The career of this director is exactly like his films: crazy, unique and absolutely original. Terry Gilliam is the one of his kind. From his outstanding debut and milestone in the history of comedy that is Monty Python and the Holy Grail to his latest, individual work – The Zero Theorem, Gilliam proved that he truly is too genius for mainstream and too mainstream for genius.
For Gilliam, there was possibly no better way to start his filmmaking career than with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Satire for medieval manners, even 40 years after premiere it is still one of the funniest films of all time. A cocktail of black humor, surreal jokes and Gilliam’s own 2D animation makes this film timeless. A decade later, Gilliam had his second debut – as a “solo artist” and without the Monty Python group. His movie Brazil is generally considered as his life-time masterpiece, an Orwellian portrayal of a dysfunctional industrial world. Sarah Street from British National Cinema, described the film as a “fantasy/satire on bureaucratic society”, and Brazil won Gilliam nominations for the Oscars as well as 2 BAFTAs, for Production Design and Visual Effects.
Gilliam is well-known for his stubbornness and uncompromising character. His precise vision of the image in every single frame, as well as his one-time rule of only directing his own scripts, has gotten him in much trouble with producers and film studios. The first movie Gilliam only received a directing credit on was Fisher King, which had future stars Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges as showrunners. That was a big improvement for his standing in the USA film world, yet American audiences still had problems with accepting Gilliam’s sometimes eccentric style.
Moving forward to the 90’s, Terry Gilliam directed only three movies but all of them were artistic and commercial successes. After Fisher King, he made 12 Monkeys starring with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, a sci-fi drama which takes place in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia, bring Gilliam a nomination for ‘Best Film’ at the Berlinale Film Festival. The worldwide positive response and high position on the charts (#1 spot on box office charts for two weeks) gave him a needed push to create possibly the most controversial movie in his filmography, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Surrealistic, dark, funny, a screen adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel of the same name, Fear and Loathing was initially a box office failure grossing only US $10.6m, well below its $18.5 million budget. In time however, the film has garnered a huge cult following, largely due to its release on DVD. Critical reaction to the film was very mixed: Mike Clark, of USA Today, found the film, “simply unwatchable” but on the other hand, Empire magazine voted the film the 469th greatest film in their “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” list.
In 2013, Gilliam released The Zero Theorem and called it the final part of a dystopian satire trilogy, or “Orwellian triptych”, begun with 1985’s Brazil and continued with 1995’s 12 Monkeys. A science fiction tragedy, as Gilliam calls it, the film presents the story of a neurotic computer genius working on a formula to determine whether life holds any meaning. The film has been given very positive reviews, with much praise for Christoph Waltz’s performance as the leading man.
Always on the periphery of Hollywood, but best known in hermetic circles of sci-fi and surrealism fans. Gilliam uses his films to explore themes such as the meaning of life or the condition of human existence, using absurd and black humor as the main interpretative key. For some he’s a genius with a unique imagination and vision, for others a madman talking nonsense. We’re stumping for the former.