Filmsite Movie Review
Brazil (1985)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) appears as a silver-winged, bird-like mechanical figure flying and gliding through the clouds - in the first of many mythic, dream-like sequences. He watches for a pretty girl with long, swirling blonde hair - a likeness of Jill Layton - who calls out "Sam" from within a diaphanous, floating veil. In his dream world, filled with idealistic notions of love and beauty, he soars toward her and kisses her on the lips, then acrobatically swoops backwards until a BUZZ sound repeatedly awakens him from his serenity in his small apartment. His telephone (a mess of wires and plug-in jack holes) is ringing (with a duck sound) by his bedside. [His bedroom is decorated with posters of film star Marlene Dietrich and other stars.]

Sleepily, he reaches for the phone and speaks to his boss, realizing that he is late for work (his alarm clock apparatus is stuck at 4:55 am). His automatic wake-up mechanisms have malfunctioned - all of a sudden, a cascading set of electronic Rube Goldberg gadgetry begins to operate (similar scenes are found in Back to the Future (1985) and Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985) - all in the same year!):

  • his window's venetian blinds open and let in the light
  • his bedroom light illuminates
  • the round stopper for his bathtub appears and covers the drain
  • the hot/cold water taps turn themselves on
  • his closet's clothes rack shoots out
  • the toaster spits out semi-burnt pieces of toast
  • the coffee pot's spout misdirects its aim, and hot coffee soaks the toast
  • the television set switches itself on

Distracted by the TV, Sam pours sugar into his half-filled coffee cup, drinks the distasteful sweet concoction, grabs one floppy piece of wet toast, disposes of the inedible mess, and then proceeds to his relentlessly boring work at the Ministry of Information Department of Records.

The centerpiece of the lobby of the Ministry of Information is a gigantic, winged male statue outstretched over a nude female figure. The stone sculpture is labeled: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE. [Lobby Sign: INFORMATION - THE KEY TO PROSPERITY.] A tour of nuns is shown a 9mm. submachine gun by one of the security guards. The lobby has various security devices: uniformed guards, a bank of twelve closed-circuit TV monitors, an elevated reception desk, radio-controlled robots with eyeballs and built-in cameras, queues, identification and surveillance scanners, and turnstile-type security entrances. [Lobby Signs: Help The Ministry of Information HELP YOU, and BE SAFE, BE SUSPICIOUS.] Sam encounters an old married friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin), exiting the building. Jack reports that he has recently received a promotion to a higher level where he works closely with Ministry official Helpmann:

Everything's fine, wonderful, marvelous. Alison's in great shape, kids are fine. I'm on Security Level Five now, so Mr. Helpmann relies on me more and more. It's been a great year.

The security cameras zero in on one of the MOI visitors - the face of a concerned Jill Layton. Sam glances at the multiple images of his dream girl and is blankly transfixed, as Jack expresses his worry over his pal that has been left behind in the Records Department:

Whatever happened to you? Records? Sam, you were one of the brightest of us...Let a friend tell you, your life is going wrong. Records is a dead-end department, no Security Level worth a damn, it's impossible to get noticed.

They part as Sam is humorously reminded -- with a cloning joke -- that time flies!

Sam: Remember me to Alison and the twins.
Jack: Triplets.
Sam: Triplets? God, how time flies.

As Sam enters a lift to go to work, Jill has entered the lobby queue and soon presents a report of a "wrongful arrest" to the uniformed lobby porter at the Information Desk. After a quick look at the form, the porter Dawson (Gorden Kaye) suggests a different department - Information Adjustments. Without a stamped Arrest Receipt, Jill must return to the Information Adjustments department that she has already visited to get the proper endorsement (an example of bureaucratic run-around). She strikes down an intrusive, nosy and probing robot (a new mobile system being tested) as she storms off. [Note: Subsequently, she is identified as a political dissident for expressing concern and asking questions about Mr. Buttle's fate.]

In Kurtzmann's office (below a sign: SUSPICION BREEDS CONFIDENCE), Sam works on debugging his boss' computer problem, and learns about the Buttle/Tuttle mistake due to mismatching personnel code numbers. A reknowned terrorist (and heating engineer) named Tuttle should have been charged the costs of Information Retrieval instead of Buttle:

Kurtzmann: It keeps picking up old films. That can't be right, can it? Perhaps the machine's on the blink.
Sam: No, it's not the machine. There's a mismatch on the personnel code numbers. Tuttle should have had thirty-one pounds and six-pence debited against his account, not Buttle.
Kurtzmann: God, a mistake!
Sam: Well, at least it's not ours.
Kurtzmann: Isn't it? Who's is it?
Sam: Information Retrieval.
Kurtzmann: Oh, good.
Sam: You see, expediting has put in for electrical procedures in respect to Buttle, Archibald, shoe repair operative, but Security has invoiced Admin for Tuttle, Archibald, heating engineer.
Kurtzmann: Cool, what a relief!

