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While researching for a book on the making of and feud over the American release of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, author Jack Mathews read virtually every review of the film printed in the United States and found that very few failed to refer to the film as "futuristic" or "Orwellian." "The comparisons are understandable, if inaccurate," says Mathews, "There isn't a futuristic element in Brazil. The story is Orwellian, in the sense that it is set in a totalitarian state where individuality is smothered by enforced conformity. But where George Orwell...was envisioning a future ruled by fascism and technology, Gilliam was satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving him crazy all his life"(Mathews). Terry Gilliam's Brazil, made in 1985, at first glance, seems much like Michael Radford's film version of George Orwell's 1984, made in 1984, in its setting and story. However, upon further examination of the two films, there are differences in style and tone that distance them from each other. 1984 is dark and gloomy from beginning to end while Brazil, though still dark, has a much lighter atmosphere. The love stories presented in both films are unmistakably similar and make the plots seem closer to each other, but this is the only strong link they share, for differences in tone distance the films from each other. Because of its dark humor, Brazil is a satire of the very society in which the story takes place, while 1984, though also a satire, lacks any humor whatsoever and is more of a horror story of a society that might await mankind.
In the opening scene, Terry Gilliam's Brazil seems to be quite jovial. A shot in which the camera hovers through the sky, passing in and out of clouds, starts the film off while the song "Brazil," after which the movie was named, fills the soundtrack. Titles begin to appear over the soaring shot. The titles read, "Somewhere in the 20th Century," informing the audience of the time period, but confusing them as well. The world in which the movie's main character dwells is a dreary, dystopian, retro-futuristic metropolis, a far cry from anything that has been seen this century. In this world, nobody is protected from the government; individuals are executed as a result of administrative errors. The compensation for these wrongful deaths is a simple refund check.
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The government of Brazil is a kind of Big Brother gone wrong. Things keep getting botched up; the entire plot is the result of a simple error involving a dead fly falling into a printing press. The fly's demise creates a name change on an arrest form, switching a "B" for a "T". Instead of arresting Archibald Tuttle, suspected terrorist, the police capture Archibald Buttle, lowly worker and family man. Because the arrest warrant reads that he is a terrorist, Mr. Buttle is sent to be tortured. The government needs information on the terrorist group, but Mr. Buttle, knowing nothing of what officials want to hear, has nothing to tell. As a result, Buttle dies. Jill Layton, the woman who inhabits the apartment above the Buttle's, witnesses the capture and reports it to officials the next morning (Mathews).
The audience is next introduced to Sam Lowry, the main character. Sam is perfectly content with his job in record keeping and his social status. Unlike the rest of the people in Brazil's corporate world, he does not want to be noticed. He is an unambitious, mid level bureaucrat trying to stay out of trouble while being haunted by recurring dreams of a beautiful woman beckoning him, and a metallic, flame-spouting samurai attempting to squash him. The woman represents hope, and the samurai the system. When Sam sees the likeness in the face of a woman he suspects of being a terrorist (Jill), he recklessly pursues her and brings upon himself the wrath of the system (Mathews). At work, Sam discovers the Buttle discrepancy. Since Buttle has already been disposed of, Sam is sent to deliver a refund check to the bereaved Mrs. Buttle. Upon the transfer of the check, Sam spots Jill in the apartment above, attempts to pursue her, in vain, and, in a second attempt, uses the city's computer system to gain information on her, only to find that he doesn't have clearance for the information. To find out what he needs, Sam takes a promotion he had earlier turned down.
Sam's mother is the reason Sam receives this promotion. Wealthy, single, flirtatious, and stubborn, she wants to see Sam succeed and move up the corporate ladder. She wants her son to be happy doing what she wants him to do. Sam, of course, is upset by this insistent meddling in his affairs and doesn't want to be promoted., Realizing that the promotion will further his pursuit of Jill however, he reconsiders the promotion. Mrs. Lowry also tries to set Sam up with Shirley Terrain, the daughter of her best friend. Neither child likes the other, yet the two parents insist on getting them together.
Sam continues his search for Jill and finally finds her. With a little coaxing, Jill grows to like Sam, and after a few harrowing incidents (the running of a road block and escaping from pursuing police), comes to love him. Sam, after tampering with government files to fool the Ministry of Information into believing that Jill is dead, is suspected to be working for the terrorists. One night, he awakes from his dream world to discover his air conditioning is overheating and needs immediate attention. He calls Central Services, but no one is available to come out and fix the problem. Enter Harry Tuttle, a.k.a. Archibald Tuttle, the man for whom the government mistook Buttle. Tuttle is a renegade heating repair engineer and known terrorist. To fix Sam's air conditioning, non-Central Services parts have to be used, and unauthorized tampering with electric systems, plumbing, and air conditioning is against the law. Unfortunately, halfway through Tuttle's repairs, two Central Service repairmen show up at Sam's door requesting to come in and fix the problem. Sam, with Tuttle hiding behind him, gun drawn, has to lie to the repairmen to keep Tuttle's repairs a secret. The renegade Mr.-Fix-It finishes his repairs successfully and leaves by scaling down the building; however, Sam has not seen the last of the two repairmen. They return later and tear apart Sam's apartment to find the unauthorized part Tuttle put in place to keep the air conditioner from overheating. The part is found and removed, and Tuttle's tampering is reported (Gilliam).
