Brazil Why We Fear The 20Th Century

Brazil: Why We Fear The 20Th Century Essay, Research Paper

In the early 1980’s, a vision of dystopia was lying in the mind of Terry Gilliam. That vision was his future film Brazil to be written by Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown, and himself. The movie was filmed in Wembley, England by Lee International Film Studios. After being a remarkable success during its release in Europe in 1984, Brazil had much more difficulties with its release in the United States. Terry Gilliam had previously signed a contract with Universal Studios for an expected 132-minute movie.

Brazil, as released in Europe was 142 minutes long. Universal Studios took this opportunity to edit the film as they chose to make it a more marketable film from their perspective. Unfortunately for Terry Gilliam, this meant that they would completely reconstruct the meaning of the movie. He quickly took to doing his own re-editing of the movie to fit it in the 132 minute prerequisite and turned it over in January of 1985. Once this was done, Universal Studios no longer had the right to change Gilliam’s movie and instead insisted on not releasing it.

Infuriated by his work being put on the shelf, Terry Gilliam took out a full-page advertisement in Variety magazine with the words:

Dear Sid Sheinberg,

when are going to

release my film ‘BRAZIL’?

Terry Gilliam.

Although this advertisement did not get his film released it did create quite a stir among the Los Angeles movie critics. In fact, they were so curious about the movie that the film was played privately in their homes and getting fantastic reviews. The movie did so well, that it ended up winning Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Direction. With much reluctance and little advertising, Universal Studios to released the movie in December of 1985. (\~frittz)

This final release is what still holds the fans of today. Every frame of the movie is speaking to its audience about the issues surrounding the twentieth century and particularly the late seventies and early eighties. It can speak so well of the entire century because the setting itself is unclear about when the events of the film are occurring. In the opening sequence to the movie, 8:49 pm (pause) somewhere in the 20th century, appears across the screen. The people are dressed in 1930’s fashions using technologies, some of which are beyond the scope of today, others of which are not dateable. They are perhaps visions of the 80’s as a future from an earlier time in the century.

This use of technology is just one of the issues being addressed in the movie. There is an abundance of appliances, gadgets and devices that are created with the idea that they are meant to make the world easier, simpler and more fun to live in. But the majority of these devices fail to serve their purpose making things more cluttered and cumbersome. This includes elevators that don’t work, automated coffee machines that pour the coffee in the incorrect place, alarm clocks that get ’stuck’, miniature sized computers with magnifying glasses for viewing, and most importantly to the main character, Sam Lowry, heating ducts that don’t work.

Apartments in the world of Brazil are equipped with centralized climate control ducts in the walls. The walls themselves are made out of panels to access all the tubing going through the walls in all directions. To the misfortune of Sam Lowry, his heating ducts go incredibly array. When he calls to have them fixed by the proper authorities, he is disappointed to find service unavailable and then later, inefficient. Following misfortunes due to this breakdown lead to Sam Lowry’s eventual demise.

Brazil depicts how technology is not always a positive thing. Even products and systems that are designed specifically for our benefit can become more tedious than useful. Technology is not equivalent to progress, though much of the twentieth century has set that example. Industrialization as a whole is swerving from its initial goals of accommodating the growing population to becoming something that is no longer within human control. And without human control, technology loses its functionality.

Among one of the largest growing technologies during the 1980’s was the internet. The movie Brazil is fascinating in its way of presenting so many different issues with one piece of the plot. In fact, the entire movie Brazil can be interpreted from an internet fearing perspective. The Ministry of information would represent the cybernetic control system. Harry Tuttle, heating engineer, would be the classic hacker ( In its early development, there was a lot of argument on how the internet should be controlled. Would the information be available to everyone or would some higher authority control it? Hackers were arguing it was there right to get any information that they pleased. The use of the internet was a perfect way to get any information that they held synonymous with power. This was going to be the way to discover government secrets and all the conspiracies that had gone on. On the other side, large corporations feared that by having their secrets attainable, their businesses could be sabotaged. Also, trade secrets that give an edge to one company over another would be dissolved. And, the government feared that what it knew, could be used in terrorist actions, for blackmail, or other illegal dealings that would diminish its power.

Part of the reason that technology fails in this movie is due to government control; another major theme of the film if not the most important theme. The government has complete authority over every individual. They keep track of everyone through their Department of Records and Ministry of Information. The government also manages to control people by overwhelming them with paperwork. By making it impossible to fill out any forms correctly, no complaints can be filed. So, when people ignore the forms and do things in spite of them, the government gets upset.

For example, when Sam needed his heating ducts fixed, Harry Tuttle, a non-licensed heating duct repairman came to his aid. The official repairmen that were originally supposed to fix his ducts showed up shortly after. Sam, knowing that he and Tuttle would get in trouble, demanded from the repair men to present a form allowing them to work on his ducts. This was enough to hold them off for a little while, but they eventually returned with the proper forms and found that Sam’s heating ducts had been fixed by someone else.

Another method that the government maintained control was by causing fear among the people. Among the messages that were scattered in the background of the movie were: “Be Safe: Be Suspicious”, “Suspicion Breeds Confidence”, and “Don’t suspect a friend, report him”. This fear is based on the terrorism that plagues Brazil’s society. It is questionable whether this terrorism is caused by outside people or whether the government is causing the terrorism to keep people supporting of the absolute power that the government maintains. In any case, the people who are punished and suffer from the reaction to the terrorism by the government are not those who cause the commotion.

