Cyberpunk Review » Brazil

May 25, 2006


Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1985

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Sam Lowry: Jonathan Pryce
  • Jill Layton: Kim Greist
  • Archibald ‘Harry’ Tuttle: Robert De Niro
  • Mrs. Ida Lowry: Katherine Helmond
  • Michael Palin: Jack Lint
  • Spoor: Bob Hoskins
  • Mr. M. Kurtzmann: Ian Holm
  • Rating: 10 out of 10

    Brazil screen capture


    Overview: Terry Gilliam describes Brazil as “Franz Kafka meets Walter Middy” - this sort of fits. Using the name of Arry Barroso’s 1930s escapist song, Brazil is set in a nightmarish, fantasized dystopic future, Gilliam gives us a story about humanity attempting to escape reality by retreating into one’s own dreams. This is all the more interesting given the enormous fights Terry Gilliam had to engage in with Universal to even get the picture (in a non-bastardized form) released. Brazil is a visual and thematic tour-de-force which deserves a watch by all who are interested in having movies provoke deep thoughts, long after the film has concluded.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Setting: Brazil takes place in a fantasized dystopic future where runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy that has invaded all aspects of daily life. Arcane forms with incoherent instructions are required to do anything, but the goal is always completeness and finality over actual results. Appearances are everything in Brazil – actual human relationships are a luxury most do without. Humans survive in this world by keeping their “real” selves bottled up inside as a cocoon, while overtly they serve their role as a specific cog in the system. Keep the desk clean, the expensive suit pressed and your family looking perfect and you’ll be alright. Continually we see non-human responses to horrific disasters. In one restaurant scene, half the patrons have been blown up by a bomb, but the maître d’ is far more concerned with hiding the destruction from his elite patrons by erecting a pleasant backdrop than he is in helping those horribly injured.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Story: Sam Lowry (played wonderfully by Jonathan Pryce), our hero, from the beginning adapts to the system, but separates his “true” self in his dreams. Sam works as a minor cog in a the massively large bureaucracy called the Ministry of Information. The Ministry of Information eats up 7% of the total GDP in its pursuit of society’s subversive elements, including the terrorists, who randomly bomb the rich and wealthy throughout the movie. Even though Sam comes from a prominent family with connections, he wants nothing to do with career advancement. Sam long ago gave up aspirations, and only wants to get through life unnoticed - until the love of his dream life appears in the real world. Sam throws everything else aside in order to meet up with this chick, but unfortunately, the “system” and even his own preconceptions continually get in the way. As the story unfolds, we see the bureaucracy in action in what becomes a struggle of freedom and individuality against the technological domination of humanity.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Visuals: Brazil is a visually powerful movie. In its more sedate moments, Brazil starts off as a noir-ish style setting with 40s style suits and hats, tall squared buildings, computers driven by typewriters and dark lighting from above. But very quickly, Brazil changes to a surreal experience, which shoes converted to hats, ventilation pipes dominating every roomscape, and massive expansive buildings without ground floors. Ventilation pipes are Gilliam’s symbol for technology run rampant. Massively tall buildings are symbols for bureaucratic power. Throughout, dark gray is the dominating color. Visually, the world of Brazil is decidedly bleak – more bleak in fact than humanity can overcome.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Sound: Brazil’s score fully encapsulates the ambiance that Gilliam is expressing. We have high flowing orchestral pieces, cheesy, squeaky monophone songs, marches that integrate type-writers as the rhythm section, and all sorts of diversity that captures the quirky, bittersweet feel that Brazil often conveys. The continually harsh, metallic sound FX also highten the ambiance. What we are left with is a wonderful meshing of visuals and sound as a backdrop for the wonderful performances throughout.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Cast: One of Gilliam’s real skills in Brazil is taking an extremely large cast, filled with potentially interesting roles, and making them all meaningful. Continually, Brazil provides us a stream of totally interesting role players that add to the quirky universe that is this fantasized future. Robert De Niro is terrific as Harry Tuttle, a heat engineer-turned anarchist revolutionary. Michael Palin plays a terrific best friend and torturer, and Katherin Helmond plays a totally wierd, excentric but powerful mother. There are a number of other unique roles, including Ian Holm who plays a terrific cowardly, conniving boss, and Bob Hoskins as a slighted and crazed heat engineer. Jonathan Pryce is absolutely superb as the lead, and Kim Greist plays an interesting counter-point love interest. All in all, the roles come across as entirely memorable.


