John. You made my day.

Doug, I really like what you said. I will have to buy the DVD some day and watch for that scene with the pregnant woman. You're definitely right that he's no hero. But I think his "girlfriend" is rather heroic -- she's going out of her way, butting her head against the machine, all to try to help out her newly widowed neighbor. She risks (probably loses) her life in the effort.

I wonder what the movie looks like if you watch it trying to look through her eyes.

Matt

Kent, I liked your analysis very much as well. Obviously (I thought) I didn't intend to suggest that Sam was a hero in any traditional, epic sense. His character is certainly formed on a template of the anti-hero, but it is precisely this template which is made to crumble with the pessimistic ending (or with the overwhelming delusions, whenever they begin to overwhelm). It's not that Gilliam is merely parodying the epic; rather he's parodying, or causing to crumble, something that is already a parody from the beginning. Hope that is clear. It's a beautiful gift, I think he accomplishes, here moreso than in other films perhaps, to render the tools of satire and dystopian dreams potent and immediate again, post-irony. Hope that is clear.

P.D.

Kent, I am impressed by your reading of Brazil. It is tempting to think that the film depicts events as they are literally happen in the fictional world and to only change that assessment when it becomes absolutely untenable.

This seems like a general phenomenon: Contemporary audiences tend to take what they see on screen as literally what is happening in the fictional world. I wonder: Are contemporary audiences more prone to this than were pre-cinema theatre audiences?

This is probably something that film theorists have had a lot to say about, but some examples:

Consider the recent martial arts epic Hero. (It is worth seeing on the strength of beautiful visuals alone. I'll try to avoid spoilers.) The movie consists of a series of narratives, offered as different descriptions of the same events. And the storytelling is itself framed by a narrator who flags the whole movie as a fable. Nevertheless, people I spoke with almost all accepted the framing narrative as literal and accepted the final retelling as the correct one. They did so despite the fact that the kung fu in the final version is simply impossible-- the combatants walk on water! In each version of the narrative, the kung fu becomes more and more fantastical. Yet viewers still accept the narratives as increasing in accuracy. (No exotic kung fu happens in the framing narrative.)

Gilliam's Baron Munchausen is interesting in this regard. Things which cannot tenably be considered real also cannot tenably be considered entirely imaginary.

Donnie Darko is also a tempting example, but I can't figure out a way to say anything without spoiling it all.

Matt

Sam is not unlike The Potato Elf really. An ending where grandiose meets grotesque, and delusions are hard to begrudge--quite happy with himself, really, thinking he is being applauded as a hero when in fact he is being ridiculed and tortured...and our complicity in this delusion as readers is left trembling.

Doug Muir

One last thought on this, now that everyone else has wandered away: am I the only one who noticed the accents?

Short version: everyone who works for the state, or is in a position of authority, has an accent from the British Isles (though it may be Oxbridge, Irish, Cockney, what have you).

Everyone who's a rebel, or who would like to be a rebel, has a North American accent: Tuttle and Jill, most noticeably, but there are a couple of others.

And Jonathan Pryce? His accent is generally mid-Atlantic, but it /shifts -- slightly but noticeably -- from scene to scene/. No lie.

Since some of parts with British accents were being played by American actors (Sam's mother, who is really Jessica whatsername from "Soap") or by Brits with accents very different from the ones in the movie (Bob Hoskins, who has a rather nice soft Home Counties voice, plays Spoor the repairman as an over-the-top Cockney), there's not much question that this is deliberate.

Compare and contrast: Iain Banks' absolutely wretched _A Song of Stone_, which has exactly one mildly interesting thing about it: the nasty characters with power speak AmEng, while the nasty weak characters speak BritEng; and this is done fairly subtly, but consistently, and nobody within the book ever comments on it. (There are no non-nasty characters.) (Which isn't why I disliked the book. I disliked it because it sucked. But we digress.)

No offense, John, but it really isn't "the sort of thing you could cut-up and mash-up in some new way". It's a very carefully thought out movie, and much of the mess is very deliberate.

Again, it's no wonder he screamed so loud at the knife.


Doug M.

Matt

Call it sentimental and nostalgic if you must, but I still maintain the quirkiness to be a virtue, for precisely the reasons given here:

http://www.caterina.net/archive/000819.html

There is no respect for disquieting silences in Jim Carey movies; every silence is plugged full. Which, let's face it, makes for a boring, predictable genre movie, unworthy of 'philosophic' investigation. Unless you're about to analyze how this genre itself functions as as a sort of deadening, psychic safety valve in consumer society (i.e. Zizek on the cynicism of the perpetually ironic viewer). Which I suspect, given John's avowed liberal proclivities, not to be the case.

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