Films & Architecture: “Brazil”

  • 25 Sep 2012
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  • Films & Architecture

This week we propose a classic from the ’80s by Terry Gillian. Brazil is a film where he shows his vision of the future generated by societies’ bureaucracy and organisation entities. In many ways, it depicts some, nowadays, facts of rigid urban spaces that do not allow individuality or any kind of freedom.

What do you think about architecture representing or being the result of social organisations? Let us know your ideas about this subject, as always, we’re waiting for your comments and suggestions.


Original title: Brazil
Year: 1985
Runtime: 131 min.
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown
Soundtrack: Michael Kamen
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond. Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm


Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level government employee, who has frequent daydreams of saving a beautiful maiden. One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, which caused it to misprint a file, resulting in the incarceration and death during interrogation of Mr. Archibald Buttle instead of the suspected “terrorist”, Archibald Tuttle. When Sam visits Buttle’s widow, he discovers Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the upstairs neighbour of the Buttles, and is astonished to see that she has the face of the woman from his recurring dreams. Jill is trying to help Mrs. Buttle find out what happened to her husband, but has become sick of dealing with the bureaucracy. Unbeknownst to her, she is now considered a terrorist friend of Tuttle for attempting to report the mistake of Buttle’s arrest in Tuttle’s place to a bureaucracy that would not admit such an error. When Sam tries to approach her, she is very cautious and avoids giving Sam full details, worried the government will track her down. During this time, Sam comes in contact with the real Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a renegade air conditioning specialist who once worked for the government but left due to his dislike of paperwork. Tuttle helps Sam deal with two Central Services workers, Spoor (Bob Hoskins) and Dowser (Derrick O’Connor), who later return to demolish Sam’s ducts and seize his apartment under the guise of fixing the air conditioning.

Sam discovers that the only way to learn about Jill is to get transferred to Information Retrieval, where he would have access to her classified records. He requests the help of his mother, Ida (Katherine Helmond), vainly addicted to rejuvenating plastic surgery under the care of cosmetic surgeon Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent), as she has connections to high-ranking officers and is able to help her son get the position. Delighted that her son has finally shown ambition – having previously turned down similar offers from her – Ida arranges for Sam’s promotion. Sam eventually obtains Jill’s records and tracks her down before she is arrested, then falsifies her records to make her appear deceased, allowing her to escape the bureaucracy. The two share a romantic night together, but they are quickly apprehended by the government at gunpoint.

Charged with treason for abusing his newly acquired position, Sam is restrained to a chair in a large, empty cylindrical room (the interior of a power station cooling tower), to be tortured by his old “friend”, Jack Lint (Michael Palin), who is wearing a mask seen earlier in Sam’s dreams and had previously renounced their friendship in favour of loyalty to the Ministry. Sam also learns that Jill had been killed resisting arrest. However, before Jack manages to begin the torture, Tuttle and other members of the resistance break into the Ministry. The resistance shoots Jack, rescues Sam, and blows up the Ministry building as they flee. Sam and Tuttle run off together, but Tuttle disappears amid a mass of scraps of paper from the destroyed Ministry. Sam runs to his mother attending a funeral for a friend who died of excessive cosmetic surgery. Finding his mother now looking like Jill and fawned over by a flock of juvenile admirers, Sam falls into the open casket, falling through an empty black void. He lands in a world from his daydreams, and attempts escape up a pile of flex-ducts from the police and imaginary monsters. He finds a door at the top of the pile and, passing through it, is surprised to find himself in a trailer driven by Jill. The two drive away from the city together.

However, this “happy ending” is all a product of Sam’s delusions: Sam is still strapped to the chair and observed by Jack and Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), who is portrayed along the film as a good “friend” of Sam’s family. Realising that Sam has grown catatonic, with a smile on his face and humming “Brazil”, the two declare Sam a lost cause, and exit the room as the film ends.


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Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “Brazil”" 25 Sep 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • a-greb
    Comedy about young constructivists (1934)

    • Daniel Portilla

      Thank you for the recommendation!
      It seems hard to find it but I’ll do my best to watch it and add it to the list.

  • mistermuustache

    Most of the sequences have been filmed on location. The interior of a power station cooling tower is mentioned in the article, but there is also architectural masterpieces. City views, street views, sequences around housing plots, and views through the flat of Sam have been shot in the Abraxas. A sort of huge post-modern social housing complex in one of Paris newtowns Noisy le Grand. By spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, in 1983. Go on your favorite search site to see images of this project, it’s just amazing… Sometimes reality surpasses fiction!

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  • JasonB

    A Clockwork Orange. The definitive movie commentary on all those failed modernist urban complexes of the 60s and 70s. It was no accident that gangs were the only occupants left in the soulless plazas and lobbies. It’s an ironic image since they were meant to be a revitalization and facilitator of urban activity.