Despite never having seen it, Ashley presented Terry Gilliam’s masterstroke dystopian film Brazil (the Director’s Cut, of course, none of this “Love Conquers All” studio cut crap). I always love it when somebody presents a film I’ve been continually putting off showing – it leaves more options for me! As for Brazil…
Brazil imagines life in a futuristic totalitarian dystopian-yet-inept bureaucratic state (not set in Brazil, mind you, the film is actually eponymized on the theme song). The beat-you-over-the-head-with-it symbols of this dystopia are floating paper – completely explicable given the bureaucracy – and ductwork. Why ductwork? I can’t really say. I suppose that one could argue that the ducting in the world of Brazil represents the technological intestines of the society. Certainly they spill out from every hole in every wall as if each building were a gutshot ginrunner.
The ineptitude of the government, which is currently being besieged by a years-long bombing campaign, is quickly brought front and center as a fly in the works causes an arrest warrant to be sent out for the innocent Harry Buttle rather than the intended Harry Tuttle, rogue heating technician. Unfortunately, the Information Retrieval department is not immune from the general governmental ineptitude, and lead Information Retriever Jack Lint not only tortures Buttle to death, but somehow the administration accidentally overcharges Buttle for the Information Retrieval services.
Of course, we’ve yet to meet our main character. His name is Sam Lowry, and in this dim and dreary world of paperwork and ductwork, he’s a lone dreamer. Not only in his nights but throughout his days he finds himself slipping away into a bright and blue-skied fantasy world where he, as an armored and featherwinged flying warrior, battles terrible but faceless evils hidden behind grotesque baby masks and rescues the beautiful woman of his dreams. Putz.
Feeding off of his fantasy life, Lowry is content in his dead-end bureacratic job. Surrounded by incompetence, he’s a small fish in a microscopic pond, and he likes it that way. Before his death, his father had been a high-ranking official and Lowry’s plastic-surgery-addicted mother, disappointed in her son’s lack of ambition, goes over his head to line him up a promotion to Information Retrieval to work with his friend Jack Lint. Lowry initially refuses the promotion (to the relief of his helpless boss) but is soon drawn in to his impending doom by two remarkable events.
First, in dealing with the embarrassing misidentification and even more embarrassing overcharge of the late Mr. Buttle, Lowry takes the bull by the horns and, facing administrative hurdles in processing it, makes the decisive move of hand-delivering the Buttle refund check. And lo and behold, a neighbor of Buttle’s looks exactly like the woman of his dreams (minus the long, flowing hair).
Second, faced with a late-night overheating problem in his apartment, Lowry calls Central Services for an emergency repair, only to be told that there are no repairmen available after hours. Unluckily for Lowry, THE rogue heating technician, Harry Tuttle himself, has tapped the Central Services phone lines and intercepted the call. Tuttle shows up and illicitly fixes the heat himself, with an assist from the complicit Lowry when the real Central Services repairmen unexpectedly show up.
Lowry initially tries to use his government computer access (if they have computers, why so much paperwork??) to learn about the Buttle neighbor, but is thwarted by security firewalls. Emboldened by his brush with the underground, Lowry decides to take subversive steps in order to meet the girl of his dreams – he accepts the promotion to Information Retrieval and immediately begins to use his new security access to stalk the woman he now knows as Jill Layton. Jill has been making administrative noise about the Buttle arrest, and when Lowry learns that she’s about to be arrested, he manages to arrest her himself and they escape in her semi truck as he creepily confesses his love for her.
Of course, with his newfound rebellious side and his dreamer’s disposition, Lowry imagines himself involved in a bit of a nefarious plot with a criminal girlfriend, even when the situation is far from such. Heck, Jill doesn’t even like him – she just can’t quite bring herself to run him over. Still, when Lowry (imagining the worst) forces Jill to run a routine roadblock then leads the police on a fatal vehicular chase, he’s really gotten them both into hot water. Lowry makes one last, desperate move and changes Jill’s file to show that she is deceased in order to get the government off of her. Unfortunately he seems to fail to realize that at this point he is also wanted.
Somewhat (OK, completely) implausibly, Jill falls for Lowry just in time for them to share one passionate night together before Information Retrieval comes for them – Lowry is captured and Jill is reported killed, though Lowry insists that this is only because he erased her record. Lowry, naturally, is brought to the vast torture chamber, faced with an impressive assortment of dental tools and scalpels and one creepily-masked torturer who they both well know is his friend Jack Lint.
Lint begins the torture session, but suddenly from the high roof of the chamber comes Harry Tuttle, revealed as the leader of the rebel bombers, with a band of cohorts. They shoot and kill Jack and break Lowry out of the building while suffering extreme casualties. Finally Lowry is given the honor to push the plunger which triggers the bomb that brings down the vast government building in a crash of floating files. But Tuttle disappears in a paper tornado and Lowry finds himself at a bizarre funeral for a family friend, where his mother has been plasticized into a spitting image of Jill. Trying to escape through a door in the casket, Lowry eventually finds himself in a mobile home on the back of Jill’s truck, which she drives deep into the countryside where they are able to live out their life in seclusion and freedom.
Oh, wait. The movie was just kidding, of course. Lowry is still in the torture chamber, completely catatonic in his fantasy of escape and vaguely humming the title theme. “He’s got away from us Jack,” says high-ranked administrator Helpmann, friend of Lowry’s father. “Afraid you’re right, Mr. Helpmann. He’s gone,” says Jack. The End.
What a movie. I don’t really want to go too deep into it, but the fact that the studio hacked it up and tried to release a version where the fantasy “countryside escape” is the real ending is not only a travesty but a stark reminder that however much we’d like to think otherwise, the almighty dollar still rules Hollywood – or nearly so. In the end, Gilliam won his war with the studio and his cut was released, though the “Love Conquers All” version dominates cable to this day.