By the end of the film, Sam is arrested for terrorism and subjected to torture. Leave it to this society to kick a man while he is down, for the person assigned to torture Sam is his best friend, Jack Lint. Sam is tortured, and his dream world merges with and eventually takes over his reality. He has lost and won at the same time. In reality, he has been captured, tortured, and is now out of his mind, strapped into a chair in the torture chamber, totally oblivious to the world around him. In his fantasy world, however, Sam has escaped the evil grasp of the government and enjoys freedom with the woman of his dreams in the beautiful countryside, far from the dismal metropolis. This is Gilliam's "happy ending"; the main character wins by means of insanity, an impossible feat made possible in the upside-down world of Brazil (Corliss 32).
Unlike Brazil, 1984 evokes little hope. After seeing it, the viewer feels as if he has just awoken from a terrible nightmare. Michael Radford's film begins with a depressing tone created by his focus on a large group in a drab setting. The opening scene shows us what seems to be a rally. Thousands of citizens dressed in the same apparel are gathered in front of a barrage of giant television screens, watching a news telecast. At one point during this telecast, many of the viewers rise and yell at the screens, crossing their arms above their heads. After a few minutes, the rest of the people in the rally join in what is known in Orwell's novel as a "hate session", directed at those who have turned traitor to the government (Radford). The first view of this society resembles a prison more than a country; the citizens all wear blue overalls and gather in large numbers to go through some sort of large scale brainwashing, suggesting this society is built around the idea that everyone should think as a single unit. In Oceania, individuals are equal and equally insignificant (Prigge).
Further into the film, more evidence reveals that in this society, individual thinking is not only undesirable, but against the law. When the spark of individuality in the main character starts a fire in his soul that allows him to love, the government of Big Brother interrupts. The flame is extinguished, and the spark of humanity is smothered. In Oceania, even disagreeing with what you are told (thought crimes) is punishable by torture and ultimately, death. Winston Smith commits thought crimes when he learns to love. Love is forbidden by Big Brother, both Winston and Julia, his lover, realize this. They both take careful precautions to avoid being caught, but these are not enough. Eventually, the Thought Police find their hideout and both lovers are sent to the dreaded room 101 (Hart).
Room 101 is used mainly as the final stage of torture. Before going to room 101, Winston is beaten, his hair is given a terrible cut, and he is subjected to electric shock therapy. All of these methods of torture are designed to break the will of those who are receiving them, to make those people believe what is told to them, no matter how ridiculous. Most of all, the purpose of this pain is to condition the recipients to love Big Brother. After all the pain Winston endures, he still professes that he hates Big Brother, causing the final step in his torture to be set into affect. In room 101, Winston confronts his greatest fear. A face mask connected to a cage of rats is placed on Winston's head. One of the two gates that keeps the rats from attacking Winston's face is raised. Before the other gate is raised, Winston gives in to the fear. He screams out, "do it to Julia, not me!" Big Brother has won; another individual has been crushed (Radford).
At the end of the film, Julia and Winston meet again. They both admit that they told Big Brother about each other, signifying that their love was not as strong as Big Brother's power of suggestion. This scene, which basically wraps up the film, depicts the two lovers, now reconditioned as not to have any concern for the feelings of the other, carrying on a very formal, brief conversation. The impact upon the audience is very unsettling, for the film's prediction for the future of mankind is a world devoid of any emotion. The message of 1984 is clear: the individual can never win (Radford).
Both Brazil and 1984 are classified as dystopian visions of the future. In both films, democracy is dead and the individual doesn't matter much, if at all. But that is about all the societies of each film have in common. In 1984, the individual has no privacy and no inalienable rights; the government has complete and utter control over the people. In Brazil, the individual has his privacy, but it can be invaded any time the government deems necessary; the government doesn't keep a constant watch over its people, but still has substantial control (Mathews).
The major similarity in the two films is the love story. This aspect of each film is an impetus for both sets of characters to rebel, as well as a Biblical allusion to the story of Adam and Eve, in that woman is ultimately the downfall of man. The allusion rings true in both films. Both Sam and Winston are government workers who get in serious trouble because of their falling for a woman. Jill and Julia represent the same rebellious female character. If Sam never met Jill and Winston never met Julia, they probably wouldn't have gotten into trouble because there would not have been such a powerful driving force as love to compel them to defy the law. Director Gilliam even nods to Radford's film in the first scene Jill appears. Just before the police barge in and arrest Buttle, Jill is seen taking a bath. Her right wrist is very clearly bandaged. In 1984, the first time Winston meets Julia face to face, her right arm is in a sling, and later in the film, her wrist is bandaged. In Brazil's story line, this is just a very subtle hint that foreshadows the love affair between Jill and Sam (Smith). The love stories also have their differences, however. In Brazil, Sam pursues Jill, while in 1984, Julia is the one who instigates the love affair (Prigge). Also, the very reasons each relationship is torn apart differ. 1984 has the pair arrested for being lovers and trying to join the rebellion, while Brazil has the two lovers arrested for terrorism. The love story in Brazil is more substantial because more is known about the characters and why they love each other. Enough evidence is shown in the film that makes the audience believe Sam and Jill are in love. In 1984, there is no noticeable chemistry between the two lovers. Their sexual acts and exchanged "I love you"s are supposed to show Winston and Julia's love. It doesn't work. When watching this film, the viewer sees no passion between the two, leaving him with the feeling that they are just in this relationship for the sex and they mean nothing to each other (Hart).
