Last semester at UC Berkeley I received a letter from the people who gave me my subsidized loan telling me I had graduated and they expected me to start paying back the loan. This came as quite a surprise to me considering that I still had at least a year and most likely two left to go. I went to financial aid since the loan was aid of a financial nature. They took one look and told me it’s not our department you have to go to the Office of the Registar. I get to the Registars Office and they hand me a form to fill out. A form specifically designed to tell the loan people you are still in school. Apparently stupid mistakes like this happen all the time. So I fill out the form and send it in. That weekend I get a call from the loan people. I tell them I just sent in a form. A month later I receive another notice telling me I need to pay. Off I went again to the Registars Office to find that the best way to resolve the problem is to send another form to them. Luckily this time it took. All that just because of a little typo somewhere. If all that sounds horrible yet hilarious, then you have your first taste of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
In the film Brazil, bureaucracy is the name of the game and whining about it is just bad sportsmanship. The film begins with a typo like I mentioned above. Except in this case it has drastic consequences. It means that Mr. Buttle is going to be arrested, interrogated, charged for the interrogation, and tortured to death rather than Mr. Tuttle. But like the man who tortured him says, he didn’t mean to kill him. It wasn’t his fault that Mr. Buttle’s heart condition didn’t appear in Mr. Tuttle’s file. The society in the film Brazil is run mainly by one large bureaucracy called Central Services. They are so big that there is no way to get your complaints heard or to find out what is really going on because everybody is kept in such a state of fear and overwhelmed with paperwork that they can only see their small piece of the puzzle. Central Services urges people to be vigilante because of the terrorists that are bombing public places. Central Services’ philosophy is “The truth shall make you free”, “Suspicion breeds confidence”, and “Don’t suspect a friend. Report him.” With this in mind, enter Sam Lowry a man who tries to sort out the whole Buttle Tuttle mistake and in the process finds himself to be an enemy of the state. It is through the eyes of Sam Lowry that we begin to put together the bureaucratic mess that is Central Services.
The thing that makes this film so great isn’t the wonderful and relevant plot, but the attention to detail. Take the big picture I have posted above. Notice the duct work flowing around the restaurant. It represents the bloated and inefficient nature of the bureaucracy that built them. All the computer screens in the film are really tiny, but instead of making larger ones they just put a magnifying glass over the screen so that you can read it. The look of the film is largely pulled from film noir in terms of the lighting, the architecture, and the clothes. This is combined with a dehumanizing sameness. The halls all look the same, the apartments the same; everything is built in duplicate, every form filled out in triplicate. Gilliam also tips his hat to Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin (1925) at the end of the film by re-creating a small version of the massacre on the Odessa Steps.
I loved this film. This is the kind of movie that reminds me of why I love film. I cannot recommend this film enough.