Guest post by Maria Ramos
As numerous sci-fi fans will attest, this is the genre most responsible for fueling the imaginations and minds of our most innovative scientists. One of the latest scientific fiction programs to reach TV audiences, this year’s 12 Monkeys, seems capable of drawing legions more to tech and science greatness. According to one article, the series shattered the Syfy channel’s record for a series premiere with an 85% increase in viewership by adults aged 18-49.
The series, which stars Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, Barbara Sukowa and Noah Bean, is based on Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film of the same name. The show airs weekly on the SyFy Network (which you should have if you’re a Comcast or Direct TV subscriber) with older episodes available online. The film and the series share the same basic storyline, in which time travelers attempt to change the course of history by preventing mankind from being eradicated by a deadly virus. Science fiction fans who haven’t yet had the chance to enjoy some of Gilliam’s most important contributions to the genre – of which there are many – are fortunate that this derivative of his work has been adapted for the small screen.
His 1985 film Brazil, a dystopian satire, went on to become a cult classic and is among his best contributions. In this film, elements of modern society, such as a sprawling bureaucracy, are exaggerated to surreal, claustrophobic effect. Against this backdrop, Brazil examines the role of imagination in providing an avenue of escape from inescapable circumstances. The fine line between imagination and insanity is a recurring theme in Gilliam’s films, as is the presence of machinery, both physical and social, that serves to alternately free and enslave those who depend upon it.
Tideland, released in 2005 to mixed reviews, illustrates how crucial imagination is in combatance of daily ennui and dissatisfaction. Set against in a rural backdrop resembling that of “Little House On The Prairie” a child’s imaginary conversations with her collection of doll’s heads are instrumental in helping her survive the aftermath of the death of her parents. Gilliam’s ability to deftly capture the natural distortions of human perspective via unorthodox camera angles is prominently displayed in this film.
Imagination plays a role as important as any of the other main characters in Gilliam’s 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best art direction. In this film, a magic mirror owned by the main character, Doctor Parnassus, is used for the purpose of winning over souls for the devil. However, it also allows characters to be transformed via the power of their imaginations. The use of bold colors in juxtaposition with geometric shapes, as displayed prominently in this film, is one of Gilliam’s distinctive directorial trademarks.
The Zero Theorem, released in 2013, further explores issues pertaining to the philosophical nature of life and death. It tells the story of Qohen Leth, a socially isolated computer data analyst assigned to solving an impossible theorem disproving the meaning of life. It’s also a return to dystopia, albeit a far more colorful version than the dull, gray world he imagined for Brazil three decades prior. The automated machinations of society are symbolized by a perpetual stream of messages flashing across a seemingly endless number of screens installed on every building. In this world, where there is an overabundance of everything, Qohen Leth is doomed to discover over and over again that “zero equals one hundred per cent,” or, alternatively, “everything adds up to nothing.”
Gilliam’s unique filming style is a testament to the necessity of considering all aspects of an environment, whether real or imaginary, before reaching a conclusion as to what constitutes reality. One of the things that make his films worth watching several times is his use of a wide-angle lens. This allows for the potential of recognizing the equal importance of each element present in a particular shot. Rather than telling the viewer what’s important with the use of a zoom lens, the viewer is allowed to decide the degree of importance of each element for themselves. It’s also a testament to his respect for our imaginations – as we science fiction fans know, there’s more than one reality out there.
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.