Directed by Terry Gilliam. UK. 1985.

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Some twenty-one years have passed since Terry Gilliam's boldly satirical Brazil was first released yet it is still as audacious, inventive, and thought provoking as ever. Although its dazzling images do not always add up to a coherent narrative, there is much in the film that clearly addresses problems we are struggling with today: an out of control bureaucracy, state security versus individual liberty, and technology versus privacy. There is enough ambiguity in the film, however, to leave it open to a wide variety of interpretations, including Gilliam's own as simply representing the dreams and insecurities of middle age. Regardless of whether its message is Orwellian or not, however, Brazil is a continuously entertaining film that will keep you fully engaged. The title of the film refers not to the nation in South America but to a romantic ballad from the forties. Its setting is somewhere and its time is "sometime in the twentieth century".  

Jonathan Pryce is Sam Lowry, a cautious low-level clerk in The Ministry of Information who has always resisted being promoted, even though his mother (Katherine Helmond) is adept at pulling strings for him. In this brave new world depicted by a maze of ducts, corridors, statues, gigantic buildings, and signs telling you how to think, Lowry prefers his day-to-day routine. His only escape from boredom is through flying dreams in which he is clad in a knight's armor, ready to rescue his lover from the forces of darkness. When a bungled arrest leads to the death of the wrong man, Sam delivers the "refund" check to the deceased man's wife and discovers that the girl of his dreams Jill Layton (Kim Griest) lives upstairs. He learns that she is wanted by Information Retrieval as a terrorist and decides to accept the promotion so he can protect her. Before they can run off to live happily ever after, however, the government has something to say about it. Sam is arrested for sabotage and faces the torture chamber with his best friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin) as the torturer.  

Brazil contains many comic sequences that stay with you: the hilarious tug of war to share a desk that extends between two different offices, the follies of plastic surgery to preserve the youth of Sam's mother's and her best friend, Mrs. Alma Terrain (Barbara Hicks), the over-the-top singing messenger who invites Lowry to a party at his mother's house, and the antics of Archibald "Harry" Tuttle (Robert de Niro), a Central Services repair man turned terrorist. The film, however, adds up to more than a collection of absurd situations. It is a prescient work that anticipates how a war on terrorism can be used as a justification to attack individual rights, and how technology run amok can lead to dehumanization. A brilliant, surreal, and important film, Brazil describes a government that is out to save society by destroying it and a man who knows that his only escape from an oppressive rationality lies in his imagination.


Howard Schumann
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