WHAT DOES BIG BROTHER WANT?  I’ve seen this movie a number of times and you know?  I’m not sure.  They seem to want to maintain the status quo, through a gigantic, inefficient bueraucracy.  Citizenry is not controlled per se, but they certainly are kept in their places through this massively inefficient system that makes it impossible to get anywhere or do anything.

WHAT DOES THE REBEL WANT?  Like Winston Smith and THX-1138, Sam wants the embrace of a good woman, in this case Jill, literally the woman of Sam’s dreams.  Beyond that, Sam, spectacularly, has no plan; once he gets his mitts on Jill he is completely at a loss and must think fast to improvise a plan.  And Sam’s just not that good an improvisor.

WHAT DOES THE REBEL GET?  Oh, it doesn’t end well for the rebel.

IS THERE AN UPPER CLASS, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FUN?  There is and they do, although their fun is occasionally interrupted by “terrorist attacks” (which are never explained) and botched plastic surgeries.  But even the upper class gets bossed around by waitstaff and bueraucrats and, this being England, everyone is terribly afraid of what others think of them.


NOTES: Strangely, Jesus Christ is a major character in both this movie and in THX-1138.  I’m not sure why.  It doesn’t make sense for an oppressive dictatorship to choose Christianity as a state religion, as it does in THX, and whatever metaphorical connection there is to the narrative of either film eludes me.  Neither THX nor Sam are particularly Christ-like; they confront no authority and are not sacrificed for the sake of publicity.  They stand for nothing outside of themselves.  I think the Christmas motif running through Brazil is there to emphasize the hypocrisy of the society’s priorities, but again I’m not sure.  Strangely, in Sam’s dreams (however much of the movie those constitute) one of the symbols tossed on the rubbish heap by the robot samurai is a neon cross.  So it seems like the movie is saying that the evil bueraucracy that Sam fights against is trying to destroy, among other things, Christianity.  Is Gilliam pro-Christianity or anti?  After Life of Brian I would have guessed anti (Christianity, not Christ), but here he seems to want to make some distinction between Christ and society’s perversion of the Christ message.

I love the idea that everything in the movie happens because there’s a guy running around out there fixing people’s heating problems without the proper paperwork.

One question that haunts me is, are there terrorists at all, after all?  If not, who’s blowing stuff up?

Another question is, where does Sam’s dream begin?  Does it begin at the start of his torture session, or much earlier?

Terry Gilliam’s movies are generally filled with Gilliamisms, but they are here this time in full force: the fish-eye lenses, the overstuffed production design, the imaginative, extensive use of miniatures, the sets a little too small to contain the action.

The acting is generally strong in this movie with Katherine Helmond a particular standout, but I gotta say, Michael Palin is freaking amazing.  I’ve always been a fan, but his performance here as a polite, efficient, paternal torturer is just astonishing.  Plus, for my personal delight, there are no fewer than than three strongly Steven-Rattazzi-like actors in this movie: Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm and Bob Hoskins, all of whom Rattazzi has been compared to in his career (strangely, with usually the word “Pakistani” appended, as in “Steven Rattazzi resembles a Pakistani Ian Holm in his role in Cymbeline,” this about a man named Rattazzi).  Terry Gilliam should just have Rattazzi play all the male roles in his movies and be done with it.
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31 Responses to “Brazil”
  1. medox says:

    This is one of the first movies I remember really messing me up after seeing it — but in a good way, of course.

    • ayrn says:

      I agree, and now I think I will go buy it and watch it again. I love the smell of postmodern apocalyptic sociopolitical commentary in the morning. Well, afternoon, after saying that.

  2. rfd says:

    I’m guesing there really are terrorists. All rebels trying to get back at the society in different ways – by blowing themselves up, by clandestinely fixing people’s plumbing, by taking a promotion to get at secret information.

    We’re all in it together.

    Where does the dream begin indeed. Have you seen the “Love Conquers All” cut?

    • Todd says:

      Have you seen the “Love Conquers All” cut?

      I have not, but I can imagine it.

      Funny thing is, I saw the theatrical release many times and watched the 2:23 version for the first time today. And I have to say, it did feel long, mainly because the fourth act gets so complicated and convoluted. Just as the movie has built up a head of steam, suddenly Sam is going back to work and doing a bunch of things that don’t have anything to do with his pursuit of Jill. So while I think the “Love Conquers All” version is a crock, and the opposite of the filmmaker’s intentions, I think the 2:23 version definitely needs work.

      • rfd says:

        I thought the 2:23 version was too long as well and I’m nearly fanatical about this movie. I thought the scene where Sam was being shuttled from department to department, hung up in that awful sack was really poignant. On the other hand, the elevator conversation with “Santa”, while shedding a little bit of light on the relationships of the movie went on way too long.

        And oy, the gunfight!

        • craigjclark says:

          I got to see the European cut in a movie theater a couple years back at a local repertory screening. It quite literally blew me away. I’d had a copy of the full script for a while, so seeing the missing scenes really made a huge difference to me — and Brazil was already my favorite film of all time. That screening merely cemented that feeling.

          The only thing I don’t like about that cut is the loss of Sam’s “My God, it works” at the end of the scene where Sam’s mother is at the plastic surgeon’s. That was a line that Gilliam didn’t like at first, but when he was recutting the film for American distribution — and trying to get it under his contractual two hour limit — he saw the light and put it back in. I always thought it was a wonderful capper for the scene.

