two movies i’ve watched recently…
Tsotsi (a Golden Globe, Academy Award winning film from South Africa) was simply superb. Heartfelt–yet I felt it took enough unexpected twists to avoid cliche. I thought it handled the backstory with particular grace, explaining the characters without explaining away the consequences, and creating a deep sense of empathy for Tsotsi himself, without regarding him as a mere pawn in the grip of fortune or some other such nonsense. Moreover, the violence and language, while quite hard hitting, were never gratuitous or made to look “cool.” Watching the titular character encounter and react to a part of life that was finally able to break through his walls was truly sublime.
Brazil was the second Terry Gilliam film I’ve seen. I hated 12 Monkeys, so I approached this viewing hoping to walk away with a better impression…which in some ways I did, but I still ended up hating the “message” of Brazil.
The world that Gilliam creates in Brazil is truly madcap and humorous, with a cohesive visual style that rivals (and in many cases, surpasses) any of Burton’s more bizarre landscapes. The film exaggerates and satirizes the repressive elements of society to great effect, and occasionally even gives the viewer a life-giving glimmer of hope in the midst of the claustrophobia and paranoia. Robert de Niro’s character, for example, is truly cheerful and crazy at the same time (unlike his disastrously lame appearance in Stardust. Sorry) that gives the movie a much needed Robin Hood character.
Alas, Gilliam does not linger on redemption. Fatalism is his goal…not fighting athe stereotypical “the man,” not finding life in the midst of a nightmare, nor even finding a good death. We are pawns of each other and of destiny, he states, and he states it well with a satirical logic that is soul shaking and mind numbing.
It is a truth that fails to take into the consideration that there is a surrender that trumps surrender to the system. It is a truth that fails to take into account the glimpses of beauty that can alleviate the fallen nature of mankind. It is a truth that is a harsh, evil god…that cannot see the promise of heaven for the hell that is all too clearly apparent.
As Puddleglum said in that truly transcendent moment in Lewis’ The Silver Chair, “I’d rather go on living thinking that there is an overworld.” That simple story (I recommend you read it) sums up my reaction to this kind of art, no matter how good or how poorly it is made. I fear for my friends that have given any part of their being to the lies of the witch and have forgotten the previous reality of the sun and the friendship of the overworld for the depressing reality of the man-made lamp in the bewitched and oppressed underworld kingdom.
There is hope, Mr. Gilliam. While I acknowledge and appreciate your clever, even creative recognition of the darkness around us, I ultimately and wholeheartedly reject the lie of your fatalism.