Brazil (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

Have you ever seen any of those "Popular Science" magazines in the 40s and 50s which pictured the world we would someday live in? Director and co-author Terry Gilliam took those technological imaginings and layered in a vision of how the people of that era might have pictured the artistic and political environment in which that technology would flourish. The people of that time would have to picture our life today from a world absorbed by Bauhaus and Art Deco, and ruled over by Stalin and Hitler. The film gets into their heads and stays on that course quite consistently throughout, detouring only to deliver the occasional smirk based on knowing how it really did turn out.  

Jonathan Pryce stars as an insignificant bureaucrat whose only happy moments occur in flights of his imagination, in which he soars like an angel and battles various symbols of the State Behemoth. Pryce's fantasies are stirring, but my favorite character in the film is Robert DeNiro's "terrorist." In a world that requires hundreds of forms to be filled out before anything can happen, DeNiro is a simple repairman who intercepts calls to the official state repair agency, then answers the calls promptly and simply fixes things. That's it. That's his act of rebellion. He fixes things without requiring any paperwork, then slides into the night on high-wire cables, a Spider-Man with a tool belt. Needless to say, the State considers him highly dangerous.

This futuristic vision is now considered a 20th century masterpiece of the imagination, on a par with Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," yet director Terry Gilliam had to fight for more than a year to get it released in the USA at all. He even took out ads in the trades saying things like "where is my movie?" The problem was an impasse between Gilliam and the studio on the film's final version, and they were far apart in the negotiations. Gilliam was fighting for the full 142-minute version which was shown in Europe, but the studio had prepared a 94-minute version that they preferred. The studio also hated Gilliam's bleak ending, which was emotionally unsatisfying. Gilliam countered that a happy ending would be contrary to the entire point of the movie. There can be no happy endings for individuals in a dehumanized bureaucratic society, and it would not have been possible for one little bureaucrat to triumph over a massive institutionalized behemoth.

The peculiarities of Gilliam's contract prevented an easy resolution to the stalemate. On the one hand, the contract stipulated that the studio could not change Gilliam's final cut. On the other hand, Gilliam was required to submit a version which ran 125 minutes or les, and Gilliam had insisted on submitting a 142-minute final cut. Since Universal could not legally alter the film and could not persuade Gilliam to trim it, their only leverage was to withhold the film from distribution. Looking back on the situation, it seems obvious that Universal should simply have swallowed their pride, accepted their losses, treated this film as a prestige product, and promoted the hell out of it for award season. After all, we live in a world full of copycats and formulae, so when geniuses like Gilliam come along, we have to give them a little freedom to realize their visions, at least within reason, and we must nurture them. Sometimes they may miss the mark, but we still need them, and the film studios need those occasional non-commercial works of art to give some artistic credibility to their otherwise businesslike endeavors. In the long run, such compromises convince artists that the studios really care about their work.

Eventually, Gilliam did manage to negotiate a 131-minute compromise version, but its release was greeted by an unenthusiastic public ($9 million gross), and little love from the British and American film academies. The BAFTA committee nominated Brazil only for two technical awards, by-passing it for consideration as the best film, and offering no consolation nominations for writing, direction or cinematography. The film did get one major Oscar nomination for its original screenplay, as well as a technical nod for art direction, but it won neither of those awards, and was not nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, despite the fact that the field was weak in 1985 and the winner that year (Out of Africa) is the lowest-rated film ever to be so honored! History's judgment is that Brazil got one of the all-time hose jobs from those Academies. It now has the the second highest IMDb rating of any English-language picture made in 1985. Since the one higher-rated film is a pure entertainment picture, while Brazil is an exceptional artistic achievement, it now seems that Brazil should have received the Best Picture Oscar that year.

So it goes.

Tough luck, Gilliam.

Top-rated 1985 films in English. Oscar nominees shaded.




The Criterion collection 3-DVD set of "Brazil" is a tremendous addition to the collection of any film buff. First of all, it includes the entire 142 minute cut that Terry Gilliam wanted. In addition, it includes all of the usual bells and whistles, plus:

  • The studio's ludicrous 94 minute cut
  • A full-length commentary
  • "The production notebook," featuring the screenwriter, composer and designers.
  • "What is Brazil" - a funny 30 minute film made on the set.
  • "The Battle of Brazil" - a documentary of Gilliam's battles against the studio.


There is some nudity from Kim Greist. Her breasts are visible through a gown, and her buns are seen when she is in bed with Jonathan Pryce.

Tuna's notes

Brazil takes place in an Orwellian dystopia where bureaucracy rules. The story centers on the life and dreams of a minor clerk working in the information storage ministry. His mother, who spends her life getting plastic surgery, has connections, and tries to get him promoted to Information Retrieval, but he has no ambition until he literally meets the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), and needs a better job to access stored data on her.

I do not blame Mr. Gilliam for fighting so hard for his cut. I can't imagine how this film could be any better. The details of this amazing film defy description. I am told that some people don't get it, and there were usually walkouts in the theaters, but many other people adore it. Put me solidly in the second group. Gilliam's vision of an oppressive bureaucracy ruled by excess information-gathering would have resonated with me at any time in history, but seems especially pertinent given the current administration's penchant for intrusive eavesdropping, and incarceration without due process. Even though the film's themes are serious, Brazil is no stodgy polemic. It is wonderfully entertaining, and all 142 minutes are densely packed with layer upon layer of ideas.

For anyone wondering about the title, it was taken from a potential opening that was never filmed, in which Gilliam planned to trace the creation of a monumental report from cutting down a forest of trees to making the paper, through the printing process, to the final document ... a dissertation on saving the Brazilian rain forests!

The Critics Vote ...

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 98% positive. Thirty nine of the forty reviews are positive. Roger Ebert is the dissenter!

  • It was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $9.9 million, which was actually fairly impressive considering that it never reached more than 173 theaters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a B. History has overruled the tepid reception it received at the time of its release. (Weak box office, two stars from Ebert, only two minor BAFTA awards.) It is now considered a masterpiece.

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