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  • Robert V.S. Redick

Terry Gilliam Mugs Himself

Yesterday, responding to a prompt from SciFinow, I waxed lyrical about my love for Terry Gilliam's astonishing 1985 film Brazil.

I came close to saying that it was my favorite film of all time. It may well be, although I don't much like to choose in a world that also has Casablanca, Blade Runner, Kurasawa's Dreams, and The Manchurian Candidate. I would contend that it's as good and important as any of these. "What other film," I wrote, "can make you laugh till your belly aches for two hours, and at the same time so sad you feel like leaping in front of a truck?"

While no other film of Gilliam's rivals the masterpiece that is Brazil, I've also long loved the great flights of imagination in Twelve Monkeys and the great humanist performances he coaxes from Robin Williams and others in The Fisher King. Even more tedious romps like Time Bandits possess a subversive humor and a visual style no one else quite matches. Gilliam was, to me, an artistic hero.

And then a friend sent me this article in Variety. The short version is that Terry Gilliam dismissed the #MeToo movement as "mob rule" and bemoaned its members as torch-bearing simpletons eager "to burn down Frankenstein's castle." He goes on to talk about the actresses who "did very well" out of their meeting with Harvey." He admits that Weinstein was "a monster." But somehow the rage isn't justified, because "Harvey opened the door for a few people, and a night with Harvey--that's the price you pay."

I can't find a way to read that article and not come away disgusted. I can't come up with a gloss on these comments that make them remotely OK. No, that doesn't mean that I think that all his impulses are simplistically wrong or anti-woman, but I do think they reveal a powerful man in deep denial about the nature and severity of the abuse of women all around him.

It's all the more enraging and disappointing because I've admired Gilliam's work so long and passionately. Above all, I've delighted in the very things he's now undermined: his blazing moral imagination, his compassion, his belief in our ability to do good, if only we will face our inner demons. Yes, he laughs at these efforts (because he laughs at everything), but he also gives them extraordinary poetic form.

I've thought a lot about whether one can separate one's knowledge of artists' awful behavior or beliefs from one's appreciation of their creations. My conclusion is only personal: I cannot. However much I admire Gilliam, I will never be able to enjoy his films as I once did. Unless, of course, he rethinks and retracts them. Such a path is open to you, Terry, and I hope you'll consider it. I hope you really are the person I want to believe you are: that is, someone who can turn the lens on himself without fear, who can face himself, and remain committed to a better world and better way.

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