By Carter B. Horsley
This film opens with an angel flying through
glorious clouds as the song "Brazil," composed in the
1930s by Arry Barroso, plays lyrically and infectiously. You want
to get up out of your movie seat and dance.
Oops, too late. You've lost your chance.
The movie is a dystopia, a nightmarish vision
of technological hell.
In his lengthy and fine review,
Tim Dirks of filmsite.org remarks that "This popular and
compelling film with a large cult following is one of the most
visually imaginative, breath-taking, eccentric films ever created,
with incredible sets, dazzling inventiveness and production design
(by Norman Garwood). The film is so visually dense that it takes
several viewings to fully comprehend. The most memorable and outrageous
components in the absurdist film include the ugly, violent, urban
environment, and the miles of inept plumbing, piping and ductwork
that continually proliferate and threaten to malfunction."
The "hero" is portrayed by Jonathan
Pryce, a worker in the Ministry of Information and Mr. Dirks maintains
that "as a lone hero, he combats the real technological threat
of The Machine Age to his life by his fantasies of defiance as
a winged savior....His apparent salvation from the nightmarish,
chaotic, paper-choked, poorly-functioning society comes in the
form of a guerrilla heating-engineer and terrorist enemy of the
state [Robert](De Niro), whose renegade behavior is opposed by
the state's own Central Services representative [Bob](Hoskins)
and sinister MOI official [Michael}(Palin). But in the end, the
lowly and self-deluded worker is persecuted and tortured to death
while again imagining escape to an illusory idyllic paradise that
is free of societal restrictions."
Like Ridley Scott's "Bladerunner"
of 1982, the world depicted is very bleak and oppressive and unsympathetic.
This was Terry Gilliam's third movie. He had
directed "Time Bandits" in 1981 and "Monty Python's
The Meaning of Life" in 1983 and he wrote the screenplay
for this movie with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. While Gilliam
was a very important member of the fabulous English comedy group
known as "Monty Python's Flying Circus," he was behind
the always crazy scenes unlike Michael Palin, who plays Jack Lint,
who was the tallest and therefore most visible member of the incredibly
influential and hilarious group that was forever pursuing "something
According to Mr. Dirks "other titles were
considered for the film: 'The Ministry of Torture,' '1984 1/2'
(homage to Fellini's '8 1/2'), and 'How I Learned to Live with
the System - So Far.' He said that in the firm "The normal
workers in society are docile, powerless, and obedient - to avoid
calling attention to themselves and ending up eradicated (literally
and figuratively) from the Ministry of Information's computer
files," adding that the "Police are represented as storm
troopers (Nazi-like), and the names of two major officials have
stereotypical German names: Kurtzmann and Helpmann."
The film was not an immediate success but over
the years became, according to Mr. Dirks became regarded "one
of the greatest cult classics ever made."
A "Central Services" television commission
for ducts is shown early in the film as a chorus sings "We
do the work, you do the pleasure."
"Do your ducts seem old-fashioned, out
of date. Central Services' new duct designs are now available
in hundreds of different colors to suit your individual tastes."
The commercial is being shown in a store window
and suddenly there is an explosion that destroys a passerby but
not all the television sets on one of which an interview with
the deputy minister of the Ministry of Informatiion is being interviewed
about the recent increase in terrorist bombings. He says that
they are caused by "bad sportsmanship: a ruthless minority
of people seems to have forgotten certain good old-fashioned virtues.
They just can't stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people
would just play the game...."
As the interview continues, the film switches
to the computer room at the Department of Records where a poster
declares "Loose Talk is Noose Talk." A technician is
annoyed by a buzzing beetle and chases it with a rolled-up newspaper
and smashes it against the ceiling. The beetle, however, falls
into an office machine, which then malfunctions and types out
"Tuttle" as the name of a terrorist to be questioned,
but on one of the forms it types "Buttle" instead of
The next scene is at the building where the
Buttle family lives. A woman, Jill Layton, played by Kim Geist,
is smoking while soaking in a bathtub of dirty water when she
sees the shadow of an intruder in a mirror. The intruder and his
associates cut a circular hole in her living room floor and descend
to the Buttle apartment below to take Mr. Buttle into custody.
