Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Brazil is a quite the film and is indefinitely worthy of the praise it receives. It’s a dystopia film, something we’ve seen all too many times. But what’s different is that it’s a satiric dystopia film…a film that looks through the mirror to find the flaws of society and how a trickle up effect will occur. Its political themes run deep but it also takes the initiative to form characters worthy of dissecting in an AP Psychology textbook.
The world is not ours…it’s the government’s...and it’s the large companies’ government. Society is reigned by a corporation for the sole purpose of being obeyed by society. Everyone runs through the day going through the monotony of life, in fright of the Ministry of Information – inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 - a Big Brother of sorts. They control everything, and make a perfect system. Director Terry Gilliam shows us how imperfect a perfect system is. It’s the little idiosyncrasies that allow a system to flow correctly, as contradictory as that is.
Jonathan Pyrce plays Sam, a menial employee of the Ministry of Information…and he’s happy or at least content and hiding his concerns well. He wants to stay in his position because he’s comfortable as one of the lowest workers. He turns down promotions because he’s afraid and because he doesn’t think that he should be promoted solely on his mother’s basis (a popular patron). Sam denies having ambitions or dreams, but as the audience, we have the great pleasure of stepping into his mind…he has dreams and are they so euphoric.
Sam dreams that he’s an angel, saving a beautiful damsel - he flies around in a gold and gem plated suit. This represents his dream as a man – an individual, not a just a drone like his co-workers – and his carnal desires. He wants to save this starling who represents what the government thinks of their world they have created. She’s perfect (to him) and Sam sees the troubles of society and thinks that somehow his job will save her (society) and wants to stay at that position. But as his dreams reoccur and progress, obstacles get in his way of him improving society and saving the real girl of his dreams.
There are large pieces of land that shoot up and trap him in – the Ministry of Information. After repeatedly trying to stay clear of them, he is forced to accept the promotion because it gives him a better vantage point to find the damsel. It’s very intriguing because he starts out flying, but has to come down to Earth to develop, to be grounded in his dream.
One of the reasons it works is because Gilliam portrays the whole film as a dream, or a nightmare. Sam’s dreams are apparent, but the style of the film is consistent and allows for proper storytelling and pacing.
As Sam trudges along more obstacles arise in his dream like the undead and demonic figures – the workers of Ministry of Information like Bob Hoskins as a duct repairman, a prevalent aspect of the film.
Sam is a great central character, as he allows other characters to build off of him. He dreams of Jill, a character of opposite personality, and she reflects his desires. Mirrors are a motif that runs deep in Brazil and show how she is Sam’s superego, and he to her. They complete each other and complete their reflection. He’s shy and laid back, she’s ambitious and brash.
Some view Gilliam’s inclusion of air ducts to be odd, but it’s quite ingenious. All of the air ducts connect to each other and produce hot and cold air. They create a hellish atmosphere in the film and represent the connected state of society, that everyone is controlled and connected to the epicenter of the Ministry of Information.
Gilliam tells the story well, allegorically through dreams, but also creates incredible moments of reality. The characters that he creates like Sam’s mother and her friend who are both obsessed with plastic surgery. Everyone is worried about their image, to look younger and sexier. They risk the complications and are accepting of what may come of themselves. The aspect of external locust of control is ever present throughout Brazil.
Brazil is superb on a story and philosophical level and is further enhanced by some incredible tech-work. It’s influence from Blade Runner is quite apparent aesthetically (and a little conceptually) and by default, it is also similar to Taxi Driver and taking it further down the chain of influence, Vertigo. Brazil’s themes are all quite similar to the aforementioned films (dystopian society, government and societal corruption, and obsession respectively) but also creates a unique experience of sci-fi, fantasy and noir.
It’s a film that is conceptually complex and deliveries much more than expected. Its direction is slick, the screenplay evolves incredibly well and works well because of its comedic aspects, and the acting across the board is very good. It’s a visually remarkable piece. Overall, an experience I thought I would recognize, but it will certainly take multiple viewings to express my gratitude and feelings towards it…a film I haven’t even begun to really explain its greatness.