Guest Post: The Best Terry Gilliam Films and What They Meant for Science Fiction

Thank you to Maria Ramos for writing today's post.

The Best Terry Gilliam Films and What They Meant For Science Fiction
by Maria Ramos

From crude stop-motion animation  to perplexing dystopian sci fi narratives, Terry Gilliam is a pretty interesting filmmaker, to say the least. And with one of his properties providing fodder for a new TV show, it could be that Gilliam is ultimately best remembered for his contributions to the sci-fi genre.
The Syfy channel recently took on the challenge of turning Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys into a television series – and it looks like it has potential. In light of this reboot, let’s take a look at how the original film fits within Terry Gilliam's “Dystopian Trilogy.”


Brazil (1985)
Brazil is set in a dystopian fictional world where obedience is demanded by an authoritarian government. A common government employee, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), frequently daydreams of saving a woman in a cage. When he actually meets this woman, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), Sam attempts to be transferred to her department. Later, they both end up arrested by the government (Layton for previous accusations of working with a terrorist) and Layton is detained. Like his science-fiction films that followed, the film creates ambiguous frictions between “reality” and “memory.” Daydreams, nightmares, and the questioning of sanity all became major dystopian tropes in Gilliam’s films, and you can see the origins of many of these tropes in Brazil. Although the film may be hard to follow, it’s story definitely appeals more to the mind than to the senses. Gilliam himself considers this a career-defining film. Fans might consider taking a look at the Blu-Ray release, which comes replete with bonus material, including original storyboard art.


12 Monkeys (1995)
If you go around telling people that you’re a time traveler sent from the future to uncover the secrets behind the disease that annihilated the human race, people are bound to look at you funny. This is what happened to James Cole (played by Bruce Willis), when he traveled back to the year 1990 to gather information about the upcoming apocalypse in 1996. It is believed that a terrorist organization known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys created this virus and Cole was sent into the past to obtain a sample of the original virus. When he arrives, he gets sent to a mental institution (for assaulting police officers and stating he was from the future), where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Goines plays an important role later on in the film when he is suspected to be the ring leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.

The science fiction genre isn’t celebrated for uplifting endings, and 12 Monkeys hardly leaves off on a chipper note. Although the television show follows the general plotline of the film, It appears that the show will attempt flesh out some of the story elements that were purposefully kept mysterious in the film — especially with the “future” and with the background/motivations of the Cole character. You can check out the new series on Syfy through their website or on demand (info here) and you can stream the original film through sites like Amazon.


The Zero Theorem (2013)

Computer genius Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is given a special task by his corporate managers: solve a mysterious mathematical formula called the “Zero Theorem.” As he stays at home, working on the program, he begins to suffer from horrifying nightmares about black holes. We learn, throughout the course of the film, that the theorem has sinister implications for the whole of humanity.

The film focuses on that cryptic and frightening space where theoretical physics and philosophy overlap. Qohen Leth is glued to his computer screen, trying to find answers and ends up becoming directly connected to his computer through an AI suit, which he can also use to interact with people through virtual reality. Is technology itself just a coping mechanism that people use to shield themselves against life’s pointlessness? Are all intellectual pursuits ultimately futile, when you consider that death is an inevitability? Check out the Blu-Ray, and watch as Leth desperately tries to solve this mystery.


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