Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Brazil (1985)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Actors: Jonathan Pryce and Robert De Niro

In the year of 1984, dystopia movies were abounding, and how could they not be? Orwell's book has haunted and projected onto the subconscious of our society for over sixty years. Consequently, when Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) created Brazil, a satire that lays bureaucracy under the operator's knife, it was not expected to be that different. However, seeing this movie twenty-five years later has revealed that Brazil is not just another dystopia film because this movie is unique, clever, humorous with just enough biting wit, and sublime (according to Longinus' definition of the word). I actually stumbled across Brazil in Target one day when I had a gift card and really wanted to buy a movie. They didn't have the film I wanted, but I really wanted to watch something new that night. I found this movie and bought it solely based on the amazing cover (how can you say no to a man flying in Icarus-esque wings). [a quick note: Do NOT see the "Love Conquers All" version! It is much shorter and loses most of the true beauty of the film. The most painful cut of all is that they completely change the ending to make it "happy," which does not work and ruins the whole point of the movie].

The first aspect of the movie that jumped out at me (other than that great opening music) is the incredibly likable nature of the characters from the hero, Sam, to the Judas, Jack. Sam immediately separates himself from the rest of the people introduced because he is a dreamer. In fact, he has a pretty well-developed dream world that he has created, dealing with a beautiful woman and himself dressed up as a sort of knight angel. The dreaming allows the audience to understand Sam beyond the place where he works, which is imperative since he is constantly doing inane, pointless things, showing the pitfalls of bureaucracy. Brazil does an effective job of revealing what is dangerous about a people completely dependent on bureaucracy and form filling. Nothing can get done, and when a mistake is made, instead of correcting it, the job seeks to bury it and anyone who might start complaining because of it. This, of course, is exactly what happens, and Sam is the one who notices the discrepancy. However, when he tries to help set things right he gets sucked into dangerous situations and, in the process, quite literally meets the girl he has been dreaming about.

Part of what helps Brazil stand above most of its other brothers and sister dystopia movies is that it has a lighthearted tone, even amongst all of the machinery and paper work. All throughout the movie, up till the chilling end, there are little things that are very funny. For example, Sam's mother, and all her friends, are obsessed with looking younger and all of the surgeries and procedures they force themselves to endure provides quite a number of amusing situations.

Other than that, Sam works in the office that provides no individuality and doesn't appear to get much work done. When he finally accepts a promotion, Sam is moved upstairs to have his very own office, which ends up being a tiny closet with half a desk in it. While he is settling himself in, Sam notices that his half of the desk is being pulled through the wall, revealing that he is forced to share everything with his neighbor (including the art decorations - in this case a poster). This type of situation is typical in Brazil and represents the norm that the characters were being forced to experience.

Apart from the hilarity, which often proves to be double-edged (like any satire should), there is a pleasing kind of, and I hesitate to use this word, whimsy. For instance, when Sam is being held prisoner, his boss comes to see him dressed as Santa Claus. It is such an odd placement of what is expected to be a happy time that it works perfectly well to further the purpose of the film. Little hints like this help to make the movie more enjoyable on the second viewing because there are lots of small details that build to make the overall atmosphere and tone.

The atmosphere is obviously a little dark, even as it is presented as lighter because the people in the story have forced themselves to accept it and make their lives around it. However, the fact that Gilliam is able to marry the dark with the light makes the movie so interesting to watch. In the above picture, you see Sam, locked to a chair about to be tortured, while he is being approached by a very serious torturer who happens to be wearing a chubby mask over his face. The mask is undoubtedly creepy, but it does hearken back to the idea of Santa Claus - the things we loved as children like dressing up. All this to say, Brazil is able to capture the nature of what a dystopia would be like without losing the humanity because man cannot exist without humor or childish aspects.

Ultimately, Gilliam presents a completely satisfying film that provides entertainment, thought-provoking questions, and a better understanding of the dangers of bureaucracy. This movie is pure joy to watch, and it represents truth beyond what I expected to find in it. I hope you enjoy it! As always, when buying or viewing a film try to secure the Criterion Collection (it really makes a difference). Here is a link to Brazil on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Brazil-Criterion-Collection-Jonathan-Pryce/dp/0780022181/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1279082421&sr=8-3. But I will tell you that it is also available to watch on youtube. Until next time; go enjoy some art!


  1. Ah, remember the days when Terry Gilliam used to make good movies ... *snif*

  2. I know! I was so disappointing when I went to see The Imaginorium. I so wanted that to be good!