Harry Potter and the Great Gilliam Reference

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 has released, and it is the darkest turn yet for the Potter series. Harry has gone into hiding and can no longer make regular trips to the barbershop. It’s hell, and I don’t think I am spoiling anything when I say that the film does not end on a high note.

During Harry’s shaggy haired adventure, he and his pals have to make a rather dangerous trip to the recently overtaken Ministry of Magic. The Ministry is full of terrifying ladies in pink dresses, floating prison guards who bear more than a passing resemblance to common characterizations of Death, and references to the classic 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil. It may have been entirely coincidental, but it seems that the Harry Potter director, David Yates, has made some intentional nods to Gilliam’s movie.

Brazil tells the tale of Sam Lowry, a man fighting against the beurocratic nightmare of his world. Everybody in Sam’s world is driven by policy, regardless of the implications. Things must be done a certain way, becasue that is how they are done. Also, it’s a bit whimsical. It all sounds remarkably similar to the Ministry of Magic. Referencing Brazil calls in a perfect metaphor for the nightmare of the Ministry following Voldemort’s re-appearance.

The references are quick, but they are there, and here’s proof.

The first referenced scene is difficult to encapsulate in still images, becasue it looks like nothing more than a small crowd. In motion though, there is a highly choreographed stream of ‘yes men’ following an all powerful executive as he spouts yes or no decisions to his devoted employees.

It passes by quickly in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but you can see Pius Thicknesse, the newly appointed Minister of Magic, being followed by a similar stream of eager witches and wizards.

The final sequence of Brazil shows Robert De Niro quite literally succumbing to the evils of arbitrary paperwork, in what is likely the most bizarre death he has ever experienced in any film. He is overtaken by office filings, and becomes lost in the engulfing scuffle. It’s all an overt metaphor for the dangers of red tape, something Terry Gilliam has been wrestling with his whole career.

The Harry Potter similarity is simply one of happenstance. It’s a visually interesting attempt by Harry to block his pursuers. Within the Deathly Hallows film, it serves as no specific metaphor, but as a reference to Brazil, it further propels the idea that the Ministry has turned into the whimsical hell presented in Gilliam’s film.

As I mentioned earlier, these references could be totally coincidental. Yates may not have meant to specifically call out Brazil, but it is certainly an appropriate metaphor. It’s also worth nothing that when J.K. Rowling first began negotiations for turning her books into films, she requested that Terry Gilliam direct the first. The studio heads declined her request, but it all goes to show that Rowling always had a developed understanding for the artistic goals of her story. Gilliam may have delivered a very different, stranger Potter film, but it’s possible that it might have fallen right in line with the version of the books that Rowling wanted to see.

This was the first Potter film that J.K Rowling received a producer credit for, so this could all by a product of her influence, and her own likely appreciation for Gilliam’s work. All I know, is that she’s got good taste.