Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Back in the USSR:
"Brazil" starts with an intertitle giving the time, "8:49 p.m.", followed immediately by another giving the location, "Somewhere in the 20th century." The 20th century is years starting with "19." Take the "9" in the time, put a "1" in front of it, and position it at the start, and you've got the year 1984. Hmm. Why am I not surprised “Brazil” is set in a society with monolithic central planning?
You know how the erstwhile Soviet Union (USSR) with its massive central planning ended up with huge surpluses of some commodities and a dearth of others? This isn't that, but their buildings are plastered by a confusing array of ducts, pipes, tubes and wires while their ubiquitous computer monitors are tiny four-inch CRTs fronted by magnifying Fresnel lenses. In our real 21st century the plumbing is secreted out of sight while we use big screens on our computers.
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a hard working functionary in the Department of Records (“Records is a dead end department”) who one day takes his work home with him, regarding “the Buttle-Tuttle confusion.” He takes a refund check to Mrs Buttle whose husband had been billed by mistake, and at home when his AC fails, and Central Services is too busy to respond, who should show up at his door but free lance repairman Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). Tuttle is unable to fix it, but he bypasses the problem as Sam himself might have done—it just about fixes itself—, and we suspect Tuttle may be another figment of Sam's vivid imagination.
When Central's repairmen arrive a little later, they suspect Sam did an unauthorized repair, but Sam puts them off by demanding their necessary form 27b/6—coincidentally, the address where George Orwell lived when writing 1984—that they don't have.
The way this society is wired is that these exposed ducts and pipes are interchangeable with each other being of the same diameter with the same fittings. One can, for instance, switch the sewage with the water, lickety split. Nothing is labeled very well, and judging by the way their telephones are mini-switchboards, one must plug and unplug devices for them to function. Furthermore, Central Services has such a backlog they can't respond to emergencies, and people have it in their heads they can bypass the problems themselves. What do you think is going to happen?
You know how on electronics you'll sometimes see a notice saying not to open it, there are no user-serviceable parts inside. Did you ever wonder why that is? I read the answer once in the newspaper, concerning an old woman, a screwdriver, and her broken TV. It also answered the question why the CRT had a note attached warning DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE. The society in “Brazil” was subject to periodic explosions that the authorities blamed on unknown terrorists whom they hadn't stopped in 13 years. Yes, and the Soviet Union attributed their repeated production failures to legions of saboteurs.
Orwell's 1984 society was a brutal police state. “Brazil” (1985) is characterized by brutal ignorance presided over by the Ministry of Information (MOI). To ferret out these putative terrorists, Information Retrieval practices aggressive interrogation. To pay for these expensive interrogations, they have what we'd call an Individual Mandate by which the suspect himself is charged for it—you've got to figure that everybody has something to hide, right? The Court by now would have ruled it doesn't violate the constitutional protection against self-incrimination because it's not a penalty but a tax. But since the government is human, the system still has some bugs in it, and when the wrong person Harry Buttle was interrogated due to a typo on the arrest warrant for Harry Tuttle, widow Buttle was issued a refund that Sam expedited. We would call this system Oh-Who-Cares. As interrogator Jack Lint (Michael Palin) put it, “It's not my fault that Buttle's heart condition didn't appear on Tuttle's file!”
The Buttles' neighbor Jill Layton (Kim Greist), in dealing with the bureaucracy as she's trying to locate Mr Buttle's body, crosses paths with Sam who recognizes her as his dream girl–mother figure, and they connect up being nuts for each other. People in love sometimes do crazy things, but in a totalitarian society, you don't want to stick out too much.
Nuts and Bolts
Although “Brazil” is phantasmagorical, the regular proverbs seem to apply. Let's look at a few. (Prov. 3:25-26) “Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.” Jill has more confidence dealing with a roadblock than does Sam who panics.
(Prov. 3:27-28) “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.” Central Services really should be manned to take care of emergencies when they occur.
(Prov. 3:29) “Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.” Poor Mr Buttle was just trying to enjoy Christmas Eve with his family; he shouldn't have been busted from a clerical error.
(Prov. 3:30) “Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.” Central's repairmen should not have been persecuting Sam for a minor tweak to his AC system.
(Prov. 3:31-32) “Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.” Sam is right not to follow in his friend Jack's footsteps (“Welcome to Information Retrieval”) but to follow his own dreams.
(Prov. 3:33-34) “The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just. Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” Jack's house was cursed, but Sam received grace.
(Prov. 3:35) “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” Sam had some kind of glorious end, within the framework of a fantasy, but Jack could only be ashamed.
“God bless us, everyone.”
“Brazil” takes place at Christmastime with the usual good wishes passed around. A placard reads “Christmas is for Christ.” A stone is inscribed, “THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE” which saying originated from: (John 8:31-32) “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” A couple crosses are prominently displayed. A case could be made that “Brazil” be taken as an encouragement for a society to find or return to its Christian roots.
I did not mean to single out the old USSR for criticism, and we should at least mention spokesman Mr Helpmann's assessment of the cause of the terrorist bombings: “Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seem to have forgotten good old-fashioned virtues.” Yeah, those “good old-fashioned virtues,” der gute alte fairness, what every regime wants to see more of, that everyone contribute his fair share.
The screenplay for “Brazil” (1985) was written by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard. Terry Gilliam also directed it being the second in a trilogy beginning with “Time Bandits” and ending with “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” all having to do with using one's imagination to keep from going nuts … in youth, middle age, and old age respectively. Since it was made in 1984, one of the possible titles considered was “1984 ½.” They called it “Brazil” not from the country but from Ary Barroso's 1930s hit song, “Aquarela do Brasil” (Watercolor of Brazil), Michael Kamen's beautiful score of which played throughout. Some of the same music showed up in “WALL-E”. The music was ebullient, romantic, full of wonderful expectation, just the right counterbalance to their closed-in society.
Terry Gilliam was not very interested in the storyline (that is ultra simple), but he was a master of images producing an outstanding work of art. He used a very wide lens, an experimental 14 that got named after him, which filled up the frame so much that it's worth it to go see the movie again to discover what you missed the first go 'round. The sets were real locations and storming the castle was done by real stunt men, not CGI. Gilliam seemed to pick the right actors for the parts.
The technology portrayed is something else. It's well known the Monty Python skit where the concept of SPAM came from, but here years before there was an Internet, we see portrayed their own versions of snail mail and e-mail. People actually communicating by writing messages on pieces of paper and enclosing them in cylindrical shells to be inserted in pneumatic tubes to crawl on out to their destinations. Their e-mail was singing telegrams that the delivery girl added some “Eeee eee” flourishes to.
“Brazil” is an unqualified masterpiece that you should be prepared to see more than once. It mixes a scary vision of the future with a dry humor leaving one with his jaw dropped, more than weeping or laughing. Be sure to get the final (5th) director's cut at 143 minutes, not any of the shorter compromised ones.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older