Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard
Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro
POSTMODERN STRUCTURE OF BRAZIL
After 1950’s, postmodernism is born as a reaction to modernist utopias that did not come to life. Besides the political and social context of postmodernism, it also has a very important effect on art and culture. Of course, film is affected from postmodernism too. In this paper, I am going to explain how postmodernism changes some effects on film theory. I will also try to find out some signifiers of postmodernism in film theory by giving examples from Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil.
First of all, postmodernism is basically defined as becoming hybrid. All the different fields are mixed up and all the boundaries are removed in its context. This, of course, has a purpose which is to please the individual consumer. Coming to the cinema, this characteristic of postmodernist view reflected itself as being a hybrid of a lot of genres. All the genres are presented to the spectator in one film that everybody can get joy while watching it. Brazil shows this characteristic of postmodernism very clearly. One can experience ‘sex’, ‘myth’, ‘violence’, ‘action’, ‘science fiction’ and even ‘comedy’ by watching only Brazil. Eclecticism is another aspect which is seen commonly in postmodernist works and it serves for the same purpose as being a hybrid. References to old but good things are always a guarantee for the film to be loved. In Brazil, we see clear references to Star Wars, costumes of the soldiers are alike with Darth Vader and also Battleship Potemkin in scene that soldiers go down the stairs in the Ministry of Information.
Secondly, we should examine the basic elements of films which are time and space. At the beginning of the movie Brazil, it says ‘somewhere in the 20th century’. This is the first signifier that throughout the film, spectator cannot clearly grasp where this film took place. It is the same for time too. Film ends with the lyric of ‘someday soon…’ which means nothing to the spectator who even does not understand in which time they are while watching movie. So, during the film, locating time and space is almost impossible. There are some signifiers of time like the workers in the Ministry of Information watch Casablanca which is a 1942 made film. Actually, Terry Gilliam gives most of the time past and present elements simultaneously in the film. This has some reflections on the appearance of places too. For example, although the computers work with incredibly developed technology, they look very archaic. Like Barry Smart says: ‘postmodernism sees society as losing its creative energy and living in a safe, satisfactory and timeless present’. That means, we all lose the sense of time and place in a postmodern film but still feel comfortable with that. The schizophrenia effect caused by blurring time and space never disturbs us.
Thirdly, images and music are clearly gives the sense of postmodernism throughout the film. The most remarkable one is, of course, the use of a lot of icons from past and future. This is in a sense related to what I have told about the time and space. Moreover, besides being a blurring factor for time and space, this is a very specific characteristic of postmodernism. Unlike modernism, postmodern works lose the sense of history, Frederic Jameson argued. Brazil is in a sense like this. The spectator loses his sense of history. Of course, there are some signifiers of past events in the film, all in all the film can be seen as a critique for terrorism and bureaucracy, but still these reminders of events are so blurred that we cannot talk about a clear analysis of the past. One example from Brazil can help us to get the idea clearly. As we all notice during the film, domination, power, and dictatorship are always the notions that are pointed out. One clear reference to a specific period, which is the Germany under the Nazi domination, is apparently shown us. The eagle statue at the entrance of the Ministry of Information is a reminder of the Nazi regime. Costumes are also very old-fashioned that the spectator can suppose that the film took place in 1940’s or 1950’s. Then, Terry Gilliam suddenly gives some futuristic elements that make us forget all the other ideas. Past is as well as the future only a mood that the spectator sometimes interested in it and the other time not.
Another aspect of postmodernism is the use of advertisements. In postmodernist art, sponsorship is very common. This is an aspect which can be easily reflected to cinema. The spectator is exposed to implicit advertisements throughout the film. Some of them are actually given so explicitly that the spectators take them as reality. This is hype reality effect which is discussed by Baudrillard. He basically says that in a healthy society, there are always models but there are also the reference points of these models. In postmodernist view, the spectator is mostly not met with the reference point. There is this scene in the Brazil that Sam has some troubles with the Ministry of Information office and tries to escape; he passes in front of a billboard on which there is a happy family picture. That advertisement is so much on the screen as if the filmmaker tries to give us the sense that in that city everyone should be happy.
The loss of affect which is also discussed by Jameson is another aspect of postmodernism. The basic element of modernism is that it expresses some feelings. In the postmodernism, the spectator or the reader loses this sense. This can be because there are a lot of thing in one work that causes distraction. Let’s look at Brazil again. There are a lot of genres in it that I have told about before. These are so mixed up that the spectator cannot even focused on one of these. This fragmentation of feelings eventually causes the loss of feelings rather than being expressive. The spectator sees Sam in danger and starts to feel anxiety but all of a sudden he starts to dream and this makes the spectator forget all their anxiety and feel good.
Sixthly, I want to talk about postmodernism and Brazil as the title of the film. I think Terry Gilliam can choose this name for two reasons: first of all, he can choose it because he wants to show the opposition of the idea that modernity is Eurocentric. Brazil, in a sense, is more exotic place than West but in the film it is given that the so-called Brazil has a highly developed technology even though the appearance of them are mostly archaic. Secondly, this title can be for nothing. Although modernism is teleological, postmodernism does not serve for purpose. If we watch the film, Brazil, with having no other idea in our heads before, than the film has nothing to do with the meaning of Brazil. In postmodernism, loss of meaning is a very common usage. Sometimes images or dialogues can also be very meaningless in a film. I think the absurdity of the title, Brazil, can be an application of this loss of meaning. Generally, titles give the reader or the spectator some clues about the work. However, in this film it does not. So, even at the beginning of the film, we have no idea or feeling about it.
Finally, the last element that I want to mention is a modernist aspect which is rejected in postmodernism. In modernism, there is a pure faith in science. Science can be a cure for everything, modernists argued. I think the extreme usage of highly developed computers is a criticism on this point in the film, Brazil. The movie begins with the event that the computers made a mistake and catch the wrong person and kill him. The main character, Sam, tries to correct this mistake. So, we see the fatal mistake of computers, as a product of science, against a man who tries to correct it. And also, technology is so in their life after the modernist period that may be Terry Gilliam wants to criticize this too. The machines (the toaster, air conditioner, tea pot etc.) that govern the characters are so much exaggerated in the film that they behave like a person.
To sum up, postmodernism in some sense like loss of history, feelings, being a hybrid, using so much exaggerations and advertisements are reflected to the cinema. Moreover, some views of modernism are criticized in postmodernist films too. Brazil is a very good example to grasp the content of postmodernism, I think although the film is not totally nihilistic. Brazil also makes us to question what separates the reality or the imagination. From this point of view, the spectator may evaluate the film as being philosophical.