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Brazil

Directed by Terry Gilliam with Robert de Niro, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, and Kim Greist, 142 minutes, color, 1985

Cover of DVD

Cover of DVD

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 different."

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 "Tuttle."

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 Pryce.

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 on."

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 nonsense line

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 strings again."

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, it works!'"

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.

Mr. Dirks provides the following commentary:

"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 professional relationship."

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 "Brazil."

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.

This film is rated 68th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

 

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