    Brazil screen capture


    Dream Trapped Inside of a Nightmare: On the “Making of” segment of the Criterion Edition, Brazil is described as a dream trapped inside of a nightmare by star Jonathan Pryce. Pryce’s character, Sam Lowry, dreams the ultimate dream of happiness. In his dream, he is a fantasy warrior with angel wings who fights the denizens of the deep to rescue his idealized damsel in distress. In reality though, every aspect of his life is a nightmare. The “system” that is the bureaucracy, in an attempt to root out the terrorists, has extended its omnipresent tentacles into every aspect of life. At best, Lowry’s idealized reality involves being un-noticed by anyone. Unfortunately, once he discovers his idealized mate in real life, he can no longer remain obscure. He risks everything in a failed attempt to transform his dream into reality. In the end, Brazil shows how the depths of humanity can be crushed in a dystopic future where individuality and human rights become completely subservient to societal “welfare.”


    Brazil screen capture


    Use of Information: In Brazil, the collection and storage of information is paramount. While Brazil takes place in a dystopic future, computers have never advanced past arcane mainframes. The notion of usability, or people-centric computing is an anathema to the world of Brazil. The horror of horrors for the bureaucracy is finding a piece of paper without a home, or even worse, acknowledging that the “mistake” that caused this out of place paper belongs in your department! In Brazil, the fact that a person dies and a family is destroyed by this paperwork glitch is completely beside the point. In fact, the Samurai warrior character (see below) that Lowry fights in his dreams is fully comprised of computer parts – information and computers are indeed the ultimate evil for humanity.


    Brazil screen capture


    Terror As a Means of Extracting Information: One of the really interesting notions in Brazil that resonates today is the idea that the government engages in torture as a means of extracting information about potential terrorists. The throwaway comments from Sam, who has bought into this world, indicates that the choice HAS to be between this invasive government and sheer anarchy. When brought to the level of the individual, one has the sense that little by little, the government in Brazil slowly invaded individual freedoms as a way of combating the terrorists. The clear impression though is one of ever escalating acts – as the government becomes more invasive, the anarchic responses become more extravagant. De Niro’s character, the heroic anarchist heating engineer, represents this history of society, and humanity’s ultimate response.


    Brazil screen capture


    Is Brazil Cyberpunk? Due to the fantasy elements we see in Brazil, it’s hard to refer to it as a straight cyberpunk movie. While the dream sequences aren’t an issue, the dystopic future clearly isn’t supposed to represent an actual near-term future – it’s a fantasized version of issues currently playing out in society today. Still, the message of invasive technology and dominating totalitarian control destroying humanity is rarely done better than we see in Brazil. And while Brazil is wonderfully quirky, it’s the ending that truly feels like a cyberpunk film. Here we get both common cyberpunk visuals and philosophy in every sense of the word. The ending especially mimics many other cyberpunk films, where…

    Throughout the last half of the film, Sam’s perception of reality becomes more and more governed by perceptions from his dream world. His actions leading to his final arrest are based on a perceptual mix of fantasy with reality. At the end, Sam is seems to make the conscious choice to disavow the real world in favor of his internally constructed fantasy. In this sense, Sam has finally attained the freedom he long sought after. Interestingly, a very similar approach is also used at the end of Save the Green Planet.


    Brazil screen capture


    The Bottom Line: The world of Brazil is steeped in a runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy that has its tentacles in every part of humanity. The ducts dominate every room, including the family household living room at the beginning. To humanity, the message is clear – “Your actual lives must be adapted to suit OUR needs, not yours; freedom now only exists in your own dreams.” In the end we are shown the myth of a free man in a tightly controlled society – the only freedom we ultimately possess is within our own perceptions – that is the only source where salvation can be found. Visually, Brazil is simply stunning. The story is incredibly creative, the acting is great (especially De Niro and Pryce) and the dialogue is terrific. Furthermore, your Gilliam’s wonderful sense of humor seeps out of every pore in this movie - such as the notion that the information retrieval department never retrieves any information. In short, Brazil is movie worthy of high praise.


