Welcome to "somewhere in the twentieth century." It seems that
our future soon will be heating and air-conditioning ducts. Your walls
will be filled with them like human intestines. Don't cut open the
walls or the guts will spill onto the floor.
Forget those LANs, you need pneumatic tubes. And that big monitor
on your personal computer, get rid of it too. The future is an old
typewriter hooked to a six inch TV screen made to look bigger by
putting a magnifying screen in front of it. Yes, welcome to the
wonderful world Terry Gilliam (TWELVE MONKEYS, THE FISHER KING, and the
MONTY PYTHON films) created in 1985 and called simply BRAZIL.
One week at the Science Fiction Festival at San Jose's Towne
Theatre, I saw THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and the next it was
BRAZIL (1985). How visions of the future do change. To be fair, the
former was a serious treatment, and the latter a black comedy. Very
I am quite partial to the writings of George Orwell, especially
his 1984. Although there is a lot to admire in BRAZIL, it plays as
MONTY PYTHON VISITS BIG BROTHER. The technical aspects of the film are
a delightful assault to our senses, but the script by Terry Gilliam,
Charles McKeown and Tom Stoppard is too derivative, and it is a mess.
The show is hard to follow and plays as if they are ad-libbing the plot
as they go. Perhaps this is supposed to be the charm of it, but I
think they should have concentrated more on structure and less on the
bizarre happenings. Actually, one could argue that the show is nothing
more than the sets (Norman Garwood) and the costumes (James Acheson).
One day, through a glitch physically caused by a house fly, the
government arrests a Mr. Buttle (Brian Miller) when they should be
taking in a terrorist named Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). In this
society based on forms, the police tell Mrs. Buttle (Sheila Reid),
"this is your receipt for your husband, and this is my receipt for your
Jonathan Pryce (Juan Peron in the upcoming EVITA) plays Sam Lowry.
Sam is a low level government worker and big time day dreamer. He has
great fantasies where he is a Lohengrin-like figure but with wings so
he can fly through the clouds. His dreams have him battling both
figures with doll faces and a large mechanical shogun. He fights them
so he can save the love of his life, an unknown woman who turns out to
be Jill Layton (Kim Greist - the mom from the HOMEWARD BOUND film
series). Jill becomes a fugitive from the law, and he helps her on her
Along the way, Bob Hoskins shows up playing Spoor, a member from
the hated Central Services organization that is charged with fixing
those ducts. Sam is befriended by Tuttle who is a terrorist and a
rogue repairman. He quit Central Services because he refused to fill
out the forms. Now he lives an existent on the fringes of society. He
carries a gun and dresses like a Ninja warrior. Actually some of the
customes are so outlandish that they look like rejects from WILLY WONKA
AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.
When Sam gets promoted, his new boss is Mr. Warrenn (Ian
Richardson who was sinister prime minister Francis Urquhart in the TV
series "House of Cards" and its sequels). Mr. Warrenn shows Sam to his
tiny office with the congratulatory remarks, "There you are, your own
office with your very own door." Working in Silicon Valley, the land
of the cubicles, these remarks are easy to understand. In some parts
of the country having your own office is no big deal. The newspaper
cartoon character Dilbert could certainly understand it. Later Mr.
Warrenn is not pleased with Sam's office clutter, and tells him, "What
is this mess? An empty desk is an efficient desk."
The best scene in the show is the one where Sam fights for control
of his desk. To save money the government has given one desk to two
employees with part in one office and part in another. Sam and the
other owner of the desk engage in a tug of war to see who can get the
I particularly liked the way the film dealt with security. Most
buildings are so secure you have to get forms to get forms just to be
admitted, but when he gets promoted to the most sensitive building, it
has no security. This reminded me of my first job in the Silicon
Valley. I worked for a successful company who had a receptionist by
the front door. If you took equipment in or out of that door, you had
to sign forms in triplicate. The backdoor was never locked so people
totally ignored the receptionist.
The movie is a cornucopia of images and events. It is Christmas
time, and one person carries a "Consumers for Christ" banner through a
department store. Next to her a little girl sets down on Santa's lap
so he asks, "What would you like for Christmas?" The quick reply is,
"my own credit card." Gilliam seems happy only when he is throwing
everything he can think of into his films. Restrain is a word with
which is not familiar.
Since this is basically a convoluted remake of 1984, the eventual
torture scene has the torturer threatening with, "Don't fight it son.
Confess quickly. If you hold out too long, you could jeopardize your
credit rating." Except for the pie in the face gag, Gilliam includes
every other possible scene in this farce. Although the good outweighs
the bad, the film is, nevertheless, one big muddle.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes