The 1984 film, Brazil, is a deeply disturbing dystopian depiction of a world that is ruled by red-tape, documentation, authority, and enforcement.
There is a complete void of human values and ethics in this world – depicted with jarring and almost ugly visuals. Visuals, that are actually very cleverly conceptualized and actually artistically depicted to be effectively repulsive, garish, and yes, disturbing.
Sam Lowry is a low-level government employee
living in this dystopian world. While he goes through the motions of everyday
life, he constantly escapes into a fantasy of a (utopian?) world where he can
fly away and spend eternity with the woman of his dreams. While attempting to cover
up the wrongful death of an innocent man caused by bureaucratic carelessness,
Lowry encounters and becomes obsessed with a girl who resembles his dream
woman. As fantasy and reality intertwine, his desperation to be “free” with
her, makes him throw caution to the winds, break laws, cause destruction, and
even deaths. The system, however, wins, as they imprison him, kill the woman,
and tangibly break all his routes to freedom.
Or do they?
The movie ends with Lowry losing his mind, escaping from a reality that is too violent and devastating to accept, and flies free in the eternal beauty of an insane mind.
Signs, Boards, Posters
The various signs that are almost nonchalantly sprinkled all over the frames serve a grim representation of the environment: “Information Is The Key To Prosperity. A Ministry Of Information” (above a security stall), a poster “Help The Ministry Of Information Help You”, “Loose Talk Is Noose Talk” (a poster on the wall of the computer room), “Don’t suspect a friend, report him” (posters seen in both Lint and Kutzmann’s offices) and finally the ironically ghastly “The Truth Shall Set You Free” and “Happiness. We’re all in it together”.
What I particularly found disturbing are the contrasts and implied irony: a family trying to hold on to some semblance of normality celebrating Christmas, before a careless glitch in a typed alphabet causes the wrong man to be brutally captured in front of his children, and ultimately killed.
Equally chilling by effective depiction of contrasts was the character of Jack Lint. Shown as a family man, with cherubic triplets no less, a responsible citizen and employee, but completely with the lack of moral fiber, human feeling, and ethics.
The theme of “freedom” runs all through the
film, starting from the title that symbolizes the theme song of a song that
invites you to be free and light and perhaps run in the sands of a beautiful
Lowry fights to be free of his mother’s overbearing interference and ambitions for him, free of the system he is part of and works for, and free to live out his fantasy with a girl from his dreams. His dreams of flight, wings, and escape are constant reminder of his desire to be free.
The illusion of freedom is highlighted in the movie through very ironic messages like the ads: “Hi there. I want to talk to you about ducts. Do your ducts seem old-fashioned, out of date? Central Services’ new duct designs are now available in hundreds of different colors to suit your individual tastes. Hurry now, while stocks last, to your nearest Central Services showroom. Designer colors to suit your demanding tastes” and “Mellowfields. Top Security Holiday Camps. Luxury without fear. Fun without suspicion. Relax in a panic free atmosphere.”
And finally, Sam Lowry does obtain “freedom” of sort when his mind gives up trying to come to terms with the chaos around him and he slips into insanity, where no one – person or system – can touch him.
Computers, systems, “ducts”, policies, enforcements, search engines, and endless paperwork and red tape depict the technology in the system. There is no integrity of the data (data is added, changed, and deleted at will), or checks to ensure correctness, and no accountability for mistakes that cost the citizens highly. Confidentiality of information can also be circumvented if a person has the right “connections” (Lowry’s mother and colleague helped him get a position and the access to a database that helped him hunt down the girl of his dreams.)
There is no respect for the individual, family, or for human values. Mistakes are made, people are arrested, tortured, mistakes covered up, people killed, and no one is held accountable as long the crime isn’t against the system.
There is no sense of community. There is a semblance of a family (a microcosm of a community) but that is swiftly and brutally destroyed. There are no friendships, no support systems, no relationships – all there is the brutally cold and ruthless “system”.
Human rights have no place in the world of Brazil. People are replaceable, attacked, killed, and all records of their having lived easily and completely wiped out.
It’s a horribly disturbing and depressing film. The words, premise, characters, visuals, each piece adds to a creating masterpiece of Grotesque and Ugly. Which is why, perhaps, it is the cult movie, that it is.
Gilliam, T. (Director). (1984). Brazil [Motion Picture]