It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this film and this time it gave me the creepy crawlies. This is satire done right, and the fact that after 20 years reality has nearly caught up with its prescience is what makes me feel so strange. Terry Gilliam is, as you might expect, one of my favorite directors, and Brazil is regarded by many to be his finest work. This review is going to be a turnabout from the last one [M. Hulot’s Holiday].
Imagine yourself living in a world where the government’s only concern is rooting out terrorism, where bureaucracy is so entrenched that you can’t get public documents unless you fill out other paperwork first, where people are imprisoned indefinitely for crimes they didn’t commit, tortured for information they don’t have—and then charged for the service. Quick, tell me what country you’re in!
Brazil is a movie about a place where the buck has been passed for so long that the focus is now on getting someone else stuck with it instead of resolving the issue. Brazil is a movie about a place where corporate conformity is expected, unending ambition to power is a virtue, and contentment and imagination are things to be despised. Brazil is a movie about a place where no one does any sort of work that is productive; there is no goal but self-preservation in every aspect of society. Information is the main commodity and its labyrinthine funneling through bureaucratic red tape is the main source of employment for those we see. Granted, there are a few outsiders who refuse to sign on the dotted line, and these are the ones considered terrorists, because they refuse to support the power structure in all its actions.
Stuck as we are, squarely in the middle of an Information Age where most of the information is of no substance and the substantive information cannot be accessed, Brazil is prophetic in hindsight. Yet Gilliam was obviously in dialogue with events contemporary to the making of his film. He considered calling it 1984½ and its release in 1985 seems to fulfill that particular intent.
The satire doesn’t limit itself to politics and business, even the motivations of private life are skewered by Gilliam and Tom Stoppard [who helped write the screenplay]. There are so few characters with soul in the film that Sam Lowry’s indefatigability is notable both for its existence and persistence in the face of the faceless society [and mother] that has fostered him. His toil under the hands of Information Retrieval becomes rife with Christological symbolism. His eventual catatonia is, functionally at least, as transcendent as Christ’s resurrection.