    Go to Page 2 for More Screencaps–>

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Awesome Cyberpunk Themes, Security-Surveillance State, Dystopic Future Movies, 10 Star Movies, Surreal Cyberpunk Movies, Awesome Cyberpunk Visuals, Cyberpunk movies from 1980-1989 by SFAM.


    May 25, 2006

    ETM said:

    Wonderful! I am so glad I made you include this, SFAM, that was an awesome writeup.

    May 26, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Thanks for the kind comments! For those of you not in the “know,” ETM is referring to a long lost thread on where I was first trying to define the criteria for evaluating whether a movie should be considered cyberpunk or not. You can still see the results of this thread in the “What is cyberpunk?” link above.

    […] zephyrin_xirdal has a terrific cyberpunked living post on Xirdalium where he highlights the similiarities of every day building interiors with Brazil - specifically our restaurants. In Gilliam’s Brazil, ventilation pipes are the symbol for technology run rampant. There’s something disturbing about noticing how omnipresent these things are in our restaurants. So, um, next time you check out your favorite restaurant, don’t look up! This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM. Permalink • Print • Email this page […]

    June 29, 2006

    David Steele said:

    One of the very few movies that seems even more relevant today than it did when it was made. Watching this movie again made me realise just how much society has changed.

    Take the tiny little sequence where Sam is riding on a bus, and all the women are standing so that the men can sit down. Twenty years ago the idea was outrageously funny. Now, my younger step-son’s didn;t even pick up on the visual joke.

    In a crowded shopping mall, Santa is asking a little girl what she wants for Christmas. “My own Credit Card” is her answer. Again, when this joke was written, it was pure ironic science fiction.

    But aside from all that, the movie is far more politically relevant today than it was when it was made. Look at the parallels between the War on Terror of our real lives and the nightmare of the movie. On the night I re-watched this, the British Police had stormed into a house in Didsbury which was occupied by a couple of Islamic families. They had received a tip off that they might be a terrorist house.

    One boy was shot, and a whole nation listened in horror as his story was told. In truth, the house was a “terraced house.” An easy mistake to make. If you think that Buttle sounds like Tuttle.

    Anyway, SFAM. I’m not sure how you managed it, but you got through the whole review without mentioning George Orwell’s “Nineteen eighty four”. Quite an achievement!

    June 30, 2006

    Glam Creature said:

    Yeah, it’s weird that Orwel is not mentioned; one of the movie title variants was “1984 1/2″, refering directly to Orwels novel (and Fellini’s movie “8 1/2).

    July 1, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi guys, yeah, I shoulda mentioned 1984. The linkage is absolutely and utterly direct - probably so much so that I passed right over this. I should go back and add a paragraph at some point, but truly, Brazil is one of those movies that I could have written about for another page or two. And David Steele’s comment that this movie is more relevant today than when released is both right on, and very scary. That we should start resembling Brazil’s world in any way is truly a scary commentary.

    October 19, 2006

    Uther said:

    i loved this movie! and… im glad i dont live in a first world country, but.. we have our own problems, not so related with cyberpunk, in the direct way the states or west europe does…

    November 4, 2006

    Hugo said:

    Everytime I get on a bus or a train now I think of the little, box-like trams used in Brazil :P.

    A bit of an odd movie but certaintly worth the money.

    January 9, 2007

    l1zrdking said:

    After reading the review for this movie, I immediately went to download and watch. I have to say, I’m glad I did. This movie, while weird as hell, was great. It reminded me a bit of 1984, but in reality, it reminded me a lot of living in America today.

    thank you
    Everytime I get on a bus or a train now I think of the little, box-like trams used in Brazil .

    A bit of an odd movie but certaintly worth the money.

    January 16, 2007

    SFAM said:

    L1zrdking, try watching it a second or third time. You’ll find it gets more powerful with each viewing.