At the Record Clerks Pool of the Ministry of
Information, the manager, played by Ian Holm, oversees his staff
from his glass-enclosed office. As soon as he stops looking out
at the staff, their television sets switch from computer records
to a Western movie. He yells for Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan
In the next scene, we see Lowry, in Mr. Dirks's
description, "as a silver-winged, bird-like mechanical figure
flying and gliding through the clouds - in the first of many mythic,
dream-like sequences. He watches for a pretty girl with long,
swirling blonde hair - a likeness of Jill Layton - who calls out
"Sam" from within a diaphanous, floating veil. In his
dream world, filled with idealistic notions of love and beauty,
he soars toward her and kisses her on the lips, then acrobatically
swoops backwards until a BUZZ sound repeatedly awakens him from
his serenity in his small apartment. His telephone (a mess of
wires and plug-in jack holes) is ringing (with a duck sound) by
his bedside. [His bedroom is decorated with posters of film star
Marlene Dietrich and other stars.] Sleepily, he reaches for the
phone and speaks to his boss, realizing that he is late for work
(his alarm clock apparatus is stuck at 4:55 am). His automatic
wake-up mechanisms have malfunctioned - all of a sudden, a cascading
set of electronic Rube Goldberg gadgetry begins to operate...his
window's venetian blinds open and let in the light, his bedroom
light illuminates, the round stopper for his bathtub appears and
covers the drain, the hot/cold water taps turn themselves on,
his closet's clothes rack shoots out, the toaster spits out semi-burnt
pieces of toast, the coffee pot's spout misdirects its aim, and
hot coffee soaks the toast, the television set switches itself
At the Ministry of Information, Lowry encounters
his old friend, Jack Lint, who tells him is "Life is going
wrong; Records is a dead-end department." Lowry asks to be
remembered to his Lint's wife and "the twins." Lint
corrects him: "Triplets." "Triplets? Lowry says,
adding "God, how time flies," a classic Gilliam throwaway
Meanwhile, Jill Layton enters the building
to present a report of "wrongful arrest" of her neighbor
but is giving a classic bureaucratic run-around, but knocks over
a busybody robot, an act that will get her classifie as a "dissident."
In his office Lowry begins working on the Tuttle/Buttle
mix-up and his workmate, Kurtzmann tells him that he, Lowry, has
been promoted, adding "It's your mother, isn't it? Pulling
The next scene is startling and rather disturbing
as Lowry visits his mother again.
Mr. Dirks provides the following commentary:
"The flabby, flexible cheeks of Mrs. Ida
Lowry's (Katherine Helmond) face are being pulled out by a surgically-garbed
Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent) in his office, to demonstrate her need
for plastic surgery - enhancements that promise to prolong her
youth and counter-act the ravages of time. The well-connected
old woman, who is addicted to plastic surgery and rejects looking
old as she grows up, speaks to her son: 'Sam, it's time for you
to grow up and accept responsibility. Your poor father would be
appalled at your lack of promotion...' Sam contends: 'I'm happy
where I am.' Increasingly upset, she compares his non-actualized
life to the one of ambitious friend Jack Lint: 'Jack
Lint is a lesson to you - he doesn't have your brains but he's
got the ambition. You haven't got the ambition. Luckily, you've
got me and the Deputy Minister. Mr. Helpmann was very close to
your father...' After vainly trying to dismiss Sam from the room,
Dr. Jaffe paints colored lines and marks on Mrs. Lowry's grotesque
face and then wraps it in sticky cellophane: Dr. Jaffe: 'First
we remove the excess derma. So! And the flaccid tissues under
the eyes. And the forehead. Zip! Now, I lift the wrinkles and
the worry lines right up into the wig into the hairline. And now
the template...There, now a bit of sticky...Already, she's twice
as beautiful as she was before. Voila!' Sam: (surprised) 'My god,
Mr. Lowry goes to lunch with his mother at
a posh restaurant and witnesses a terrorist attack. In the next
scene he has another dream about his dream girl but there is rumbling
and he awakes to find smoke coming from a vent in his living room.
