Some Notes on Brazil
THESE NOTES ARE MARKED CONFIDENTIAL. TO READ THEM, YOU MUST FILE A 27B/6 WITH THE OFFICE OF INFORMATION TRANSFER OR SEE THE FILM WHICH THEY ARE ABOUT. FAILURE TO DO SO WILL RESULT IN A PICKUP BY THE OFFICE OF INFORMATION RETRIEVAL.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Where hearts were entertaining June,
We stood beneath an amber moon
And softly murmured someday soon.
Someday soon. "8:49 PM, Somewhere in the Twentieth Century," to be exact. For the first few moments of Brazil, these words drift lazily over a beautiful cloudscape, only to disappear, replaced by an Orwellian world where technology infests every corner and people are merely the machines that operate the computers. This futuristic bureaucracy, filled with drones that crawl through their tasks like hordes of infesting locusts, presents a darkly comic view of the future--not the quietly optimistic one implied by Ary Barroso and S. K. Russell's song "Brazil".
But the lovely cloud-filled skies appear once again. A man in silver armor glides through them on his Icarus-like wings. He is tantalized by a blonde woman who longingly calls out to him. And then he wakes up. His name is Sam Lowry, and he is but a cog in this dystopic world; after following his flight of fancy we are mired in the nightmare of his reality.
And clung together.
We kissed. Rather, Lowry did, once his dreams entered his reality and he meets and pursues his damsel in distress, Jill Leyton. His life turns into one mission: to follow and aid this maiden, to leave his dismal life as an upwardly mobile drone and with her escape from his bureaucratic prison.
To aid him in this quest is the renegade plumber Harry Tuttle. Tuttle flies around the city along his Spiderman-like wires, illegally fixing broken appliances to circumvent the overweight bureaucracy's maze of red tape. This man is a model for Lowry; he is a hunted revolutionary suspected of terrorism, a man whose desire to plumb has led him to defending himself with a gun--a true hero. He often quips, "Listen, kid, we're all in it together," echoing the propaganda of the government but adding to it honesty and truth.
Tomorrow was another day;
The morning found me miles away
With still a million things to say.
With still a million things to say. But what is Gilliam saying? To divulge this, we would do well to look at his inspiration. The film arose from a vision he once witnessed: "Port Talbot [in South Wales] is a steel town, where everything is covered with a grey iron ore dust. Even the beach is completely littered with dust, it's just black. The sun was setting, and it was really quite beautiful. The contrast was extraordinary. I had this image of a guy sitting there on this dingy beach with a portable radio, tuning in these strange Latin escapist songs like 'Brazil'. The music transported him somehow and made his world less grey."
Yet Gilliam might as well have been making a film about himself, for he too is a solitary dreamer in an oppressive world. This fact was evidenced in his battle over the final cut of the film. Though Gilliam's first cut was released in Europe, a top executive at Universal named Sid Sheinberg convinced his colleagues that they could make the film more accessible to Americans by "taking out the depressing parts and shortening it." He prepared his own edit of the film, which began a personal war between Gilliam and Sheinberg.
Gilliam, knowing that he could not fight the studio in a court of law, took his issues to the public. He and Robert De Niro went on Good Morning America, holding up a picture of Sheinberg and designating him as the enemy. Jack Mathews of the LA Times joined the fray, weekly columnizing both sides of the conflict, distinctly favoring that of Gilliam. Gilliam finally took out a full-page ad in Variety which read, "Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film 'BRAZIL '? -Terry Gilliam."
This battle paid off when Brazil received the Los Angeles Film Critic Association's awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director. After sitting on it for a little while longer, Universal finally released a shortened version of Gilliam's European cut. Even during this triumph, Gilliam holds onto his cynicality: "I was getting all these phone calls from people saying, 'Oh, well done, maybe now the flood gates will open [and] we'll get films out, blah blah blah.' Of course [they] didn't--just like Brazil, the system doesn't change, you just escape in your madness, that's all."
When twilight dims the skies above,
Recalling thrills of our love,
There's one thing I'm certain of.
When twilight dims the skies above. And darkness does fall on the clouds above, on Sam Lowry's complex imaginary world; while he dreams himself into the sunset with Jill, we find that he is truly trapped within a tremendous torture chamber with Jack Lint and Mr. Helpmann looming over him. As Helpmann says, "He's gotten away from us, Jack," we realize that Lowry's romance has been refracted through Gilliam's cynicality to provide a dark ending emanating despair.
Or has it? The clouds, symbols of dreams and fantasy, fill the vast torture chamber, claiming the cynicality and placing a romantic stamp on it. As Gilliam said, "1 actually started this film with that idea of 'can one make a film where the happy ending is a man going insane?"' Considering the hopeless nature of Sam's life as a bureaucratic cog, we know we have witnessed a happy ending--through imagination alone the human spirit has overcome the oppressive system.
Return I will, to old BRAZIL.
(words of "Brazil" by S. K. Russell)