There are many aspects of the modernized world which have been, are, and continue to create and fuel suspicion and lack of harmony in our lives. Whether this be the paranoia of the Cold War era or the fears of terrorism post-911, people ponder their safety and reality on a daily basis. The 1985 British science-fiction film “Brazil”, directed by Terry Gilliam, parodies and addresses those societal concerns, as well as how bureaucracy reacts when individuals question the very safeguards which are meant to protect them.
Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce, is a sheepish minion of the Ministry of Information (M. O. I., which is abbreviated on every inanimate object in the department) for which he works. His life is encompassed by technology and uncovering those who may be terrorists targeting his world. He comes from a shallow world of self-indulgence, but desperately wants to uproot himself from this aspect of his identity. This need for escapism is mirrored by his recurrent fantasy whereby he freely flies, in love with a mystery woman. However, the chains of M. O. I. recur in a now nightmare when he uncovers aspects of his job where its agenda and his morality itself is put into question.
I feel compelled to discuss the beautiful art design of the film. It definitely transcends time, as the world that Sam works in is constructed in the style of a 1940’s noir film – dark shadows, commonplace trench coats and three piece suits, and an overall air of mystery and suspicion. The overall world in which he and other characters inhabit is quite futuristic yet somewhat post-apocalyptic for the era, with a style of cumbersome pipefitting courtesy of Central Services! I feel that the Art Deco skyscrapers of the highly bureaucratic M.O.I. are modelled after and pay homage to the skyscrapers in the 1927 sci-fi classic “Metropolis”. Although political satire is not prominent in the aforementioned masterpiece as it is in “Brazil”, both films also explore secrecy, power, repression, and the human condition. The contrasts yet combination of genres within this ultimately science fiction film illustrate that themes of fear, ambition, and self-discovery know no bounds. I feel as if science fiction can allow us to explore our hopes and fears in a way that no other genre can, by creating a dream-like world by which we can somehow view our world through a different lens. “Brazil” achieves this through a very unique means.
The title of the film is coined after the song “Brazil”, sung by Geoff Muldaur, which plays near the beginning and end of the film. After we travel with Sam on his journey, the romanticism and nostalgia of the song echo a different tune. To me, the lyrics now mock an idealization of the peace and harmony we wish would encapsulate our world. “Brazil” illustrates that this world does exist in our dreams, as it does in Sam’s. However, we face the shields and obstacles of bureaucracy on a daily basis in our adult lives which prevent us from returning to “old Brazil”.
I do not own the above image.