Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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 on account of a typographical error ("Tuttle"). Other people in Sam's life include 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, 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. The movie can thus be interpreted from a civil libertarian perspective from either the political Left or Right.
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 drastically reediting the film to give it a happy ending, which Gilliam resisted vigorously.
The movie was shelved by Universal, but Brazil promptly won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for "Best Picture". That, coupled with a full-page Variety ad taken out by Gilliam questioning Sheinberg, shamed Universal into releasing a modified 131-minute version supervised by Gilliam in 1985.
Upon release, however, 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.
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