    February 1, 2007

    Cyberfluid said:

    what site you download it from?

    February 14, 2007

    anti-suckers army said:

    This movie is just a exemple that some directors would be arrested to make crappy and pervert-sadistic stupid offensive material,i cant understand why some suckers glorify this grotesque,facist propaganda.Terry Gilliam is just one of that stupid european directors such Peter Grenway that loves to produce simple disgusting fiction.This movie is just about torture porn.Im not conservative,but iconoclastic,i hate all the hype and hypers about this trash movie.
    some day ill hope to see adrian lyne,greenway,gilliam,spielberg,zalman king been fucked in prison
    ha ha ha

    SFAM said:

    The above post is “just a example that some viewers would be arrested to make such crappy and pervert-sadistic stupid offensive” comments on this blog - I can’t understand why some idiots want directors who make movies they don’t like get fucked in prison.

    Ha ha ha“??? Please, fuck off, preferably on another site.

    You hate Brazil? Cool, no problem. Brazil is NOT for everyone. But wanting a group of directors to get fucked in prison because you don’t like their seems just a bit much, don’t you think? Here’s a better approach - stop watching movies from European directors, or ones that make less than 50 million - chances are this will stop you from encountering anything unnecessarily challenges you.

    April 3, 2007

    James NIGDEF said:

    It was worth enduring all of Terry Gilliam’s other, lesser movies just for this one: a beautifully imagined dystopia that dares find humor in it’s authoritarian bleakness. Just like 1984 I find it to be increasingly relevant.

    August 18, 2007

    Jess said:

    David Steele you are correct sir.

    When I watched this movie in the eightees it was mind blowing dystopic futurism. Now it scares the shit out of me re-watching it, I just hate the fact that so much of this movie became reality. My wife hated the movie because it filled her with disgust, not becuase it was a bad movie but because it was all too true. Max Headroom became reality twenty minutes after it was released, you could see that one coming. When you watch this movie you realise how screwed we are.


    October 1, 2007

    A Zee said:

    I’d agree with much of the above, however I think it would reach a wider audience if it were less reliant on metaphors. I’m not sure that much of today’s youth would really appreciate the challenging nature of the film, and that is a shame. It is the youth of today that really need to understand the messages that the film tries to convey.

    January 14, 2008

    imadumass2(come here and kill me) said:

    So,if you Love,so much a futuristic”distopian society”,why dont you nerds,go to iraq and fight againist your own us army, or sell drugs in red china,you all will love it.i think you cant because you all are masturbating themselves sitting in some airpipe with a plastic bag inside your heads,or another kind of nerd otaku gayish pervert s methods ov all are wannabe aeonflux,european directors are for wuzz audiences like you all,like clint eastwood says go ahead”cyberpunk”make my day.

    DanNoir said:

    There is a little mistake in the cast listing.
    Michael Palin wasn’t played by Jack Lint.
    Jack Lint was played by Micheal Palin.

    […] fácil encontrar informação sobre o filme, gostei desta página em particular, que me pareceu um exemplo bem estruturado de como escrever sobre […]

    March 21, 2008

    Maurice said:

    hi guys, just wanted to say, that in my eyes this movie would be most appropriatly placed in the genre: Steampunk. close to cyber punk, the difference being that the technology is not digital, instead, of a kenetic nature, steam powered, coggs, pistons, etc. Of course there are elements of both genres and they are quite similar. What do you guys think?
    One of the best movies made i have to add!

    December 15, 2008

    Adamack said:

    I remember first seeing this movie with some highschool friends. We were kind of angry with the guy who picked it out and banned him from future movie decisions. Over the years I’ve come to love this paranoid vision of the future and watch it evolve into the present.

    January 5, 2009

    cris said:

    one of my all time favorites, it scared the the crap out of me more than any “horror” movie ever could. beaurocrats and endless amounts of paperwork…yeeesh. simply brilliant.

