Brazil (movie)

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Brazil (first released on February 20, 1985) is a dystopic comedy film directed by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. It was written by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard. It stars Jonathan Pryce, and features Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm.



Set "somewhere in the 20th century", the retro-futuristic world of Brazil is a gritty urban hellhole patched over with cosmetic surgery and "designer ducts for your discriminating taste". Automation pervades every facet of life from the toaster and coffee machine to doorways, but paperwork, inefficiency, and mechanical failure are the rule.

The story begins with Sam Lowry (Pryce), a low-level bureaucrat whose primary interests in life are his vivid dream fantasies to the tune of a 1940s big-band hit "Brazil", inadvertently getting involved with terrorist intrigue when his dream woman (Greist) turns up as the neighbor of a man ("Buttle") arrested as a terrorist instead of another man ("Tuttle") on account of a typographical error. Other people in Sam's life include the real Harry Tuttle (DeNiro), the terrorist who is actually a renegade heating technician and the intended target of Buttle's arrest order; Jack (Palin), a family man and childhood friend of Sam's whose actual occupation is a government torturer; and Sam's mother (Helmond). It also features his nervous boss played by Ian Holm and a friend of his mother who undergoes a series of disturbing cosmetic surgeries.

A mysterious wave of terrorist bombings is met by an increasingly powerful Ministry of Information (MOI), whose jackbooted thugs never admit to arresting and torturing the wrong man. Sam's simultaneous pursuit of the truth and the woman draws him into the higher echelons of the Ministry, despite Jack's repeated efforts to warn him that his quest will inevitably bring Sam into more danger than he can cope with.


Gilliam refers to this film as the second of a trilogy of movies, including Time Bandits (1981) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). He notes that the three films share a related theme of the struggle for imagination and free thinking in a world constantly suppressing such ideas.

Unfortunately the plot has some major confusing points, the most notable being the instant hate-to-love transition made by the female lead for the hero Sam. With its complex, subtle, and confusing plot, packed with jokes and ideas, Brazil is a movie to be watched several times. It is also packed with visual detail. The film incorporates many references to the final episode of The Prisoner.

In further analysis of the film's core ideas it can become quite difficult to come to concrete conclusions. Where exactly does Sam slip from reality into fantasy? Do terrorists actually exist, or is it simply the MOI staging bombings to give reason for its existence? Analysts from the political Left also raise the question whether parallels are meant to be made between the world of Brazil and either the societies of the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979 - 1990) or the United States under President Ronald Reagan (1981 - 1989) both contemporary to the film's production, while analysts from the political Right draw parallels between Brazil's government bureaucracy with communism, social-democracy and socialism, in analogy to Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (though Orwell was himself a Democratic socialist). The movie can thus be interpreted from a civil libertarian perspective from either the political Left or Right.

Cinematically, the film has been viewed as a dark parody of science fiction adventure films (the film has been specifically referred to as lampooning Star Wars, but the same sentiment could also apply to similar themed works that came after, such as The Matrix). Such films often feature a reluctant, ordinary citizen being transformed into a hero against a faceless, omnipresent dictatorship. Brazil lampoons many features of the genre. The government's evil "Stormtroopers" are portrayed as regular Joes whose deaths at the hands of the hero are as much murder as the deaths of their own victims. The "evil Empire" is not made up of malevolent minions, but merely ordinary men and women who are "only doing their jobs" oblivious to the resulting suffering. The hero's attempts to save his love only culminate in her death, and ultimately his resistance to the State's all-powerful authority only leads to his own ruination.

Controversy over the ending

As with Blade Runner, a version of the film was created by the movie studio with a more consumer-friendly "happy ending".

Gilliam's original cut of the film ended on a dark note: the protagonist's improbable defeat of the Ministry of Information, followed by his escape to the countryside with his lover, is abruptly revealed to be nothing more than a hallucination. In reality, Lowry has gone insane from his torture at the hands of the Ministry, and his dream of escape is nothing more than a flight into fantasy within his shattered mind. Presumably, this also means that Lowry's lover was executed by the Ministry's stormtroopers in an earlier scene.

Universal Studios executives thought the ending tested poorly, and wanted Gilliam to cut out the final reveal, and simply show Sam and Jill escaping to a life in the countryside, creating the so-called "love conquers all" ending. This version of the film was eventually shown on American television, much to the consternation of Gilliam.

Production and release history

The movie, a production of producer Arnon Milchan's company Embassy International Pictures (not to be confused with Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures), was released internationally outside of the U.S. by 20th Century Fox in Gilliam's original 142-minute version, while Universal handled U.S. distribution. Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg and Gilliam disagreed over the film; Sheinberg insisted on dramatically re-editing the film to give it a happy ending, which Gilliam resisted vigorously.

The movie was shelved by Universal as the argument continued, but Brazil, though still unreleased, was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for "Best Picture". Gilliam took out a full-page ad in the trade magazine Variety saying only, "Dear Sid Sheinberg, When are you going to release my film 'Brazil'?" Two weeks after the award, Universal was shamed into releasing a modified 131-minute version supervised by Gilliam, in 1985.

Upon release, Brazil performed poorly at the box office. Audiences were confused. Nonetheless, the film remains a cult favorite, particularly among Gilliam's fans. In tone and setting, it has similarities to Gilliam's later reality-twisting Twelve Monkeys, and the controversy about the film's ending is reminiscent of Blade Runner.

Brazil has also been compared to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four; in fact, Gilliam's working title for the movie was 1984½. Terry Gilliam claimed he had not read 1984 before making "Brazil".

The 131-minute domestic version was released on VHS and LaserDisc. The original European cut is currently available on DVD.

Sheinberg's edit, the so-called "Love Conquers All" version, was shown on syndicated television, and is available as an extra on the Criterion Collection DVD release of the film.

In 2004 the magazine Total Film named Brazil the 20th greatest British movie of all time.

External links

fr:Brazil id:Brazil (film) sv:Brazil es:Brazil ro:Brazil


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