A continuation of last month’s post on Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” which is also part six of a continuing series on man and the machine. The fate of Harry Tuttle was left quite a bit more ambiguous than the protagonist Sam Lowry’s in “Brazil”.
In perhaps the most magical turning point in the story Harry Tuttle disappears in a whirlwind of red tape, receipts, vouchers and invoices that cling to his body, mummifying him, until the torrent of rubbish seems to swallow him. This all occurs within the protagonist’s nightmare. Sam struggles desperately to dig Harry out but the clutter blows away and takes with it any chance for glory, depositing Sam on the far side of madness at the end of the story.
It is significant that we never see anything bad happen to Harry Tuttle. He is never apprehended. Visually speaking it could be said Harry escapes unharmed. Most likely, as with another famous escapologist, Harry Houdini, Tuttle was named so to evoke such comparisons. I’d love to watch this film in a crowded stadium and lead a Q & A afterword to hear how many different opinions I could collect by asking “what happened to Harry Tuttle?”
I’ve finished watching this film now for the third time in six months and rewinding over selected parts a fourth and finally found a crack to get me out of everyman Sam Lowry’s dead end track. I should mention that there are five differently edited versions of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” out there in movie land. That’s how wildly people disagree over it, so if you enter the conversation, make sure you have watched the same one. I’ve been watching 142 minute edition released by The Criterion Collection in 2006.
Comedy or not, the idea that the only possible escape from slavery for Sam is psychosis is so distressing that I had to find an alternative solution for his predicament. Although this solution exposes a path Sam did not choose, it provides sanity to anyone who does. The fact that Sam did not choose this path is precisely why the movie had to end the way it did.
While Sam knew something was very wrong with the culture that supported him, but he never showed an interested in contributing to or improving it. He did his job and looked the other way. We sympathize with him. Everything in his life is a hassle. Sam simply takes the hassle of least resistance, but he does that instead of coming up with solutions like Harry does.
Sam was not interested in getting out of his situation except in dreams and even that was a selfish scheme. When the woman of his fantasies walks right out of them into real life and she turns out to be a free thinker, Sam never asks her why. He makes no connection when she asks, “Have you ever really seen a terrorist?”
The real hero of “Brazil,” Harry Tuttle demonstrates how helping fellow human beings is the only way out. In Sam’s final flip-out, Harry liberates Sam by helping him blow up the Ministry, but that all takes place in Sam’s head. This component of Sam’s fantasy serves to underscore Sam’s bureaucratic programming. The company man was never able to shake off the Ministry’s allegation that Harry was out for blood instead of good.
Other than Sam’s visually projected assumptions of Harry’s motives, all we know for sure from what we actually see is that Harry’s a multi-talented repairman on the run. Sure he’s packing a gun; he’s accused by the Ministry of terrorism, but we only ever witness Harry fixing folks’ utilities, which are constantly choked up and pinched in gridlocracy.
Whenever we see Harry, he’s engaging his gifts for the greater good. The unlikely superhero declares his intent loud and clear, “we’re all in this together.” Harry Tuttle is the only free man we see in “Brazil”. Anytime after Sam met Harry his fate could have been redeemed too, but freedom goes unclaimed. Gilliam’s lovable protagonist just wants to slip his chains in dreams. Instead, he is crucified while Harry avoids the scene.