A major difference between the two films is in their tone. 1984 is dark and gloomy. The scenery is downright depressing. The sets are all grimy; there is no pure white at all in Oceania, everything is dirty. The overall impression gathered from the look of Oceania is that the country is one giant, run down prison. Every inch of every wall is filthy and bars are on every window. There is even a mess hall where the citizens of Oceania are served imitation food on prison-like trays. Every morning, these people are awakened by the "wardens" of their living sections to do daily exercises. The government has even taken to shortening the language. This so-called Newspeak is designed to make thinking and speaking more concise to improve efficiency and to limit the thoughts of the individual. The standard of living in Oceania is terrible , but the governmental system works because the people have no choice but to comply with its demands and to make do with its provisions. They could revolt, however, but most of these people are too afraid, or really believe that they love Big Brother (Hart).
The tone of Brazil is a great deal lighter. The set design is clean, yet in some cases, very darkly lit. Instead of prison-like quarters, the film showcases cavernous, roomy areas filled with retro-futuristic oddities. For instance, the set of an elegant restaurant is marred by detestable pipes and ducts that spill out of the center of the room. The smallest enclosure is Sam's new office, so small, one desk is shared between his and the adjoining office. The ceilings are extremely high, giving a more open appearance to a very cramped space, but there are no windows . Whenever the outdoors is seen, it is either night or very overcast. The only sunny scene occurs in Sam's dreams. Also, the endings of each film have considerable differences in the way of mood. While the ending of 1984 suggests that there is no way to escape the totalitarian system, Brazil lets a ray of sunshine filter through. While Sam's body didn't win against the system, his mind did. In Oceania, there is no way out, but in Brazil, the exit lies in insanity (Mathews).
Brazil and 1984 also have different degrees of humor. 1984, though it is considered to be a satire, lacks any humor whatsoever. This absence of comedy helps accentuate the rigid feel of the film, for it was not intended to be laughed at. Brazil, on the other hand, is full of dark comedy, which conveys the film's satirical message. The violence portrayed in Brazil is so exaggerated that it becomes funny and cartoonish (Mathews). For example, when Sam attends lunch with his mother, Shirley, and Mrs. Terrain, a terrorist bomb explodes in the restaurant. No one at Sam's table is hurt, in fact, no one at the table seems to notice. People on the other side of the room are sprawled about the floor, some dead, some writhing in pain, and the orchestra begins to play music again. The head waiter puts up a barrier around Sam's table as the restaurant staff rush towards the bombing victims with fire extinguishers. The death of the two Central Services workmen who trash Sam's apartment was carried out by Tuttle, who switches the air hose to the environment suits they are wearing with the sewage line. The suits fill with sewage until their occupants drown and then burst. Although not ostensibly funny, these scenes provide the dark humor of Gilliam's film (Gilliam).
Brazil should not be looked upon as an imitation of the concept of 1984, but as a completely different vision that stands by itself. The conceptions of each film drastically differ when it comes to mood. The story lines are not the same either. The love story in Brazil may be patterned after the one in 1984, but there are many other ideas Terry Gilliam put into his film to separate it from Radford's interpretation of Orwell's classic novel. Thus, Brazil emerges as a more intricate and enjoyable movie experience. The convergence of the lives of the main characters forms a twisted plot line that, though not a roller coaster ride, is interesting to see unfold (Mathews).
Corliss, Richard, "CINEMA: Happy Ending for a Nightmare Brazil" Time 12-30-1985.
Gilliam,Terry(director) Brazil: The Criterion Collection Director's Cut, The Voyager Company 1985, 1996 Irvington, New York. ** (This video recording also contains audio commentary by the director contained on a separate audio track.)
Hart, John, "The catharsis of watching '1984': Oh what a relief" http://www.film.com/reviews/index.jhtml?review_url=/filmreview/1984/10514/109/default-review.html
Mathews, Jack, "Critical Essay on Brazil", Brazil: The Criterion Collection Director's Cut, The Voyager Company 1996 Irvington, New York.
Prigge, Ted, "Nineteen Eighty- Four: A Film Review" http://reviews.imdb.com/Reviews/80/8035
Radford, Michael (director), Nineteen Eighty- Four (1984), Polygram Home Video 1984 Chatsworth, California.
Smith, Mark Chalon, "In 'Brazil,' Terry Gilliam weaves a twisted love story with bleak, fascinating futuristic environments" Los Angeles Times 11-05-1998.