Mind Blowing Movies: Brazil, by Tiffany Lee Brown

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. — Mark

The Other Side: Brazil, by Tiffany Lee Brown

Warning: Spoiler alert!

[Video Link] When I told Boing Boing a few weeks back that I'd write this piece, I hadn't yet sat by my husband's side in the Trauma ICU, wondering whether his mind would stay in the far-off realms of the Other Side, like Sam in the movie Brazil, or whether he would come back to me. Josh was here in this world when I first saw him after his bicycle accident, a duct-like breathing tube emerging from his mouth. His right eye could just barely open, and through it he saw me and our son Gusty. I could tell he knew we were here. I knew he was here. I just knew.

At the end of Brazil, Michael Palin tortures Sam (Jonathan Pryce) from behind a spectacularly disturbing mask until Robert DeNiro's inimitable terrorist plumber, Tuttle, swoops in with his fellow revolutionaries and rescues Sam. Strange shenanigans follow, and Sam even gets to blow up the hideous, Kafkaesque Ministry of Information buildings. He's then swept away by the object of his romantic obsession, a truck drivin' tough gal, to live in the country in a caravan, complete with goats.

Except that Sam's living all these rescues in his mind. The final scene shows him staring out from his far-off mind while an evil overlord remarks, "Jack, I think he got away from us." Sam is gone. He hums the familiar tune: "Braziiiiiil, dah dah du du da da du daaaah…" and we cut back to our own realities, shaken and stirred.

Later on the day of the accident, Josh went away. I knew he wasn't here. I just knew. Then came the CT scan results: as his brain swelled inside his skull, it was bleeding more. I didn't know if he was ever coming back. I whispered in his ear that he was actually in a hammock at the remote beach in Oaxaca where we like to go. Maybe I appeared to Josh the way the truck driver appears to Sam in his dreams: sexy and feminine, calling "Saaam! Saaam!" from behind a rippling veil that separates realities. Only, yeah, I wouldn't be calling him Sam. That would be confusing. Jooosh, Jooosh, you're sleeping, you can hear the ocean, the sand is radiating heat up toward your skin. We have no goats, but a cool breeze floats by and a palapa keeps the sun off your skin. You're sleeping like you never get to sleep, like you always want to. Come back when you're ready. But make sure you come back.

Within days he was squeezing our hands to communicate and at some point engaged his brother in a thumb-wrestling match, complete with the cheater move he always used to pull when they were kids. He was definitely back. Unable to eat or talk or walk or stay conscious for very long, but back.

Meanwhile, I dropped into a zone of retrofuturistic, paperwork-laden, yes indeed Kafkaesque nonsense, the hospitals' and insurance companies' own scattered Ministries of Information. Time stops, then weasels, then shimmies, then stops again, when you're sitting in a hospital. The big cement buildings are bewildering to navigate, like poorly designed airports. There is no time or place. There is just waiting.

As he emerges from some Other Side, Josh goes through realms and experiences that can't be corroborated by consensus reality. Memory and time are malleable, spotty, chaotic — just like everyone experiences, only since our frontal lobes aren't injured, we have mechanisms in place to reassure us that it all makes sense (whether or not it does). Fantasy and reality dive in and out of each other's peripheries like darting swallows in flight. In everyday life, we attempt to separate the two. Sam Lowry lets them play off each other. Now my husband does, too.

The final scene of Brazil always leaves me stunned and dry-mouthed, no matter how many times I've watched it. I am Sam. I lunge at the Powers That Be, ridiculous incompetent Powers that nevertheless hold my life in their grip; I imagine a better way of living and surviving, not just for me but for all of us; I fail. When I met my husband twelve years ago he inspired me to think that maybe one could be a semi-adult and still be pretty damned cool. Accept some given circumstances, dance with the Powers That Be, pull a Robin Hood on 'em. Become competent in their irritating reality and use that competence to make tiny, subversive, incremental changes in the world while building yourself a better life.

That's what I'm gonna do now, man up and be the competent grownup who can keep my family going. Maybe we'll all end up in a trailer with a goat and a big truck. Maybe I'll push papers at the Ministry of Information until finally they swirl around, plaster themselves to my grey flannel suit, and consume my body. The only thing I know for sure: someday we will cross to the Other Side and never come back.

(My awesome husband, incidentally, is Joshua Berger of PLAZM magazine, known to many of you over the years. Keep up with Josh, help out, post a photo of him, whatever, at Get Well Josh.)