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Weekly Classics: Brazil

December 14, 2012

"Brazil / Where hearts were entertaining June / We stood beneath an amber moon / And softly murmured 'someday soon'"

The things you can look for in this film and possibly find; sentient technology, Greek mythology, a small oh-so-adorable toddler saying “put it on big boy, I won’t look at your willie!”, exceedingly heavy leanings on the Orwellian masterpiece 1984 and potentially one of the most well thought-out reverse deus ex machina your eyes will ever see. And it’s heartbreaking, which is the best bit.

Brazil is a futuristic film set in the past, about the present. It has too many themes and references and parodies for one to digest in a singular viewing and this review should come with a disclaimer that it is not an analysis. Because that could take forever, which neither you nor I have.

It all starts with the very human variable of someone swatting a fly, which dies and falls in the machine and causes a more than fatal error by replacing the name Tuttle with Buttle. This starts a whole series of events that show up differently on paper compared to how they are unraveling in real life. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a 30-something bureaucrat, is an ideal worker bee with no hopes or ambitions, ‘not even dreams‘. That last bit is untrue as he does dream fantastic dreams of himself as this Icarus-cum-Lancelot, with a fair-haired maiden (Kim Greist) trapped under the translucent whisperings of white netting, deploring he fight monstrous demons and come save her.

Seen in the professional and superficial world as the epitome of benign, he is pushed down by his nervous, needy and apprehensive superior, Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm) and pushed up by his age-defying, well-connected, elitist mother, Mrs. Lowry (Katherine Helmond). Jill Layton (Greist) witnesses and files a complaint for the wrongful arrest of Mr. Buttle during the Tuttle-Buttle kerfuffle. Robert Di Niro (Archibald Tuttle), heavily credited to market the movie in America, is the renegade engineer who defies the fascism of this noir-esque future by bypassing the hoards of paperwork and just helps people and technology become more compatible with one another ‘for the action.’

Terry Gilliam’s representation of the upper class is probably one of the reasons why a potential title for this critically acclaimed movie was ‘So That’s Why The Bourgeoisie Sucks’. Where Mrs. Lowry is shown to be wearing an upside down cheetah print stiletto on her head for a hat, her friend Mrs. Alma (Barbara Hicks) is high pitched, decrepit, delusional and almost everyone from the upper classes is exhibited with exaggerated pomp. Most importantly they are not shown to be less than machinery themselves. There is a surreal moment in the movie where in spite of a bomb having exploded not 20 feet away from where the Lowry and Terrain family is seated in a high-end restaurant, no one runs away in a panic. In fact, the maître d' apologises for the inconvenience and places a divider next to their table. Out of sight, out of mind.


We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. —Carl Sagan


Just as the humans are machinised, the machines are humanised. Sam’s apartment in particular, needs no real cue from him, and with the best of intentions pours coffee all over his toast and replaces coffee with sugar and fails to wake him up for work. The overly intrusive contraption that pokes and prods Jill at the time of her complaint shows technology to be somehow endearing and only human. There is an overwhelming dependency on machinery even though it is shown to be unreliable throughout the film, sometimes with fatal consequences. However, erroneous it may be, its gaping intestine-like omnipresence is something to be acknowledged as we come to find through Sam’s subconscious interpretations of his retro-future reality.

Gilliam has always emphasised the importance of exercising imagination and this film is a serious tribute to the [mostly] human monopoly in regards to that gift. The dream sequence between Sam and the Samurai who is meant to represent the tyranny of technology, the pipes and tunnels so much like human innards, the food that appears like congealed regurgitations are some of the many ways he represents human reliance on the inanimate.

Despite many insisting that Brazil is hopeless, just listening to the song the movie title is based on will tell you that our hero actually does win. In a gray, bleak fashion, it is the imagination that survives and escapes.

It’s all a state of mind.


The writer is a Multimedia Producer at Pretentious hippie. Panda-phile. Promoter of hobo chic.