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The Cinema of Terry GilliamIt's a Mad World$
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Jeff Birkenstein, Anna Froula, and Karen Randell

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231165358

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231165358.001.0001

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‘It shall be a nation’

‘It shall be a nation’

Terry Gilliam’s Exploration of National Identity, Between Rationalism and Imagination

(p.104) Chapter Eight ‘It shall be a nation’
The Cinema of Terry Gilliam

Ofir Haivry

Columbia University Press

This chapter looks at Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (2005), and its exploration of the interplay of imagination and rationalism with political identity. Set in Germany 1811 under the Napoleonic rule, the film tells the story of two brothers, William and Jacob Grimm, who start as con-artists and use Jacob's collection of folktales to orchestrate apparitions of malevolent supernatural creatures of local lore to trick gullible communities into paying them to fight off the spectres. The film's identification of extreme rationalism with a supra-national even imperial identity, and of unbound imagination with a sub-national even tribal identity is instructive, for it indicates that neither of these two principles can provide a stable national identity. In their pure form, both rationalism and imagination produce inherently unhealthy and unstable political identities, tending either to extend outwards or to collapse inwards into self-obsessive purity.

Keywords:   The Brothers Grimm, imagination, rationalism, political identity, imperial identity, tribal identity, national identity

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