Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: Brazil (1985)

Brazil is a 1985 British film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard. British National Cinema by Sarah Street describes the film as a “fantasy/satire on bureaucratic society” while John Scalzi’s Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies describes it as a “dystopian satire”.

CAST

  • Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry.
  • Kim Greist as Jill Layton.
  • Robert De Niro as Archibald “Harry” Tuttle.
  • Katherine Helmond as Mrs. Ida Lowry.
  • Ian Holm as Mr. Kurtzmann, Sam’s boss.
  • Bob Hoskins as Spoor.
  • Michael Palin as Jack Lint.
  • Ian Richardson as Mr. Warrenn.
  • Peter Vaughan as Mr. Helpmann, the Deputy Minister of Information.

PLOT (SPOILERS!)

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level government employee who has frequent daydreams of saving a damsel in distress. One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, misprinting a file it was copying, resulting in the incarceration and accidental death during interrogation of cobbler, Archibald Buttle, instead of the suspected terrorist, freelance heating engineer Archibald Tuttle.

When Sam visits Buttle’s widow, he discovers Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the upstairs neighbour of the Buttles, and is astonished to see that she has the face of the woman from his recurring dreams. Jill is trying to help Mrs. Buttle find out what happened to her husband, but has become sick of dealing with the bureaucracy. Unbeknownst to her, she is now considered a terrorist accomplice of Tuttle for attempting to report the mistake of Buttle’s arrest in Tuttle’s place to a corrupt bureaucracy that would rather dispose of all the evidence and witnesses than admit such an error.

When Sam tries to approach her, she is very cautious and avoids giving Sam full details, worried the government will track her down. During this time, Sam comes in contact with the real Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a renegade air conditioning specialist who once worked for Central Services but left due to his dislike of the tedious and repetitive paperwork. Tuttle helps Sam deal with two Central Services workers, Spoor (Bob Hoskins) and Dowser (Derrick O’Connor), who later return to demolish Sam’s ducts and seize his apartment under the guise of fixing the air conditioning.

Sam discovers that the only way to learn about Jill is to get transferred to Information Retrieval, where he would have access to her classified records. He had previously turned down a promotion engineered by his mother, Ida (Katherine Helmond), vainly addicted to rejuvenating plastic surgery under the care of cosmetic surgeon Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent). She has connections to high-ranking officers and despairs of Sam’s lack of ambition. Sam is able to retract his refusal by speaking directly with Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan) at a party given by his mother. He eventually obtains Jill’s records and tracks her down before she is arrested, then falsifies her records to make her appear deceased, allowing her to escape the bureaucracy. The two share a romantic night together, but they are quickly apprehended by the government at gunpoint.

Charged with treason for abusing his newly acquired position, Sam is restrained to a chair in a large, empty cylindrical room (the interior of a power station cooling tower), to be tortured by his old friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin), who is wearing a mask seen earlier in Sam’s dreams and had previously distanced himself from Sam. Sam also learns that Jill had been killed resisting arrest. However, before Jack manages to begin the torture, Tuttle and other members of the resistance break into the Ministry. The resistance shoots Jack, rescues Sam, and blows up the Ministry building as they flee.

Sam and Tuttle run off together, but Tuttle disappears amid a mass of scraps of paper from the destroyed Ministry. Sam runs to his mother attending a funeral for a friend who died of excessive cosmetic surgery. Finding his mother now looking like Jill and fawned over by a flock of juvenile admirers, Sam falls into the open casket, falling through an empty black void. He lands in a world from his daydreams, and attempts escape up a pile of flex-ducts from the police and imaginary monsters. He finds a door at the top of the pile and, passing through it, is surprised to find himself in a trailer driven by Jill. The two drive away from the city together.

However, this “happy ending” is all a product of Sam’s delusions: Sam is still strapped to the chair and observed by Jack and Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann, who is portrayed along the film as a good “friend” of Sam’s family. Realising that Sam has descended into blissful insanity, the two declare him a lost cause and exit the room. The film ends with Sam sitting in the chair, smiling and singing “Brazil”.

Categories: Cult Movies

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