Review of Brazil (1985)

Moving picture, 132 minutes

Terry Gilliam (director).

At 20:49 o’clock in the 20th century, Sam Lowry is refusing to be promoted through a bureaucratic hierarchy of nitpicking oppression, torture and blame-shifting, paid for by the victims. He also refuses to see his part in it. Sam idly dreams of another world, and when he sees a woman literally from his dreams he begins a quest to break out. The problem is that his society is both leaderless and consensual.

Brazil is the last great science fiction film limited to traditional in-camera effects, eschewing even analog composite shots. As such, it is a monument to the medium of physical film. It is also a vibrant black comedy, set in the very finest uchronian dystopia. It is, in short, the best.

The film distorts reality in the most enchanting way. Gilliam pours everything into it while maintaining both tremendous wit and a sense of real compassion even for the anonymous victims. That balance extends from the superficial (Shirley’s expressions!) to the symbolic depths, which include the finest pop-Freudian love story of all time: When Jill Layton actually falls for Lowry, she is symbolically identified as his mother (from both directions) and symbolically dead, uniting typically spurious versions of Freud’s Oedipus complex and death drive, all of it wrapped up in a Hitchcockian transformation. It’s hilarious, it’s horrible and it’s sublime, frequently all at once.

The opening scene, where a tiny technical malfunction in a huge bureaucracy sets events in motion, resembles the opening of “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” (1964). In the events themselves, Kafka meets Orwell, Huxley and Disney: The Leitmotif samba in Kamen’s score strongly resembles the one in “Saludos Amigos” (1942), from the time before Brazil got a military government whose agents carried out terrorism against its own population in the CIA’s “backyard”. The persistent drift toward madness recalls Disney’s sequel, The Three Caballeros (1944). The movie’s bombing campaign in a fictionalized Britain also recalls the Irish “Birmingham Six” who were still in prison in 1985, despite their innocence being widely known for a decade in British politics and law enforcement.

References here: “Terry Gilliam” tag description, The Meaning of Life (1983), Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988), Kafka (1991), “Tribunal” (1994), The City of Lost Children (1995), “Pump Six” (2008), The Hunger Games (2012), The Zero Theorem (2013), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Dorohedoro (2020).

moving picture fiction