The incompetent and ineffectual Kurtzmann often relies on the computer expertise of Lowry, who routinely saves him from embarrassing incidents of this sort. In turn, Kurtzmann has seen fit to keep Lowry from being promoted (Sam's avoidance of exercising greater responsibility in his life and bureaucratic work). However, Sam's interfering mother has pulled strings to get her apathetic, isolated son promoted:

Kurtzmann: I don't know what I'd do if you ever got promoted.
Sam: Don't worry about that.
Kurtzmann: No, but if they did promote you, uh.
Sam: I've told you before. I'd turn it down.
Kurtzmann: Would you, really?
Sam: Really.
Kurtzmann: You've been promoted. (Sam reacts to being handed his promotion letter) It's your mother, isn't it? Pulling strings again.

The flabby, flexible cheeks of Mrs. Ida Lowry's (Katherine Helmond) face are being pulled out by a surgically-garbed Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent) in his office, to demonstrate her need for plastic surgery - enhancements that promise to prolong her youth and counter-act the ravages of time. The well-connected old woman, who is addicted to plastic surgery and rejects looking old as she grows up, speaks to her son: "Sam, it's time for you to grow up and accept responsibility. Your poor father would be appalled at your lack of promotion..." Sam contends: "I'm happy where I am." Increasingly upset, she compares his non-actualized life to the one of ambitious friend Jack Lint:

Jack Lint is a lesson to you - he doesn't have your brains but he's got the ambition. You haven't got the ambition. Luckily, you've got me and the Deputy Minister. Mr. Helpmann was very close to your father...

After vainly trying to dismiss Sam from the room, Dr. Jaffe paints colored lines and marks on Mrs. Lowry's grotesque face and then wraps it in sticky cellophane:

Dr. Jaffe: First we remove the excess derma. So! And the flaccid tissues under the eyes. And the forehead. Zip! Now, I lift the wrinkles and the worry lines right up into the wig into the hairline. And now the template...There, now a bit of sticky...Already, she's twice as beautiful as she was before. Voila!
Sam: (surprised) My god, it works.

The newly-transformed Mrs. Lowry, wearing a matching leopard-skin hat (in the shape of a large high-heeled shoe) and dress, enters an upscale restaurant (with a decorative fountain of protruding metal duct work, and a string quartet playing on a raised deck) with an unfashionably-dressed Sam. She is greeted with a flourish by the Maitre D' Spiro (Bryan Pringle) and led to a table to have lunch with another member of the idle rich class - a bandaged-faced Mrs. Alma Terrain (Barbara Hicks) with her socially-inept daughter Shirley (Kathryn Pogson). In a scene that pokes fun at posh restaurants, they order from numbered selections on a huge menu that displays full color photographs of the various dishes. When the food is delivered, the silver covers on trays are lifted ceremoniously by the foreign-accented words of Spiro as he showily announces the identical-looking orders - pastel-colored ice cream scoops accompanied by identifying photographs:

  • Numero huite - braised veal in a wine sauce (for Ida)
  • Numero deux - duck a l'orange (for Alma)
  • Numero une - crevettes a la mayonnaise (for Shirley)
  • Steak! Numero trois! (for Sam)

Spiro wishes everyone "Bon appetit." Mrs. Terrain has switched cosmetic surgeons, leaving Dr. Jaffe ("the knife man" according to Mrs. Terrain) and transferring to Dr. Chapman, a doctor with "revolutionary" techniques ("the acid man" according to Mrs. Lowry). Shirley says only two words, both delivered to Sam at the wrong time, during the entire scene: "Salt?" and "Pepper?"

Suddenly, a tremendous explosion blasts out the area that leads to the kitchen - evidence of another terrorist attack. Tables and customers near the area are reduced to flaming fireballs and sparks. Bloodied waiters and moaning guests stumble around amidst the carnage, but those who are unharmed resume their conversations in the midst of the mangled bodies, and the string quartet (with blackened faces) starts playing again. During the chaos, as firefighters struggle to extinguish the flames and care for the injured, Mrs. Lowry non-chalantly suggests a "wonderful idea" for Christmas presents - medical gift tokens that may be accepted by gynecological examinations, including Caesarean section. Sam storms off after his mother brags about his upcoming promotion to Information Retrieval:

Sam: I don't want dessert. I don't want a promotion. I don't want anything.
Mrs. Lowry: Of course you want something. You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.
Sam: No, nothing. Not even dreams!

