Saturday Review: Brazil

Care for a little necrophilia?

This disturbing dystopia is Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, and at least as relevant now as when it first appeared in 1985.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writers: Terry Gilliam,
Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown.


Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry
Robert De Niro as Archibald Tuttle
Kim Greist as Jill Layton
Katherine Helmond as Ida Lowry
Ian Holm as Mr. Kurtzman
Michael Palin as Jack Lint
Bob Hoskins as Spoor
Ian Richardson as Mr. Warrenn
Terry Gilliam as the Smoking Lurker

Available here and here.

Who can you trust?


In a grim alternate reality located “somewhere in the twentieth century,” a day-dreaming bureaucraft seeks the girl of his dreams: a trucker connected to the accidental death of an innocent man.

Don’t suspect a friend. Report him.

High Points:

“This is your receipt for your husband. And this is my receipt
for your receipt.”

The film represents the most impressive kind of satire. Gilliam, Stoppard, and company attack bureaucracy, propaganda, doublethink, mass manipulation, technological idolatry, movie conventions, and more and yet, when the film seems most absurd and even heavy-handed, one realizes that these things have happened. These things are happening. Minor technological glitches that cause mass chaos? Own a computer. A torture agency with an Orwellian name like “Information Retrieval?” Check out any number of third world despots. Official, strict guidelines for abuse? Examine recent debates in the west over extraordinary measures taken with prisoners. A government official referring to a thirteen-year terrorist campaign as “beginner’s luck” and suggesting that the enemy hates us because we’re free lacks “sportsmanship” and needs to “play the game?” Listen to one of Dubya’s speeches. A War on Terror used for unsavoury political ends? Do I need to say it?

People who wilfully participate in their own destruction? Technology that makes life less efficient? Official records that hold more importance than human beings?

When I watch this film, I don’t know whether to laugh aloud or abandon hope.

Suspicion breeds confidence.

Low Point:

Gilliam makes extraordinary use of the old pop song from which the movie takes its title. However, Brazil remains a really confusing choice for a title.

The most notorious “low point,” however, is not Gilliam’s fault. The “Love Conquers All” version of this film is a travesty. It can now be viewed as a curiousity, but please do so only after watching the film Gilliam made (which exists in a few variants, available on the Criterion Edition).

See the Brazil FAQ here (basic version) and here (enhanced version) for an explanation of the title and answers to other questions.

Loose talk is noose talk.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. Gilliam borrowed from other sources—- most notably George Orwell—- but the results are unlike anything that came before.

Effects: 5/6. I could quibble about the quick-cut disappearances during the dream sequences, but why? This film features strong effects work throughout.

Story: 6/6. Seemingly peripheral events and unrelated sequences all fit together in the end, but it’s not necessarily easy to grasp in a single viewing.

Acting: 6/6. The film has a first-rate cast who handle bizarre, stylized situations.

Production: 6/6. The film wasn’t made on the cheap, but it looks even more expensive than it was due to Gilliam’s use of carefully-selected, meticulously redecorated locations. The film has an unforgettable look, “the century… compacted into a single moment,” which has influenced many others. Gilliam’s penchant for surreal imagery and archaic designs has never worked better.

Emotional Response: 6/6. Gilliam has captured a nightmare on film, without losing his sense of humor.

Overall: 6/6.

Brazil receives a total score of 39/42

Happiness: We’re all in it together.

Forthcoming Saturday Reviews include a wild card and a classic horror flick.

3 replies on “Saturday Review: Brazil”

  1. High Point
    The last 10 seconds of the movie. Like the works of Orwell from which Gilliam borrows, it’s all worth it for the ending.

    The real ending, anyway (:

    I know people who have bought a DVD player specifically for the Criterion Collection edition of this movie.

    • Re: High Point
      I found Brazil pretty difficult to enjoy, impressive though parts of it were. I suppose that’s kind of the point really though, eh? ;)

  2. Keep it up!
    Hey. Im a big fan of smallville but i live in australia so im not up to date with use. Id really like smallville to keep going for as long as possible. Im addicted to it. Please keep it up we all love it.

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