        • Todd says:

          I liked the “sack scene” a lot too. There isn’t anything “wrong” with Act IV of the movie, it’s that the movie gains real clarity when Sam figures out what he wants, and then it loses it again when he gets caught up in the machine again. It’s like we just got a bead on a story and then it gets taken away again. And then again.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Since all of the alleged terrorists in the movie turned out to not be actual terrorists, I figured we were supposed to interpret the truth as being that there really are no terrorists, and the explosions are the fault of the government (either purposefully to create justification, or accidentally due to horrible maintenance).

    • In an earlier draft of the script (one of Stoppard’s, I think), this was indeed explicitly explained to Sam Lowry towards the end: no terrorists, horrible maintenance that must be covered up to make the bureaucracy seem to actually work.

      Also, is this actually a Christmastime-set movie, or in this world have they made EVERY day Christmas? Probably the first, but I’ve always liked the possibility of the second.

  4. greyaenigma says:

    One of my favorite movies. And Pryce has been one of my favorite actors for a while. (Maybe based mostly on assortment of roles.)

    Are you sure the giant robot samurai isn’t accumulating junk? I haven’t seen it for a while, so this is really a question.

    There is a bit on the Life of Brian extras where the Python folks talk about their approach to religion and how that movie in particular was a response to how religion gets perverted. (I don’t want to say too much on that for fear of putting words in their mouths.)

  5. While we are on the subject of 1984…

    Have you seen any of the film adaptations of the book, and are they any good,

    • Todd says:

      Re: While we are on the subject of 1984…

      I saw the Frank Roddam version in 1984 and enjoyed it a lot, but a few years ago tried to watch it again and found it rather boring and earnest, despite its brilliant production design (and score by Eurythmics). I should watch it again.

  6. craigjclark says:

    One question that haunts me is, are there terrorists at all, after all? If not, who’s blowing stuff up?

    On the whole, I’d say there aren’t terrorists — at least, not the organized kind. All it takes is for one drone to snap, connect two pneumatic tubes to one another and an entire building’s communications system is overloaded and explodes in a shower of paperwork. The government clearly doesn’t know how to take care of its own infrastructure, so it waits for things to come to a head and then cleans up afterwards, making random arrests and blaming the whole thing on a faceless terrorist threat.

    The explosion at the Central Services television shop at the beginning? Obviously faulty wiring.

    • Todd says:

      There are three clear “terrorist acts” in the movie, the TV shop at the beginning, the restaurant with Sam and his mom, and the department store with Jill in Act III.

      You’re probably right, but I just wish there was some kind of reveal as to who the “real terrorists” are.

      • craigjclark says:

        Of course, the other two explosions you mention both happen offscreen. We never actually get to see what blows up in either of them. Is it a bomb? Or is it the faulty duct system?

  7. urbaniak says:

    Plus, for my personal delight, there are no fewer than than three strongly Steven-Rattazzi-like actors in this movie: Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm and Bob Hoskins

    Good thing Ben Kingsley’s not in it or its Rattazziness might’ve killed you.

  8. sheherazahde says:

    Christianity and the Totalitarian State

    It doesn’t make sense for an oppressive dictatorship to choose Christianity as a state religion,

    It does to me. Christianity is wonderfully suited for dictatorship.

    The model of one all powerful God maps well onto one all powerful ruler. For most of the past two thousand years Christian thinkers believed that monarchy was the only proper form of Christian government.

    The doctrine of one revealed Truth also puts power in the hands of those who are keepers of the Truth, instead of allowing individuals the freedom to discover the truth for themselves. Atheism is very problematic for a totalitarian state because it gives the rulers no moral authority over the average citizens.

    The only world religion that seems to be better suited for dictatorship then Christianity is Islam. And that is because Islam had Christianity for a model.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Christianity and the Totalitarian State

      Christianity worked well for Hitler, but then why did Stalin outlaw religion altogether? Opiate of the masses and so forth?

      And what was Mussolini’s stance? I can’t imagine he considered throwing the Pope out of Rome.

      • sheherazahde says:

        Re: Christianity and the Totalitarian State

        but then why did Stalin outlaw religion altogether? Opiate of the masses and so forth?

        You answered your own question. Stalin had idealistic reasons for choosing not to embrace a religious solution. But Stalin was idealistically driven in general.

        Just because a tool is good doesn’t mean everyone has to use it.

        And what was Mussolini’s stance? I can’t imagine he considered throwing the Pope out of Rome.

        Mussolini used the church to support his political power. QED

  9. thunder24 says:

    Brilliant, Brilliant movie. I like your analysis of the films you view if for no other reason than it make the comment section almost an interesting of a read.
    (And Think of it for a second: Terry Gillam directing a Venture Bros movie? awesome)

  10. Rattazzi also reminds me of Terry Jones, coincidentally. Little bit.

    • Todd says:

      But just try getting him to dress up like a woman and speak in a squeaky voice. Believe me, I’ve tried.

      For a show, I mean.

  11. tenebrae says:

    Nice breakdown (as usual), Brazil is probably one of my top five movies of all time. You should look for (if you don’t have it already) a book called The Battle of Brazil, about the struggles and the process Gilliam went through to create the movie.

  12. curt_holman says:

    Almost four years later…

    I never realized until now that you’d done a dystopias project, including ‘Brazil,’ which is my “default choice” for my favorite movie.

    I always thought the film took place at Christmas because it’s the most commercial time of the year. Although, now that you mention Brazil and Christianity, I seem to remember that the last time we see Sam Lowry strapped in the torture chair, I thought he had a wound in the back of his hand that was almost like stigmata.

    I love the idea that all of the terrorist explosions were in fact caused by poor plumbing, wiring, etc.