Brazil (1985 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terry Gilliam|
|Produced by||Arnon Milchan|
|Music by||Michael Kamen|
|Edited by||Julian Doyle|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$9.9 million (North America)|
Brazil is a 1985 British film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard. The film stars Jonathan Pryce and features Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm.
The film centres on Sam Lowry, a man trying to find a woman who appears in his dreams while he is working in a mind-numbing job and living a life in a small apartment, set in a consumer-driven dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines. Brazil 's bureaucratic, totalitarian government is reminiscent of the government depicted in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, except that it has a buffoonish, slapstick quality and lacks a Big Brother figure.
Jack Mathews, film critic and author of The Battle of Brazil (1987), described the film as "satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving Gilliam crazy all his life". Though a success in Europe, the film was unsuccessful in its initial North America release. It has since become a cult film. In Brazil, some local movie critics believe it intended to make a satirical portrait on the Brazilian military government which was about to end on its release date. 
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level government employee who has frequent daydreams of saving a damsel in distress. One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, misprinting a file it was copying, resulting in the incarceration and accidental death during interrogation of cobbler Archibald Buttle, instead of the suspected terrorist, freelance heating engineer Archibald Tuttle.
When Sam visits Buttle's widow, he discovers Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the upstairs neighbour of the Buttles, and is astonished to see that she has the face of the woman from his recurring dreams. Jill is trying to help Mrs. Buttle find out what happened to her husband, but has become sick of dealing with the bureaucracy. Unbeknownst to her, she is now considered a terrorist accomplice of Tuttle for attempting to report the mistake of Buttle's arrest in Tuttle's place to a corrupt bureaucracy that would rather dispose of all the evidence and witnesses than admit such an error.
When Sam tries to approach her, she is very cautious and avoids giving Sam full details, worried the government will track her down. During this time, Sam comes in contact with the real Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a renegade air conditioning specialist who once worked for Central Services but left due to his dislike of the tedious and repetitive paperwork. Tuttle helps Sam deal with two Central Services workers, Spoor (Bob Hoskins) and Dowser (Derrick O'Connor), who later return to demolish Sam's ducts and seize his apartment under the guise of fixing the air conditioning.
Sam discovers that the only way to learn about Jill is to get transferred to Information Retrieval, where he would have access to her classified records. He had previously turned down a promotion engineered by his mother, Ida (Katherine Helmond), vainly obsessed with rejuvenating plastic surgery under the care of cosmetic surgeon Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent). She has connections to high-ranking officers and despairs of Sam's lack of ambition. Sam is able to retract his refusal by speaking directly with Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan) at a party given by his mother. He eventually obtains Jill's records and tracks her down before she is arrested, then falsifies her records to make her appear deceased, allowing her to escape the bureaucracy. The two share a romantic night together, but they are quickly apprehended by the government at gunpoint.
Charged with treason for abusing his newly acquired position, Sam is restrained to a chair in a large, empty cylindrical room (the interior of a power station cooling tower), to be tortured by his old friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin), who is wearing a mask seen earlier in Sam's dreams and had previously distanced himself from Sam. Sam also learns that Jill had been killed resisting arrest. However, before Jack manages to begin the torture, Tuttle and other members of the resistance break into the Ministry. The resistance shoots Jack, rescues Sam, and blows up the Ministry building as they flee.
Sam and Tuttle run off together, but Tuttle disappears amid a mass of scraps of paper from the destroyed Ministry. Sam runs to his mother attending a funeral for a friend who died of excessive cosmetic surgery. Finding his mother now looking like Jill and fawned over by a flock of juvenile admirers, Sam falls into the open casket, falling through an empty black void. He lands in a world from his daydreams, and attempts escape up a pile of flex-ducts from the police and imaginary monsters. He finds a door at the top of the pile and, passing through it, is surprised to find himself in a trailer driven by Jill. The two drive away from the city together.
However, this "happy ending" is all a product of Sam's delusions: Sam is still strapped to the chair and observed by Jack and Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann, who is portrayed along the film as a good "friend" of Sam's family. Realising that Sam has descended into blissful insanity, the two declare him a lost cause and exit the room. The film ends with Sam sitting in the chair, smiling and singing "Brazil".
- Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry. Pryce has described the role as the highlight of his career, along with that of Lytton Strachey in Carrington. Tom Cruise was also considered for the role.
- Kim Greist as Jill Layton. Gilliam's first choice for the part was Ellen Barkin; also considered were Jamie Lee Curtis, Rebecca De Mornay, Rae Dawn Chong, Joanna Pacuła, Rosanna Arquette, Kelly McGillis, and Madonna. Gilliam was reportedly dissatisfied with Greist's performance, and chose to cut or edit some of her scenes as a result.
- Robert De Niro as Archibald "Harry" Tuttle. De Niro still wanted a part in the film after being denied that of Jack Lint, so Gilliam offered him the smaller role of Tuttle.
- Katherine Helmond as Mrs. Ida Lowry. According to Helmond, Gilliam called her and said, "I have a part for you, and I want you to come over and do it, but you're not going to look very nice in it." The make-up was applied by Gilliam's wife, Maggie. During production, Helmond spent ten hours a day with a mask glued to her face; her scenes had to be postponed due to the blisters this caused.
- Ian Holm as Mr. Kurtzmann, Sam's boss.
- Bob Hoskins as Spoor, a government-employed heating engineer who resents Harry Tuttle.
- Michael Palin as Jack Lint. Robert De Niro read the script and expressed interest in the role, but Gilliam had already promised the part to Palin, a friend and regular collaborator. Palin described the character as "someone who was everything that Jonathan Pryce's character wasn't: he's stable, he had a family, he was settled, comfortable, hard-working, charming, sociable – and utterly and totally unscrupulous. That was the way we felt we could bring out the evil in Jack Lint."
- Ian Richardson as Mr. Warrenn, Sam's new boss at Information Retrieval
- Peter Vaughan as Mr. Helpmann, the Deputy Minister of Information
Co-writer Charles McKeown plays Harvey Lime, Sam's co-worker. Director Terry Gilliam makes a cameo appearance as the smoking man at Shang-ri La Towers, while his daughter Holly Gilliam portrays Jack Lint's daughter, Holly Lint. Other cast members include Jim Broadbent as Dr. Louis Jaffe, Mrs. Lowry's plastic surgeon, Barbara Hicks as Mrs. Alma Terrain, Kathryn Pogson as her daughter Shirley, Bryan Pringle as the waiter Spiro, Brian Miller as Mr. Archibald Buttle, Sheila Reid as Mrs. Veronica Buttle, Derrick O'Connor as Spoor's partner Dowser, Derek Deadman and Nigel Planer as Bill and Charlie (workers seen repairing Buttle's ceiling), Gorden Kaye as the MOI Lobby Porter, Jack Purvis as Dr. Chapman, Elizabeth Spender as Alison "Barbara" Lint, Myrtle Devenish as the typist in Jack's office and Roger Ashton-Griffiths as the priest.
Gilliam developed the story and wrote the first draft of the screenplay with Charles Alverson, who was paid for his work but was ultimately uncredited in the final film. For nearly 20 years, Gilliam denied that Alverson had made any material contribution to the script. But then when the first draft was published and original in-progress documents emerged from Alverson's files, Gilliam begrudgingly changed his story. This was a bit late for either credit on the film or a listing on the failed Oscar nomination for Alverson. He has said that he would not have minded the Oscar nomination, even though he didn’t think much of the script or the finished film. Gilliam, McKeown, and Stoppard collaborated on further drafts. Brazil was developed under the titles The Ministry and 1984 ½, the latter a nod not only to Orwell's original 1984 but also to 8½ by Federico Fellini, a director whom Gilliam often cites as one of the defining influences on his visual style when directing. During the film's production, other working titles floated about, including The Ministry of Torture, How I Learned to Live with the System – So Far, and So That's Why the Bourgeoisie Sucks, before settling with Brazil relating to the name of its escapist signature tune.