He calls Central Services, but is told there is a "temporary
staff shortage." To cool off, he puts his head inside a refrigerator
and quickly falls asleep only to be awoken by a phone call. He
answers but is told to put down the receiver by a ninja standing
behindhim who is Archibald "Harry" Tuttle, who is played
by Robert De Niro, who repairs the heating unit when two repair
men from Central Services, Spoor, played by Bob Hoskins, and Dowser,
played by Derrick O'Conner, arrive but Sam insists on the proper
paperwork and they leave. Tuttle finishes his repairs and swings
off the balcony on a rope, telling Mr. Lowry, "Listen, kid,
we're all in it together."
Mr. Lowry returns to this apartment to find
Spoor and Dowser who have found Tuttle's repair and accuse him
of allowing Tuttle to commit sabotage.
Mr. Lowry gets promoted and finds Ms. Layton.
He tells her he dreams about her, but she tries to dismiss him.
She is driving a truck transporting a house and they pass a department
store that explodes and they get separated.
"Maddened and at loose ends, Sam returns
to his office where he tosses his stack of paperwork off the desk.
When a number of incoming cylinders are delivered through a pneumatic
tube (an "in" and "out" tube sit side by side
next to his desk), he decides to sabotage the communications system
by stuffing outgoing cylinders with wads of paper. Then, he grabs
a length of pneumatic tubing and plugs up both his outgoing and
incoming tubes with it. He also grabs his half-visible desk and
forcibly pulls it into his own space (causing a scream of pain
from Lime behind the wall). The section of connective tubing begins
to bulge from the pressure, causing an explosion somewhere within
the system. Plaster falls from his office ceiling, and outside,
reams of paper lyrically rain down from the busted ductwork above
the corridor. Sam enjoys a catharctic smile - pleased with himself
for destroying part of the paper-clogged bureaucracy."
Mr. Lowry returns to his apartment to find
Spoor and Dowser making "repairs" while wearing transparent
suits. Tuttle reappears and switches tubes to fill the transparent
suits with sewage, saying "We're all in it together, kid."
Tuttle leaves and Jill shows up and he breaks
off their romance and tells her to lock the door after him. He
plans to erase her from the computer files and he succeeds and
he rejoins her to make love. As a winged mechanical bird, he soars
upward with his dream girl. As he kisses her, however, another
"Buttle-type" attack from a hole in the ceiling occurs
and he is taken away in a straight-jacket. The screen darkens
and we hear gunshots. He cries out, "Jill, no...!"
He is taken to a vast torture chamber at Information Retrieval
and told by a guard "Don't fight it, son. Confess quickly.
If you hold out too long, you could jeopardize your credit rating"
He recognizes one of the technicians as his
friend, Jack Lint. Lint calls him "a stupid bastard"
and looks for an instrument of torture saying "This is a
In the nickof time, Tuttle comes to the rescue,
saves Mr. Lowry and tells him to call him Harry. Mr. Lowry is
offered a detonation plunger by Tuttle and he sets off explosions
in the building and they escape to a shopping mall where Tuttle
removes his uniform and disappears in a storm of paper documents.
Mr. Lowry tries to escape and enters a chapel
where he runs into his mother who now possesses the face of his
dream girl. Troopers enter and Mr. Lowry jumps into a casket to
emerge elsewhere in the city and in the debris opens a door to
the pre-fabricated house being transported on a truck by his dream
girl who winks at him and they kiss.
The happy ending, however, is short-lived as
his escape has been, as Mr. Dirks maintained, "into insanity."
Officials of the Ministry look at him strapped in a chair and
muse that he "got away from us."
The last shot shows Mr. Lowry smiling and humming
According to Mr. Dirks, "Brazil"
is part of a trilogy with Gilliam's 1981 film, "Time Bandits,"
and his 1989 film, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen."
While the film is dark and macabre it is not
depressing because of the joyous title song and the surprising,
pneumatic heroics of De Niro as Tuttle. It cannot compare in hilarity
and constant mayhem with Monty Python's antics but it manages
to make forceful and memorable satire.