A bureaucrat in a dystopic society becomes an enemy of the state as he pursues the woman of his dreams.A bureaucrat in a dystopic society becomes an enemy of the state as he pursues the woman of his dreams.A bureaucrat in a dystopic society becomes an enemy of the state as he pursues the woman of his dreams.
The best adjective to describe the movie's tone is "whimsical." It's the type of sci-fi film with an almost childlike fascination with strange sights and happenings. Rarely has a film so pessimistic been this much fun. Many sci-fi films since "Brazil" have attempted a similar approach, usually with little success. The chief problem with most such films (e.g. "The Fifth Element") is that they get bogged down in plot at the expense of emotional resonance. "Brazil" avoids this fate: while the movie possesses psychological and thematic complexity, its plot is fairly simple, and the humor, quirky as it is, never relies on throwaway gags. Even the oddest moments have a certain poignance.
The story seems to take place in a fascist alternative world. It isn't "the future" exactly. The technology is weird-looking but hardly superior to anything in our world. Money transactions are sent through pipes in what looks sort of like a crude version of ATM. (One of the film's several nods to silent movies occurs after a character tries to stuff one of these pipes with wads of paper.) The pop culture references are positively retro, from the title song to scenes from the film "Casablanca."
The evil of the government in this film is driven not so much by cruelty as by bureaucratic incompetence, much of which is played for laughs. But some of the scenes look eerie today, in our post-9/11 world, and are good fodder for conspiracy theorists. Pay particular attention to the scene where the official boasts that the government is winning its war against "the terrorists." The movie is ambiguous as to whether there are any real terrorists, and we have a sneaking suspicion that the explosions are caused by the government itself. The plot is set in motion by a typographical error leading an innocent man to be arrested instead of a suspected terrorist. The movie is not about this man but about a meek government worker, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who's observing from the sidelines. Robert De Niro has a cameo as the wanted "terrorist" whose crime, from what we see, consists of doing home repairs without the proper paperwork.
I have noticed that most of the classic dystopian tales are fundamentally similar to one another. But "Brazil" approaches the genre in a uniquely psychological way. Sam Lowry is different from the standard protagonist who rebels against the government due to noble motives. He doesn't seem to have any larger goals than his own personal ones. He isn't trying to make the world a better place. He's only longing for a better life for himself, one more exciting and romantic than the humdrum existence he currently occupies, where he's beset by an overbearing mother, a pitiful boss, and a dull job. In the midst of this bureaucratic nightmare state, he cares only about such matters as getting his air conditioning fixed and stalking a female stranger who physically resembles his fantasy woman--or so he perceives. The woman, as played by Kim Greist, appears in his fantasies as a helpless damsel with long, flowing hair and a silky dress who sits in a cage while he battles a giant Samurai warrior. The real-life woman he pursues, also played by Greist, sports a butch haircut, drives a large truck, and has a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.
It's a testament to Pryce's performance that he commands our total sympathy the whole time. We feel for him and go along with the romantic adventure he attempts to create for himself. His nervous, stammering personality is one that would have been easy to overdo, yet Pryce strikes just the right note, especially as we begin questioning the character's sanity. At one point, another character tells him that "You're paranoid; you've got no sense of reality." But who wouldn't be paranoid in such a setting? The scene brings to mind the old joke that goes "You're not paranoid. Everyone really is out to get you." The movie inhabits such a whacky, surreal world full of strange people and sights that Sam Lowry almost seems sensible by comparison. Creating a character like this was a fresh, innovative twist on a genre that normally loses sight of human personalities.
- Sep 25, 2006