Gilliam sometimes refers to this film as the second in his "Trilogy of Imagination" films, starting with Time Bandits (1981) and ending with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible." All three movies focus on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination—Time Bandits, through the eyes of a child, Brazil, through the eyes of a man in his thirties, and Munchausen, through the eyes of an elderly man. In 2013, Gilliam also called Brazil the first instalment of a dystopian satire trilogy it forms with 1995's 12 Monkeys and 2013's The Zero Theorem.
Gilliam has stated that Brazil was inspired by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four—which he has admitted never having read—but is written from a contemporary perspective rather than looking to the future as Orwell did. In Gilliam's words, his film was "the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984." Critics and analysts have pointed out many similarities and differences between the two, an example being that contrary to Winston Smith, Sam Lowry's spirit did not capitulate as he sank into complete catatonia.
Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice wrote, "Gilliam understood that all futuristic films end up quaintly evoking the naïve past in which they were made, and turned the principle into a coherent comic aesthetic." In the second version of the script, Gilliam and Alverson described the film's setting like this: "It is neither future nor past, and yet a bit of each. It is neither East nor West, but could be Belgrade or Scunthorpe on a drizzly day in February. Or Cicero, Illinois, seen through the bottom of a beer bottle."
The result has been dubbed "retro-futurism" by fellow filmmakers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. Generally called "sci-fi noir," it is "a view of what the 1980s might have looked like as viewed from the perspective of a 1940s filmmaker." It is an eclectic yet coherent mixture of styles and production designs derived from Fritz Lang's films (particularly Metropolis and M) or film noir pictures starring Humphrey Bogart: "On the other hand, Sam's reality has a '40s noir feel. Some sequences are shot to recall images of Humphrey Bogart on the hunt and one character (Harvey Lime) may be named as an homage to The Third Man's Harry Lime." A number of reviewers also saw a distinct influence of German Expressionism, as the 1920s seminal, more nightmarish, predecessor to 1940s film noir, in general in how Gilliam made cunning use of lighting and set designs. A brief sequence towards the end, in which resistance fighters flee from government soldiers on the steps of the Ministry, pays homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925).
This eclectic virtuosity and attention to detail in lighting and set design was coupled with Gilliam's trademark obsession for very wide lenses and tilted camera angles; going unusually wide for an audience used to mainstream Hollywood productions, Gilliam made the film's wide-angle shots with 14mm (Zeiss), 11mm, and 9.8mm (Kinoptik) lenses, the latter being a recent technological innovation at the time as one of the first lenses of that short a focal length that did not fish-eye. In fact, over the years, the 14mm lens has become informally known as "The Gilliam" among film-makers due to the director's frequent use of it since Brazil.
One visual element which figures prominently in the movie is the ducts, specifically the snakelike "flex-ducts" used in modern construction. The film even opens with an advertisement for different styles of ducting available for homes as seen on a display of television sets in a store front window.
Sam's apartment is dominated by a wall consisting entirely of metal panels which conceal a woefully outdated and complex air-conditioning system – the guerrilla engineer Tuttle is the only person able to tame it. Later, Sam lunches in a restaurant dominated by a giant centerpiece where the "flowers" are actually flex-ducts. Still later, when Sam makes a potentially seditious nighttime visit to his office, the emptiness of the government building's gigantic lobby is set off by maintenance men's floor buffing machines, trailing long cords of flex-duct.
In the working-class Buttle home, the families have to live their lives while giving way to ducts that in fact hinder their daily activities. In Sam's home, the ducts are not visible initially, but make their presence felt as an undertone when they break down. In the Department of Records, the ducts are a visible part of the environment, but above everyone's heads. Finally, in the dreaded Department of Information Retrieval, there are very few ducts.
The reference to form 27B/6, without which no work can be done by repairmen of the Department of Public Works, is a reference to George Orwell, who lived at Canonbury Square Apartment 27B, Floor 6, while writing parts of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Ary Barroso's 1939 song "Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolor of Brazil", often simply "Brazil") in a version specifically performed by Geoff Muldaur is the leitmotif of the movie, although other background music is also used. Michael Kamen, who scored the film, originally recorded "Brazil" with vocals by Kate Bush. This recording was not included in the actual film or the original soundtrack release; however, it has been subsequently released on re-pressings of the soundtrack.
