[Before we kick this one off… As with all my other articles, there is a risk of significant SPOILERS, so please bear in mind! This is particularly relevant to this film as, for reasons outlined below, multiple different versions and edits exist, of which a rundown is available at faqs.org. This article takes as its reference point the full “Director’s Cut” edition, which is now (as well it should be) the standard DVD release version of Brazil.]
By turns bitingly satirical and deeply moving, chillingly terrifying and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Terry Gilliam’s dystopian farce Brazil is a film that prides itself on confusing the viewer; the latter was certainly the case for Roger Ebert, who detected within the film a palpable and “general lack of discipline”. Indeed, as Jack Mathews documents extensively in his book and documentary The Battle of Brazil, these qualities (combined with Gilliam’s intransigence towards compromise) made it the subject of a protracted dispute between the director and his distributors at Universal, so much so that an alternative cut was prepared (without Gilliam’s blessing) simplifying some of the film’s narrative and, famously, altering its thoroughly ambivalent ending. It is precisely this ambiguity, however, that makes Brazil not only memorable but, as Mathews writes in an accompanying essay to the film’s Criterion Collection DVD re-release, quintessentially Gilliam-esque. Indeed, the film conforms perfectly to the description offered by a Criterion forum member of “Monty Python meets 1984“, as the nightmarish system it depicts, a true bureaucracy where everything is governed by paperwork, is effortlessly omnipotent and fundamentally inefficient all at once, the machines and suited bureaucrats that run it both unassailably powerful and inherently ridiculous.