Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TIME BANDITS (Terry Gilliam, 1981, UK)

“If there is a God, he is a malign thug”. –Mark Twain

Kevin escapes into fantasy, stealing time to journey with six dwarves through an epic adventure of enlightenment and nightmare, free from the bourgeois constraints of moral imprisonment. His mum and dad are victims, the ultimate consumers consumed by plastic values of materiality and modernity; their lifeless and vapid existence alien to Kevin’s fertile imagination.

Director Terry Gilliam and co-writer Michael Palin take us on a beautifully loony adventure through the ages: capitalizing from Napoleon’s syndrome, a falling out with the idiosyncratic Robin Hood and his not-so-merry mugs, embracing the fatherly Agamemnon, brief respite aboard the doomed Titanic, and a trip into Hell…all from a child’s perspective. These adventures are not meant to be literal, they are fantastically inventive and ethereal, a dream world inspired by a little boy’s creative wonderland. Look closely, Kevin’s room contains every visual cue that appears in the story from childish scrawls on paper to clippings and toys: the entire odyssey is already prepared for our joyous protagonist!

Gilliam often films from low angle, achieving a view of a large world dominated by adults, a world that is grimy and dirty poisoned by the acrid progress of time. Kevin replaces the seventh dwarf Horseflesh who died before the film’s events, and these characters are portrayed as human beings…not freakish outcasts: they love, quarrel, steal, show devotion, and become multi-dimensional people who are more flesh and blood than the “grown-ups”.

Chased by the Supreme Being, they jump through wormholes using a stolen map trying desperately to become international thieves: instead of fixing this botched-up universe they prefer to pilfer it…how wonderfully silly and quixotic! Gilliam’s golden light casts creeping shadows, allowing this chimerical tale of good and evil to create friction: death is always present and stalking the nightmare.

In the final battle, even the Supreme Being is callous in his remarks concerning the many violent deaths and noble sacrifices, encouraging Kevin to keep up the fight against spiritual tyranny. As reality reasserts itself, a little boy is left homeless and without parents while evil is loosed upon the world: life is such a grim fairy tale. Final Grade: (B+)


Mark said...

Excellent write-up. Gilliam pokes his fair share of fun at the little guys though -- but he's an equal opportunity offender, no one gets away clean. One of the few films that I can recite. "We can turn beans into peas," what a line.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Prof! I also like the evil henchman who begs to be killed, "Oh thanks you master, thank you!" with that joyful groveling plea. I think the ending of TIME BANDITS foreshadows the bleakness of TIDELAND, a film that I hated but maybe need to see once again.