The second of Sam's dream sequences is intercut here - he flies through the broken clouds to the musical accompaniment of the Brazil theme song. Again, he approaches closer toward his floating, idealized dream girl (in the swirling cloth veil) when she calls out to him as in the previous dream. This time, however, the countryside's landscape is violently broken and disturbed by the eruption from underground of a series of rectangular monoliths or pillars. Hovering in mid-air, he is cut off from his view of his lovely dream girl by the rising shapes and the rumbling of the ground. Suddenly, Sam awakens from the nightmare in his bed, and tosses and turns fitfully. A flashing red light emanates from his malfunctioning room thermostat. There is smoke pouring out of a vent in his living room. To call for emergency help, he phones Central Services:

I'm at 579B Block 19, Northwestern Section D. That's Exit One on Green Pastures Highway at the Orange Blossom Flyover - and I've got trouble with my air conditioning.

But he only receives an annoying recording, telling him that there is a "temporary staff shortage" with only a limited time to receive service calls. To temporarily cool off, Sam rests his head inside his refrigerator and falls asleep. When the phone rings, he clumsily answers it. A dark figure that stands behind him has actually made the phone call - Sam is ordered to put the phone down and his hands up by the gun-toting commando. The stealthy and cautious, black-dressed Ninja-like warrior identifies himself as the notorious Archibald 'Harry' Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a heating engineer (operative) who has intercepted the phone call and is there to perform free-lance (and illegal) repair on the heating unit. With his tools, he removes a wall panel that covers a plethora of pulsating and heaving tubes, wires, and groaning ducting. Renegade Tuttle explains how he couldn't work for Central Services because of all the "bloody paperwork":

I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they've got the whole country sectioned off. You can't move without a form.

To repair the problem, he bypasses it with some gadgetry removed from his toolbag. He is startled by the sound of the doorbell and the arrival of two nasty and inept repair men, Spoor (Bob Hoskins) and Dowser (Derrick O'Conner) - officials from Central Services that are identified by red hats. The two buffoons are suspicious when Sam gulps and informs them that the air conditioning unit is already fixed. Believing that Sam has tampered with the machine, they insist on having a closer look. Unbeknowst to them, Tuttle has his pistol aimed at them with a two-handed grip from behind. Knowing that they have to follow the correct procedures and process paperwork ("a twenty-seven B-stroke-six" form), Sam insists on being "a stickler for paperwork" - he delays their investigation while they leave to retrieve one. He successfully prevents the maintenance men from discovering Harry's presence, and then learns that Archibald Tuttle is wanted by the "big boys" at Information Retrieval. Tuttle even hums a few bars of Brazil as he finishes the repair job. Before swinging off Sam's outdoor balcony on a rope into the void between skyscraper buildings, he pats Sam on the shoulder encouragingly [unfortunately, his catch-phrase has already been co-opted by the government on its billboards]:

Listen, kid, we're all in it together.

At Sam's day job in the Records Pool, Kurtzmann keeps a close eye on his clerks by leaving his office door open. Their plan is to watch Casablanca (1942) when he isn't looking. When summoned into the office, Sam finds Kurtzmann distraught ("We're in terrible trouble") over a "refund check" issued for Buttle, and worried about subsequent finger-pointing. [Note: Buttle's family is being refunded the amount that was incorrectly debited from Buttle's charge account by the mistaken "Information Retrieval" department. In this dystopic society, life exists for residents only if they have active information files in the computer.]:

It's been confusion from the word go! He's been overcharged for Information Retrieval Procedures and someone somewhere is trying to make us carry the can.

Kurtzmann shows Sam that according to all the government agencies, Buttle is no longer in the computer files' system, due to his death:

Population Census - "dormanted"
Central Collective Storehouse computer - "deleted"
Information Retrieval - "inoperative"
Security - "excised"
Administration - "completed"

To Kurtzmann's dismay, Sam pronounces the forbidden conclusion: "He's dead."

Kurtzmann is concerned the check is in limbo: "We'll never get rid of the damn thing, now." However, the boss is relieved when worker Sam, a cog in the system's machinery, cleverly appears to dispose of the annoying problem. He punches the check number (37156789/O74328K) into the computer to deposit the check into the Central Banking account of Mrs. Veronica Buttle, the deceased man's "next of kin." But the deposit of the check, sent in a canister through a vacuum tube, is immediately returned with a problem - "she doesn't have a bank account." Kurtzmann becomes even more agitated, and proposes hanging himself, or deliberately losing the check behind the filing cabinet, or burning it.

