Dystopian Fiction and Brazil
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a contemporary example of a dystopian film. In the movie, either consciously or inadvertently, Gilliam includes a great deal of content that points to famous futuristic novels. There are similarities between Brazil and other major works of dystopian fiction.
The main target of satire in Brazil is, of course, the exaggerated bureaucracy. As part of the system, operations and forms are given certain numbers. Sam Lowry, our hero, is assigned a number instead of a title when he transitions to the office of information retrieval. This shows that people, along with procedures, become dehumanized and reduced to numbers under intensely bureaucratic systems. There is a similar form of dehumanization at play in the lesser-known novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin from 1924. In the oppressive future imagined in We, every member of society is assigned a number rather than a name. This leads to sacrificing individual well-being for the benefit of the all-powerful state.
What is the role of the song “Aquarela do Brasil,” for which the film is named? Characters often hum or sing the song when going about their work. Sam chooses to listen to it instead of listening to an emergency radio announcement, which shows how much the characters enjoy the song. It would appear that the song acts as a method of distraction for the members of the dark, doomed society. This can be seen at the end of the film, when Sam hums it to remove himself mentally from his horrible circumstances. The dystopian novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley features a similar method of distraction to prevent people from questioning the status quo. In Brave New World, the characters take a drug called soma, which calms people and makes them happy. Both works include these forms of distraction to create the illusion of happiness. As a result, in both Brazil and Brave New World, work becomes bearable and rules are compulsively followed for the good of society.
One idea that continuously surfaces in dystopian works is the regulation of relationships. In Brave New World, characters date other people frequently without getting too attached. In the futures predicted by We and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, relationships are rarely tolerated and the freedom to love another person is suppressed. The rules about dating or being in love are not specifically addressed in Brazil, but there is clear disapproval of Sam’s love for Jill. This is because Sam is an employee of the state and Jill is targeted as a threat to the stability of the system. There is a similar hierarchy of relationships in We and Brave New World. In those instances, as with Brazil, it is unusual or even forbidden to engage in romance with a person outside of one’s own social class.
It seems that authors of dystopian fiction fear dehumanization through mass bureaucracy, social distractions, and harsh regulation of relationships. This fear extends to the more recent dystopian work Brazil, and this shows that people’s fear of an all-powerful, dehumanizing state is still very much alive. Brazil serves as a representation of the usual dystopian subject matter, while providing a more contemporary spin on these fears.
Barroso, Ary. “Aquarela do Brasil.” Aquarela do Brasil. MNR Media, 2011. MP3
Gilliam, Terry. Brazil. 20th Century Fox, 1985. Film.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Bantam Classics, 1946. Print.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Signet Classics, 1983. Print.
Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. New York: Modern Library, 2006. Print.
(Image courtesy of http://www.highdefdiscnews.com/brazil-blu-ray-disc-review/)