Home Entertainment Cinophile: Brazil

Cinophile: Brazil

3 min read
[column size=one_half position=first ]Terry Gilliam is a tricky director to appreciate, usually because he is as good at shooting his career in the foot as making immortal classics. Point in case is his most recent work, The Zero Theorem. It’s dull, plodding and pointless. But the movie has a remarkable resemblance to his 1985 sci-fi parody about whether we already find ourselves in some kind of dystopia. Looking back on it today, Brazil was on the mark about the world a long time ago.

Brazil came out a year after the much-lauded film adaptation of 1984, the most widely known tale warning of a dystopian future. But in 1984 Big Brother and The Party are at the root of all the misery. In Brazil it is mostly self-inflicted: a dull, drab world driven by technology, consumerism and the rat race. Bureaucracy is everywhere and the only way to get anything done is to go off the books, like hiring a freelance air conditioner repairman/terrorist. Everyone is obsessed with looks and success, a fitting parody of the promises modern society has not always delivered on.

In the movie Sam Lowry is a mild-mannered government employee who does his job and follows the rules that are supposed to make you happy. But he is miserable. It doesn’t help that he keeps having great dreams of flying with giant wings and meeting a mysterious woman. After a printer malfunction accidentally sends the wrong person to death, Lowry has to go see the widow. There he discovers that the widow’s neighbor is the woman of his dreams, but she has been branded a terrorist for reporting the printing error – the world would rather eliminate all evidence of the mistake than admit there ever was one.

From here on it becomes strange, true to Gilliam’s style. Brazil stands out as among his most insightful works. Today the film’s themes run stronger than ever as we surround ourselves ever more with technology and consumerism to avoid the mundane vibe of our society. Next time you tap away on your laptop in a cubicle, maybe ponder if you are not Sam Lowry: bored and uninspired by a boring and uninspiring world full of distractions and little else…

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Brazil‘s art design has been dubbed “retro-futurism.” It approached the world as if a 1940s sci-fi film imagines the 1980s. The effect is jarring and timeless. While CRT screens and clunky keyboards are no longer in vogue, it’s not hard to see Brazil reflect the world today.
Robert De Niro wanted the role of Jack Lint, Lowry’s friend and eventual interrogator. But Terry Gilliam had promised the role to close friend and fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin. De Niro was offered the role of Archibald Tuttle, the freelance air conditioner repairman and enemy of the state. It would prove to be one of De Niro’s most popular and acclaimed appearances.
Brazil is the middle of three movies in which Gilliam explored escaping from an ordered and soul-crushing society. The first was Time Bandits and the third the mega-flop The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Brazil would be the most critically acclaimed, but Time Bandits proved to be the biggest box office hit. Gilliam had a massive battle trying to get the film released, specifically because a studio executive called Sid Sheinberg kept blocking it for being to pessimistic. Gilliam resorted to open warfare, showing Brazil to critics, taking out ads in trades to demand Sheinberg release the film and even once showing Sheinberg’s photo on national television, accusing him of the reason why Brazil was still on the shelf. It worked and Gilliam could release the film on his terms.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.



Last Updated: September 8, 2014


  1. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love this movie. First time I saw it, I thought, damn that was strange, but in a kinda cool way. By the second time, I was in love. Third time, I was obsessed. I’m now waiting for the restraining order in the mail.


    • James Francis

      September 20, 2014 at 10:01

      Yeah, it takes a while to get into it. But then Brazil has you! Btw, ever notice that Bob Hoskins plays the nemesis to De Niro’s freelance plumber, only to play a freelance plumber himself in Mario Bros?


  2. Acornbread

    September 11, 2014 at 18:15

    I saw this so long ago and loved it. Interesting to hear it’s aged well, need to watch it again. Thanks for running Cinophile, always makes my day. 🙂


    • James Francis

      September 20, 2014 at 10:00

      Thanks! I sometimes wonder if the stuff I pick is too weird for the audience here.


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