The film was produced by Arnon Milchan's company Embassy International Pictures (not to be confused with Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures). Gilliam's original cut of the film is 142 minutes long and ends on a dark note. This version was released internationally outside the US by 20th Century Fox.
US distribution was handled by Universal. Universal executives thought the ending tested poorly, and Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg insisted on dramatically re-editing the film to give it a happy ending, cutting out the reveal that it was all in Sam's mind, a decision that Gilliam resisted vigorously. As with the cult science fiction film Blade Runner (1982), which had been released three years earlier, a version of Brazil was created by the movie studio with a more consumer-friendly ending. After a lengthy delay with no sign of the film being released, Gilliam took out a full-page ad in the trade magazine Variety urging Sheinberg to release Brazil in its intended version. Gilliam soon conducted private screenings of Brazil (without the studio's approval) for film schools and local critics. On the same night Universal's award contender Out of Africa premiered in New York, Brazil was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for "Best Picture". This prompted Universal to finally agree to release a modified 132-minute version supervised by Gilliam, in 1985.
Brazil has been released four times by the Criterion Collection: First as a five-disc LaserDisc box set in 1996, a 3-disc DVD box set in '99 and '06, a single-disc DVD in '06, and a 2-disc Blu-ray set in 2012.
The 3-disc box set released in '06 looks identical in packaging to its '99 release, albeit compatible with Widescreen TV screens.
Except the single-disc version, all versions have the same special features: A 142-minute cut of the film (referred to by Gilliam as the "fifth and final cut"), Sheinberg's "Love Conquers All" cut for syndicated television, and various galleries and featurettes.
A Blu-ray of the 132-minute US version of the movie was released in the US on 12 July 2011 by Universal. It contains only that version of the film and no extra features.
Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, claiming the film was "hard to follow", but displayed an affinity to being "reminded of a Chaplin film, Modern Times, and reminded, too, that in Chaplin economy and simplicity were virtues, not the enemy."
Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan described the film as "the most potent piece of satiric political cinema since Dr. Strangelove". Janet Maslin of The New York Times was very positive towards the film upon its release, stating "Terry Gilliam's Brazil, a jaunty, wittily observed vision of an extremely bleak future, is a superb example of the power of comedy to underscore serious ideas, even solemn ones."
In 2004, Total Film named Brazil the 20th greatest British movie of all time. In 2005, Time film reviewers Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel named Brazil in an unordered list of the 100 best films of all time. In 2006, Channel 4 voted Brazil one of the "50 Films to See Before You Die", shortly before its broadcast on FilmFour. The film also ranks at number 83 in Empire magazines list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.
Wired ranked Brazil number 5 in its list of the top 20 sci-fi movies. Entertainment Weekly listed Brazil as the sixth best science-fiction piece of media released since 1982. The magazine also ranked the film No. 13 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films".
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards; for Original Screenplay and Best Art Direction (Norman Garwood, Maggie Gray) According to Gilliam in an interview with Clive James in his online programme Talking in the Library, to his surprise Brazil is apparently a favourite film of the far right in America.
- American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Fantasy Film
British National Cinema by Sarah Street describes the film as a "fantasy/satire on bureaucratic society" while John Scalzi's Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies describes it as a "dystopian satire".
Other films that drew inspiration from Brazil's cinematography, art design, and/or overall atmosphere include Jean-Pierre Jeunet's and Marc Caro's films Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995), the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), and Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998).
Cinematographer Roger Pratt worked on Tim Burton's Batman, the production design and lighting style of which have been compared to Brazil. Burton and production designer Anton Furst studied Brazil as a reference for the look of their film.
- BFI Top 100 British films
- List of films featuring surveillance
- List of films cut over the director's opposition
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27b Canonbury Square, Islington, London N1, 18 August 1945 [as return address in correspondence]
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