To perform a good deed at Christmas time, Sam brilliantly suggests driving out to Mrs. Buttle's apartment to have her sign the check and cash it at the corner sweetshop. When Sam asks his frazzled, indecisive, reluctant and limp-wristed boss Kurtzmann to authorize the check and other forms with his signature, he feigns arthritis ("I think I've broken a bone - my wrist is all limp"), and Sam signs in his stead. As Sam leaves the office, he is praised by Kurtzmann ("You are good to me, you know"). Sam responds by repeating part of the famous line of dialogue from Casablanca (1942) that is overheard playing on the workers' TV screens in the outer pool area: "Here's looking at you, kid."

On the motorway, Sam drives a tiny, three-wheeled Messerschmidt automobile alongside a huge truck, while singing part of the Brazil theme song heard on the radio. The music is interrupted by a news report of another terrorist bombing. He drives between rows of multi-storied housing units topped with furnace stacks (shaped like the tops of milk bottles and painted like blue sky with clouds). When a drunk wielding a beer bottle sticks his head above the buildings (he appears as a god-like figure overlooking his creation), it reveals the buildings to be part of an architect's scale-model that is displayed in the center of the Shangri La Towers housing complex. Sam parks in an underground garage next to a graffiti-scrawled billboard. It is illustrated with a view of a smiling family of four driving in a car, with the slogan first heard from Tuttle:

HAPPINESS We're All In It Together.

Foul-mouthed children in the dark tenement area are playing terrorist games with toy machine guns - a renactment of the Buttle apartment attack. Graffiti has defaced the building sign to read: "Shangorilla Towers." [Poster: MELLOWFIELDS, TOP SECURITY HOLIDAY CAMPS, LUXURY WITHOUT FEAR, FUN WITHOUT SUSPICION, RELAX IN A PANIC-FREE ATMOSPHERE.] The kids conspire to set Sam's car on fire.

In the trash-strewn, dark hallway outside the Buttle's apartment, Sam notices an ominous, chain-smoking figure (Bill Wallis) lurking behind a pillar who has been watching the door for some time. The unlocked and unhinged door swings open to allow Sam entrance into the apartment where Mr. Buttle was seized by storm troopers. He finds an initially catatonic and unresponsive Mrs. Buttle sitting by the sole window in the living room (the round hole in the ceiling above her still hasn't been repaired). Stuttering and uneasy because of her behavior, he attempts to cover up the errors of the bureaucracy:

Sam: It's a refund, actually. There was a mistake.
Mrs. Buttle: Mistake?
Sam: Yes, they don't usually make mistakes, but, uh, well, I suppose we're all human...Actually, you know, my coming here is rather unorthodox, bringing you this check as any payments are normally made through central computer, but, uhm, well, as there were certain difficulties, we thought, well, rather than cause delay, uh, we'd let you have it now - you know, it being Christmas and all.
Mrs. Buttle: My husband's dead, isn't he?
Sam: Uhm, I do assure you, Mrs. Buttle, the Ministry is very scrupulous about following up and eradicating any error. But if you do have any complaints you wish to make, I'd be, well, only too happy to send you the appropriate forms.
Mrs. Buttle: What have you done with his body?...
Sam: Uhmm, I don't know anything about that, Mrs. Buttle. I'm really just delivering the check. So if, uhm, look, if you wouldn't mind just signing these two receipts, I'd be only too happy to, uh, to leave you in peace...
Mrs. Buttle: He hadn't done anything. He was good! What have you done with his body?

As the young Buttle boy attacks Sam and pounds him with his fists, a piece of broken mirror on the floor reflects the sight of Jill peering down from the hole in the ceiling, asking: "Are you all right?" She is addressing Mrs. Buttle, not Sam. When Sam calls out to Jill ("It's you!") - the embodiment of his dream girl, she disappears from sight. He pursues her through the outer hallway and up the stairway to the next floor, where he bumps into the stranger as he turns a corner. In her run-down apartment, he hears an explosion from outside - his car has been set on fire by the vandals. He also sees Jill fleeing the courtyard many stories below with a suitcase and bundles in her arms. On the ground floor, he vainly attempts to smother the flames licking his car with an old mattress. A truck driver by profession, Jill retreats from the housing complex in a massive Coleman Pursuit Tractor. Sam tries to follow her in his charred 3-wheeler, but discovers that the juvenile delinquents have removed the tires. One of the kids who silently witnesses Sam's frustration is the young and patient Buttle girl who identifies the upstairs neighbor: "Her name's Jill...Layton...I'm waiting for my daddy."

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