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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Terry Gilliam's Brazil, a 1985 surrealistic gem, finds an "Everyman" hero living in a bizarre dystopian society that has given up all personal liberty and privacy because of a sweeping fear of terrorism. Police and paramilitary forces carry out the orders of a harebrained bureaucracy that has lost all sight of morality and honor. Part comic tribute to 1940s and 1950s film noir, part send-up of high-tech science fiction, part eccentric parody of obsessive romance, it barely lights on one clairvoyant vision of 21st-century life before it takes off in search of another appalling example of future human misbehavior. The movie is filled with violent, intense, and gory scenes, including torture, explosions in public places, bloody bodies and body parts, gunfire, and oppression of civilians by vast numbers of faceless police-state troops. Because of that violence, and because of the film's black comic tone, hilarious characters, and often profound (and profoundly funny) sequences, the movie is best for only the most mature or sophisticated teens.
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What's the story?
A squashed fly lands on a typewriter, changing the "T" (in Tuttle) to the "B" (in Buttle). Thus begins BRAZIL, an extraordinary adventure in a dystopian past-and-future society where no single element makes sense, yet everything blends into a fragile but perfect whole. Technology (visualized as miles and miles of electric cords, tubes, coils, switches, typewriters, and rudimentary robotic parts), misinformation, and single-minded bureaucrats run director Terry Gilliam's off-the-wall world. With a paranoid fear of would-be terrorists, the powers that be set out to arrest a criminal named Tuttle, but the innocent Buttle is arrested instead. When our hero, the righteous but nebbish Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), tries to rectify that mistake, he gets caught up in an ever-tightening choke hold of governmental misbehavior. Retreating into a dream world in which he flies with beautiful, feathery wings, rescues a damsel in distress, and saves the world, Sam hovers between reality and fantasy. At the same time, he falls deeply in love with Jill Layton (Kim Griest), the one witness who can provide evidence against the villainous Buttle-nappers.
Is it any good?
It was hilarious, jaded, and wildly inventive in 1985, even despite its rather thin story; decades later, it's still all those things, but it's also been proven far-sighted and sadly predictive. Watching in 1985, audiences were pondering such questions as: Will Sam's best friend Jack, the nefarious torturer/family man (played with gleeful abandon by Michael Palin), get his comeuppance? Will Sam win the heart of his beloved, misfit damsel? Will Sam's mother and her hapless friend survive the catastrophic series of plastic surgeries they've signed up for? Will the real Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro in his small, awesome first comedic role) stand up?
Today's audience will be in awe of how what seemed to be a ridiculous depiction of governmental eavesdropping, information gathering, militarized police forces, and general paranoia makes real headlines almost daily. Countless websites are devoted to the willing victims of bad plastic surgery. Gilliam's silly technical behemoths have given way to streamlined, compact technical products. Still, those electronic wonders are even more pervasive than the director imagined them to be. All of the above makes this film thought-provoking, meaningful, and undeniably rich for modern audiences. However, caution is advised. The violent scenes and images, though exaggerated in most instances, will be disturbing for most kids and some teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many concepts in this film that have proven to be accurate decades after it was made. Though it was meant to be an unconventional comedy, which of the movie's issues have actually evolved, with serious consequences for today's world?
Discuss the various film genres that this movie celebrates. Which scenes represent film noir? What sequences would be considered "farce" or "slapstick"? When does director Gilliam use magical realism? Science fiction? How successful do you think Gilliam was in combining so many film types?
Given events that have occurred since this movie was released in 1985 (for example, September 11, 2001), do you believe viewers could accept this film's humorous approach? Do you think the film could be made today?
- In theaters: February 20, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: March 31, 1998
- Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Robert De Niro
- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 142 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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