Sam Lowry lives in constant fear of the government even though he works for them. At one point, he had made the mistake of not having his identification card on him while in the ministry of information. In a panic and in a hurry to catch up with Jill Layton, literally the woman of his dreams, he runs from the officer that stopped him. Upon reaching Jill, he finds that the guards have surrounded her instead of him. Finding his badge, he uses it to get himself and Jill out of the building where he frantically forces Jill into running from the ministry. Still determined that Jill and he are in trouble, he drives Jill’s truck through a barricade at which point the police start chasing him. All this was over the fact that he did not know where his badge was. His paranoia about the power and scrutiny of the government lead him to creating enough of a havoc that he actually becomes a wanted man.

It seems that by working at the ministry he realized how much potential the Ministry of Information has but has not been there long enough to realize that they too, have buried themselves in their own paper work. Also, he failed to notice that he was by far the most capable and productive person there.

In the period that this movie was made internal terrorism was a serious threat. The Irish Republican Army was regularly bombing places both in the England and Ireland. The fear of being caught in a terrorist attack was becoming all too regular. For Brazil, terrorism was a way of life. It was the major way that the Ministry of Information maintained its control and justified its actions. Although Jill did not believe that there were any real terrorists aside from the government itself, she only represented the lower class. The characters in the upper class, with all the power, believed in the terrorists blindly and passed their power to the government where they would no longer have to deal with any pressing issues.

The Ministry of Information is an obvious reflection of the CIA. The CIA is believed to have the capabilities of gathering information on any individual and using it to there benefit. Even the slogan for the two is the same: “The truth shall make you free.” This is also very similar to the words written above the Auschwitz concentration camp: “Work shall set you free”. It is disturbing to see the connection so vividly between the Ministry of Information and the Nazi party when there is also so much parallel between the ministry and the CIA. The Ministry of Information charged people for the cost of the torture to them and the interrogation proceedings. Similarly, the Nazi’s attempted charging Jews for there stay at concentration camps. Although the CIA is hardly a Nazi party, the film brings out the awareness that people should think as individuals and be wary of allowing too much information, becoming evermore synonymous with power these days, to rest with one source. Conspiracy theories were very popular at the time and this went well with the movie.

Among other comparisons that Brazil made with the American government is the quote, “Happiness: we’re all in it together.” This was a standard poster that had been plastered all over America during the great depression. In Brazil, it is visible at Shangri La Towers and other locations where the working class people lived. The irony of the quote is that it is only where those posters where hung that people really where in it together trying to get through the control of the Ministry of Information and live their lives in piece. But they were not in it together with the Ministry of Information that posted the billboards. The upper class, on the other hand, had no worries about the Ministry abducting them unless they were to meddle more deeply into their affairs as Sam Lowry did.

Not only were the people at Shangri La Towers in it together, they were the reality, as was sprayed on the walls of the Towers. Although most of the movie was viewed from an elitist perspective, it was apparent that the majority of people were not happy, and definitely not reaping the benefits of the growing technology. This large gap between the working and upper class was also of great concern during the eighties. President Reagan had recently been elected to office whose policies are known for making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Such bizarre science fiction films as Brazil are a great way to address delicate issues and have people consider the problems in society without having as much of a bias about the problems.

But the people of the working class were not the only ones in need of fear. The growing matter of invasion of privacy is something that has no class boundaries. In fact, the better off you are, the more likely there is something to protect. This problem is something that has become more prevalent in recent years and showed up vividly in Gilliam’s film. The ministries extensive files on everyone was one level of invasion. People today fear what the government may know about them. They have birth certificate, job, bank and credit records. Some fear they also have medical records. At work, phone conversations and emails can be recorded. Public places have ‘security’ cameras almost everywhere including restrooms. Soon to come, automatic tollbooths that keep track of what cars have gone through to minimize traffic. It is also an amazing way to keep track of where people are traveling. The Ministry of Information has all this and more. There are receipts for receipts and cameras everywhere. No piece of information remains private.

The easiest way to follow people’s habits is to follow their money. People are asked for their address and other information, when applying for a grocery store card, when making a purchase of electronic equipment, or when sending in any warranty information. This is a growing marketing strategy that is difficult to avoid. If you want a product or warranty you must allow them access to yourself and sometimes your credit card. Brazil is a warning to maintain awareness about whom you give information to and what exactly it is that you tell them.

Consumerism is not only a way to track people’s habits but has a life of its own. It can get out of control as easily as technology. In a subtle costume choice, a shoe for a hat, Gilliam made it clear that people can find themselves over the heads with so many choices ( Sam Lowry’s mother, who wore the hat, was the ‘perfect’ individual in Brazil’s society. She spent lots of money and felt the government was doing a wonderful job by making it possible for her to think about nothing but her plastic surgery. Reagan not only increased the gap between the classes, he dramatically increased peoples urge to buy because it was the popular thing to do. America’s government was frighteningly close to the Ministry of Information when it came to pushing products. Slogans about buying and being American were one and the same.

Brazil tackles an enormous amount of concerns about progress in the twentieth century. Those issues included: government control, the internet, invasion of privacy, separation of classes, consumerism, and technology. Though the specifics of the issues were different between decades, they were always on the forefront during this century. In about two hours, Terry Gilliam managed to name them all. Though Brazil itself seems very detached from the real world, the amount of parallels is astonishing. Overall, Gilliam encourages awareness. That progress and its brothers are not inherently evil but that they must be controlled, cared for and attended to.




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