Finding the True Brazil

July 1, 2008

Sometime close to Christmas 1985 I plopped down my $5 (or perhaps $4.50), entered a darkened theater and sat through a movie called “Brazil”. When it was over I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should start a non-profit group that goes after the major studios for taking money and giving nothing in return”. There were no bikini clad girls on a beach, no shots of Rio, not even a hint of the Amazon. I had been tricked by a title!! Of course, as with most of my thoughts, I was soon on to something else and had forgotten all about it.

Several years later I happened to see the same film again at a friend’s house (on.. shudder… VHS). It started as one of those “being polite” situations we all find ourselves facing. I figured I could watch for a while and make some polite excuse about gum surgery or a forgotten weekly enema appointment and duck out without too big of a fuss. However as I started watching the movie I became hooked and I stayed for the entire movie (forgetting the gums and bums).

Terry Gilliam once described Brazil as “Franz Kafka meets Walter Middy”. If you have never seen the movie it is set in a nightmarish, fantasized future that has somehow achieved the ultimate in all that is wrong with a technocratic society. It is a story about humanity attempting to escape a technocratic reality by retreating into dreams and fantasies.

The runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy portrayed in Brazil has its tentacles in every part of humanity. Symbolized by the ducts that seem to dominate every room. But in the end we are shown that the only freedom we ultimately possess is within our own perceptions and thoughts.

There are many aspects to the slightly out of phase society I find amusing, but for me the most entertaining premise is that collection and storage of information is paramount (hm… sounds like most jobs today). For the techo-bureaucracy of Brazil the real horror is finding a piece of paper without a home, or even worse, acknowledging that the “mistake” that caused this out of place paper belongs in your department! The fact that a person dies and a family is destroyed by this paperwork glitch is completely irrelevant.

After all these years and several more viewings I find Brazil simply stunning. The story is incredibly creative, the acting is great (I love De Niro and Pryce) and the dialog is terrific. Gilliam’s sense of humor is what won me over ( I love the idea that the information retrieval department never retrieves any information :-)) I now have to admit that Brazil’s visuals and themes stay with you long after the film has ended and deserves a watch by all who are interested in having movies provoke deep thoughts.

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