Study Guide for Brazil

1. Annotated Filmographic Citation (from "Clockwork God List"):

Brazil. Terry Gilliam, dir. UK: Universal (US distribution), 1985 (copyright), 1986 (US release). 131 minutes.

CAUTION: Different cuts were produced; see below.

For filmographic difficulties and the very complex history of this film (as told by a partisan of the director against the studio), see Jack Mathews, The Battle of Brazil (New York: Crown, 1987); this book also includes a script with stills, illustrations, and annotations.

Near-future dystopia, set in a world Peter Hall and Richard Erlich have described as "funkified" (as opposed to clean, shiny, and aseptic). Very important film for the image of the imposition of the mechanical and electronic upon the human and the use of that image as a kind of metaphor for bureaucratization. Note "Garden" and flight imagery of dream sequences opposed to cluttered reality of the City (cf. Nineteen Eighty-Four); note also destruction of Robert DeNiro's Tuttle in a dream sequence in which he gets covered by paper and then disappears: an image for the destruction of the resourceful individual by paperwork.

2. Cast

Sam Lowry ([anti]hero): Jonathan Pryce Tuttle: Robert De Niro
Ida Lowry (Sam's Mother): Katherine Helmond Mr. Kurtzmann: Ian Holm
Spoor (from Central Services): Bob Hoskins Jack Lint (of Information Retrieval): Michael Palin
Mr. Warrenn (bigshot in Info. Ret.): Ian Richardson Mr. Helpmann (Deputy Minister, M.O.I.): Peter Vaughan
Jill Layton (heroine): Kim Greist Arrest Official (at Buttle arrest): Simon Jones

Other Characters

Dr. Jaffe (Ida L.'s plastic surgeon), Mrs. Terrain (Ida L.'s friend), Lime (Sam's "office mate" in Information Retrieval), Dowser (Spoor's partner-Central Services), Shirley (Daughter to Mrs. Terrain), Spiro (Maitre D' in restaurant), Mrs. Buttle, Bill-Dept. of Works (at Buttle arrest), Charlie-Dept. of Works (at arrest), M.O.I. Lobby Porter.

3. Misc. Commments

  • Jack Mathews reports a number of comments on reaction cards from a screening of Brazil; one of them reads, "1984 meets Monty Python meets Ken Russell" (Battle of BRAZIL 38). 1984 shows a totalitarian England ruled by a fascist party that practices a perversion of socialism; the world of 1984 is nasty, poor, brutish, dirty, and "gray" in a manner reproduced in M. Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Monty Python was a British comedy troupe that did satiric movies with absurdist comedy in the tradition of the Marx Brothers. Ken Russell is a director of intellectual movies with a fine sense of excess (Mahler, Tommy) and comedy (The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers).
  • "Why a duct?" Chico Marx once asked. For Gilliam, the ducts in Brazil symbolized both the umbilical relationship of the people to their government and the loss of aesthetics in our cities . . ." (Matthews 99-100). The ducts also suggest the bowels of Leviathan-the mechanical monster in which the people in the film are enclosed. Why "Brazil"? It's as escapist song from 1939, a year it was dangerous to try to escape from.
  • Terry Gilliam's other films include The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Jabberwocky (1977), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981), and 12 Monkeys (1995/96). I reprint below an Erlichian citation for that last film:

12 Monkeys. Terry Gilliam, dir. USA: Atlas Entertainment (prd.) / Universal (dist.), 1995 (© and initial US release) / 1996 (general US release). David Peoples and Janet Peoples, script. "Inspired by the Film La JetŽe written by Chris Marker" (The Jetty [vt. The Pier], 1963, 29 min., also prod. and dir. C. Marker). Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stow, Brad Pitt, featured players.

An important dystopian film. See for mise en scene of the post-holocaust, mechanized-underworld future (called in prod. "Eternal Night"), and for imagery of superimposition of the mechanical and electronic upon the human (including an MRI machine in the world of 1990 and television in worlds of 1990, 1996, and early 21st century). For the funky future, horrific superimposition, and strong parallels in presentation of the antiRomantic theme, cf. and contrast TG's Brazil (cited this section). For the theme of oligarchy associated with mechanisms and the destruction of the beauty and freedom of nature, cf. Brazil. Also note close narrative, thematic, and visual parallels with the film version of Millennium and with M. Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and thematic and visual parallels with Gilliam's Time Bandits (films listed this section, Piercy's novel listed under Fiction). Handled in some detail and put into the context of Gilliam's canon in Cinefantastique 27.6 (Feb. 1996).

  • For us consider also the position of Brazil, 12 Monkeys, et al. in Gilliam's continuing debate with Gilliam (and others) on the subject of Romance. In Fisher King and perhaps Baron Munchausen, Gilliam celebrates Romance; in 12 Monkeys, it seems neat, if inadequate. What is the attitude toward Romance in Brazil? Cf. and contrast this debate with himself with Stanley Kubrick's debate with Stanley Kubrick on (male) violence.