SUB-GENRES: Drama / Comedy
DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam
WRITTEN BY: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, & Charles McKeown
PEW PEW: There is very little action here.
CAT FOOD: Brazil presents a world that is a pure satire of modern bureaucracy. There is a lot to take from this film.
Few films present the same kind of awe and mystery that Brazil does. How many times have I heard the question, “just what in the hell is Brazil?” I’ve never heard of a film that is so talked about yet so seldom actually seen. It’s very interesting to gather opinions as to what the film is all about from people who haven’t seen it.
A few of my favourite guesses: “Brazil is a stuffy, Casablanca-type picture.” Well, based on the very forties-esque promotional materials, and a cast of class heavyweights, this guess is a pretty decent one… but Brazil is not a stuffy, Casablanca-type picture. “Brazil is a period romance.” Wrongo. But I can see how one could think this, based on the romantic typeset used for the title, and the more romantic tone perhaps conjured up by the use of the name of a country like Brazil in said title. Brazil is most definitely not a period romance.
“Brazil is a weird sci-fi art piece like Metropolis.” Here’s the closest one, and, again, promotional materials do feature art deco skyscrapers and use harsh spotlights to permeate and contrast noir gloom. And yet, Brazil is not a weird sci-fi art piece like Metropolis.
The funny thing is, we can put most of it together by combining these answers. Brazil is most certainly a stuffy, Casablanca-type art piece that takes elements of period romance, but it is also a gloomy, suffocating dystopian sci-fi nightmare with disarming dry British comedy. It’s seriously one of the most ‘what the fuck?’ kinds of movies ever created.
Where Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is focused on the oppressive power of totalitarian government, Brazil is more of a satire of the suffocating strain bureaucracy has, and will eventually, put on our society. There are two types of people in Brazil: those who are so fed up with bureaucracy that they’ve had to become outlaws just to do their jobs without burden, and those who are so weighed down by the strain of the system that they’ve become numb to things because it’s easier to just not give a shit about death, destruction, malfunction, just plain dysfunction than it is to file forty eight thousand reports.
As gloomy as it can sometimes be (and most of the time it’s just gloomy because the viewer’s mind is so over-whelmed by the clutter of the visual and story), the film is far more lighthearted than most films about Orwellian dystopias. It doesn’t go anywhere really chipper, but there are many laughs to be had for those of us who love the brand of British humour that ex-Python Terry Gilliam employs.
The film is a stylistic masterpiece and a visual feast for fans of production design and cinematography. It is a unique blend of cartoonish diesel punk and bleak film noir that went on to influence the greatest Batman film ever made. The film’s immense concept and design are by far its greatest strength — all fans of art cinema must see Brazil.
The film loses me, however, with its cluttered, nonsensical, convoluted storyline. When you sit back and look at the thing, it’s quite a simple story. Sam Lowry is a bureaucrat trying to account for a clerical error which lead to the wrongful arrest, and death by interrogation, of a Mr. Buttle. In the process, he falls in love with a neighbour of Mr. Buttle, who is now on the wrong side of the law because she witnessed the government mistake. Sam attempts to convince her of his good intentions and intends to clear her from the system.
But sweet fancy Moses, we are bombarded with sixteen trillion eccentric and nonsensical characters and situations, the comedy of which often sharply contrasts their seriousness, and vice versa. While this most certainly gets the point across that this world is a fucking mess, it’s hard on the noggin and makes it a hell of a thing to have to follow. This world has millions of isms and we are not privy to their descriptions. In order to really understand anything, you pretty much just have to forget about any of the characters you see and just look at it all as background. Essentially, you’re watching the main character gradually fade into the background. Granted, it’s not as ugly and sadistic as Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the film ultimately arrives at the same conclusion.
So is Brazil worth seeing? For it’s art, absolutely. It’s also a whitty kind of funny not unlike satirical newspaper cartoons. Think Nineteen Eighty-Four but ruled by vogons. I’m usually fairly sharp with films, but I found myself frustrated with Brazil as a movie. While I did laugh at Gilliam’s fantastic sense of humour, I did leave the presentation with a headache. I do believe that Brazil is more relevant today than Nineteen Eighty-Four, since the tyranny we face this day and age is a quiet, bureaucratic one. Don’t get me wrong, the film is brilliant, but I think it asks a little too much of its audience at times.