Welcome to Alt-Christmas, our week of articles dedicated to movies that we like to watch this time of year, especially if we’re not entirely in the spirit of the season.
All I want for Christmas is to avoid a complete mental breakdown.
Christmas is really weird. It’s a hodge-podge of Christian narratives, pagan traditions, and consumerism. It is generally peppermint and eggnog flavored and pine-scented. People sing fondly about chestnuts roasting on an open fire as if that is something they have actually eaten before or even sounds appealing. Black Friday, the official day of Christmas shopping—or is that Cyber Monday now?—is dangerous enough that http://blackfridaydeathcount.com/ is a website that actually exists. Musicians release albums consisting of covers of the same few dozen Christmas songs that have already been covered a million times, and people actually buy them. Many of us know at least one person liable to stab anyone foolish enough to request non-Christmas music in the month of December with a candy cane shiv.
Though I find myself generally unaffected by the “Christmas spirit,” I’m also not an anti-Christmas crusader. To be honest, as a student, the holiday season does not actually start for me until the slow and painful death that is final exam season comes to an end.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil might be about a whole lot more than Christmas, but it also totally gets how crazy the holiday season is. It’s a Christmas movie for the rest of us, the people trying to get by in a world gone temporarily more insane than usual without succumbing to the madness.
But these are some pretty hefty claims, so let me try and convince you.
1. Sam Lowry is you.
He doesn’t hate Christmas. He likes getting gifts just fine, and doesn’t particularly mind that they are all the same generic desk accessory. He just doesn’t really care about the holiday season in general, as indicated by his Christmas-free-zone of an apartment. Bonus: he’s a cinema fan, as indicated by the cinematic décor that covers the walls of living spaces in lieu of holiday cheer.
2. For the Catholics out there, he is also the young pope.
If you serve your Christmas dinner with a side of Catholic guilt, well, Brazil has got you covered. Starring as Sam Lowry is a fresh-faced Jonathan Pryce, perhaps best known for recently playing the High Sparrow on Game of Thrones, a.k.a. evil fantasy Pope Francis. Back in September it was announced that Pryce would be playing the actual Pope Francis in an upcoming Netflix film called The Pope, surprising absolutely no one since they are basically twins, although since there has been no further news since, it is possible that project has fallen by the wayside.
3. Brazil understands that when you’re already feeling down, being surrounded by everyone else’s Christmas cheer is super depressing.
The dialogue speaks for itself.
4. Even when you do manage to get one of those Hallmark card-worthy moments, Brazil acknowledges that things can go to hell in a nanosecond.
An instrumental of “Deck the Halls” plays softly in the background as Brazil cuts to a mother reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to her children: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…”
It’s an idyllic family scene. Mom and pajama-clad daughter cuddle in one armchair, dad wrapping presents in another while Junior runs around with his toy soldiers. A Christmas tree glitters in the corner and a string of holiday cards hang proudly in the background.
How could such a scene be spoiled? You wonder. And what sort of madman could turn such desecration into humor? The answer, of course, is Terry Gilliam, bless him.
Terror comes in the form of the usual shrieking strings of horror with just the slightest hint of sleigh bells. A strike team comes in through every entrance and makes some new ones—including one in the ceiling—and takes dad away in a straightjacket. Mom is left standing in the wreckage of her sitting room, receipt for her husband in hand, while the traumatized children huddle together in a recliner.
While having a strike team come in and ruin your family moment of Christmas cheer is highly unlikely, such idyllic moments can go to hell just as fast through far less extraordinary means, like your sister and your dad getting into a shouting match over her weekend plans, or your aunt getting passive aggressive about her untouched holiday cookies, which haven’t been eaten because although nobody is dumb enough to tell her they taste like sad cardboard, nobody is self-sacrificing enough to just take one for the team either.
5. Shopping malls are like war zones.
In Brazil, the whole mall-as-war-zone thing plays out literally due to a bomb. Look, I’m not saying that Christmas shopping is the same as being in an actual combat zone, but I am saying you should ask a veteran retail worker to share their holiday horror stories. While the warfare going on in a mall near you is mostly of a psychological variety, it does get physical sometimes. As I mentioned before, Black Friday does have a death count.
6. Christmas parties always end up being even more awkward than you expect.
You convince yourself to go because someone you would really like to talk to will likely be there.
Of course, pretty much the second you get there you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, but you’re stuck.
Now you’ve got to make the rounds. Odds are you will probably encounter just about every person you had no desire to see.
Including that one person who everyone else loves for some reason that you just don’t understand.
With some luck, you might actually get a chance to talk to the person you were looking for to begin with, but not without going through the party equivalent of hell to get there.
Of course, by the time next Christmas rolls around, the memories will have faded, and you will convince yourself it wasn’t actually that bad and the cycle will repeat itself, and so on and so forth until the end of time.
7. It has Christmas iconography out the wazoo.
Christmas trees, cards, wreaths, presents, tinsel—Brazil has it all. It’s got carolers and multiple Santa Clauses, including a mall Santa. Even those who would argue that Brazil doesn’t qualify as a Christmas movie because it doesn’t posit the “holiday spirit” as a catch-all miracle cure can’t deny that Brazil has the Christmas look, exposed ducts aside.
8. It openly acknowledges the foundational pillar of Christmas that isn’t Jesus or family togetherness.
Again, just going to let a picture do the talking here.
9. If Sam losing himself in a fantasy to escape being tortured isn’t a fitting metaphor for being interrogated by an older relative about your life plans, I don’t know what is.
“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
“I don’t know, Grandma.”
“How are you planning on making use of your degree?”
“Haven’t figured that out yet.”
“What are you doing with your life?”
At this point, can either A) get washed away by a tidal wave of existential angst or B) mentally retreat to your happy place where student loans don’t exist and city housing is affordable.
10. That scene where Robert DeNiro is eaten alive by papers.
Not even his bones are left behind. Just papers. So many papers.
For some students out there in the world right now, this is their reality. It might be a mental and emotional reality as opposed to a physical one, but feelings are real, damn it. As are term papers. Unfortunately.
But to conclude, in regards to trying to stay afloat amidst the madness of both the holiday season and (for the students out there) final exams, an amalgamation of two of Brazil‘s taglines makes for some interesting life advice: remember that “It’s only a state of mind,” but if all else fails you might as well just sit back and “Have a laugh at the horror of things to come.”