    January 7, 2009

    Leon said:

    I’m having a lot of trouble “getting” this movie. Everyone I’ve spoken to says its a sci-fi classic (and I love sci-fi) and I’ve attempted to watch it a good 3 or 4 times, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy it? It all just seems to have been done before, a very very very blatant satire of society that requires about 2 of my brain cells to understand while the rest die of boredom. I mean for god sake, this is from one of the geniuses who brought us Holy Grail? And I know that “for its time” - as the old adage goes - it must have been quite ground breaking, but mechanical typewriters and TVs with magnifying glasses in front of them? Seems to me that Terry Gilliam should have waited a few years for better technology and effects to come out, or just not bother making it. That way I wouldn’t feel so guilty for not liking a film that EVERYONE else does.

    Ak!mbo said:

    I’m looking forwards to seeing this, I’ve got my copy ready, just need the time.
    If anything, I’m expecting it to awaken some kind of reaction in me, seems like people are pretty divided between camps “sucks” and “fricken awesome”.

    January 31, 2009

    jmm1233 said:

    “A Dark-Humoured 1984 ”
    That Sums Up How Awesome This Film Is

    March 3, 2009

    Goes to Eleven said:

    In response to anti-suckers army Terry Gilliam is american. So go back to your American directors and watch fast and the furious.

    August 5, 2009

    Laserbeak said:

    I love it.
    Kind of reminds me of Super Mario Bros. (which isnt that bad)

    August 31, 2009

    kaoz said:

    sound like a good cyberpunk movie. I’m gonna see it

    September 8, 2009

    downer said:

    I just saw this movie for sale and watched it for the first time a few days ago. Where has this movie been hiding? Very scary stuff to me to see the lead character try and thwart the system and have his charges read to him! Again, very scary stuff, but I’m glad I found this website, and now I look forward to reading “1984.”

    June 23, 2010 said (trackback):

    Re: Oh. My. God. Milan Fashion Week!…

    One of the comments in the boingboing links to the shoe hat (from the second ……

    October 22, 2010

    Curious Yellow said:

    This movie feels to me compination of Orwels 1984 and Frans Kafka with some dark humor. Only downside to me was that the action wasn’t realy anything special. But everything else was just marvelous. 1984 is my all time favorite book and this movie is closest that anyone has ever come with movie.

    November 22, 2010

    devin said:

    Good. IN MY HONEST OPINION, BRAZIL IS WAY WAY BETTER THAN BLADERUNNER. Brazil should be more popular than that Bladerunner. that day i met a young 12 year old, he called himself a Cyberpunk, and i asked him what’s his favorite film, and he replied ‘ Bladerunner’. Has he heard of Brazil ? or Metropolis ? or Tetsuo ? no……

    Posers these days….

    November 27, 2010

    bins said:

    @devin, bladerunner is a pretty cool I like it more than brazil, Metropolis and tetsuo, I didn’t like much of brazil (and I hate the brazil music).

    December 26, 2010

    deadmovie said:

    Lol I’m going to watch this

    March 24, 2011

    MrFixIt said:

    I work in the technical/information field and I’ve experienced the juggernaut of bureaucracy first hand. Brazil is my ALL TIME favorite movie because it explains and extenuates the standard business model; that the system is infallible, unquestionable and is a sleeping dragon that no one dares wake. I feel that the main moral of the film was to show that creativity is humanities’ only refuse from the world of percentages and metrics; that true power and wealth comes from the creative spirit of the imaginative mind. And that is why they the movie ended with Sam happy, because they couldn’t break down his walls.

    The ending of 1984 was not as hopeful as Brazil.

    March 28, 2011

    Stormtrooper of Death said:

    Indeed, MrFixIt. Brazil is a more happier/postive version of 1984. 1984 is just a very grim peek into the future. And you know what, now, in 2011, its getting more and more 1984-esque in Europe. Big Brother is CCTV everywhere….

    April 21, 2012

    Mrlowry said:

    I’ve got to say: I’m just 15 years old and I think I’ve get the message of the movie, and I’ts really scary if you see the parallels to the present, because of that I love brazil, but I also hate it. I don’t feel good while watch it, but I love to think about it and It is, of course, absoluetly funny ;)
    btw. great review (Y)
    I’m sorry about the english, I’m from switzerland

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