Brazil, a film not set in Brazil!

The film Brazil is an elusive film filled with countless possible themes and messages that are hinted and conveyed to its audience through a range of diverse techniques ranging from various filming techniques to symbolism. Obviously a few that can be derived from this masterpiece may not all be deliberate and may simply be the work of the mind of an extremely creative and imaginative enthusiast of analysing that others might not agree with. And yet it is perhaps this aspect of perspective and subjectivity that breathes life and excitement into the process of film analysis.

Brazil is made by the fabulous Terry Gilliam who is famous for having a tendency for films that tackle themes like bureaucracy and authoritarianism and has been known to do so through excellence usage of techniques like mise-en-scene and acting.

It can be assumed that the same goes for Brazil and being perhaps one of Gilliam’s most popular work, it makes sense for Brazil to be filled with endless symbolism and themes. In fact, even Gilliam admitted to Brazil’s purpose being to convey his thoughts on society at the time rather than to tell a futuristic story !

To begin, the most upfront themes, in my opinion, that is first presented to audiences in the film is the idea of vanity. What does one think of when one ponders upon the theme of vanity? A thirst for beauty? Plastic surgery? Impractical but fashionable pieces of clothing? Bingo! All three can be found in the film Brazil. Madam Loury and her group of friends are clearly illustrated by Gilliam (creator of Brazil) to be the very embodiment of vanity itself. Being women of god-knows what age, they can be seen going to extreme lengths to unsuccessfully retain the “quality” of their body and face as demonstrated in the still below.

Is that a tear on her stretched skin on the right!?

Their exaggeratedly fancy and ridiculous sense of fashion are draped with vivid colours (an aspect that could also come into play as symbolism for the difference between the wealthy and the poor. Told you if you are creative enough, everything in this film is pointing to millions of different themes!) and range from a shoe shaped hat (could it be Gilliam pointing to the idea of opposite realities or making a new fashion statement that shoes are better than hats?) to lingerie far out of one expectation of what an elderly woman would even consider wearing.

Not sure we want to “picture [her] in these”.

Now those are the obvious hints or as one may call, the tip of the iceberg. What are some display of vanity in Brazil that aren’t as upfront? One answer. Nothing much, just the entirety of the society in Brazil which is pretty much the heart of this story and the centre of attention. The government, the companies and the workers. Ironic isn’t it? An explosion occurred? It was the “terrorists”, whom no one has yet to ever had witness of their existence, who did it. Its not a technical fault of our own technology that have been proven time to time to be faulty (e.g the elevator getting stuck and Sam’s alarm clock). They had “beginner’s luck”. But being the amazing government we are, it won’t happen again. A “refund check” has come in stating that Mr. Buttle’s life was wrongfully ended? Simply “send it to someone else” and you’ll be fine. After all, “this sort of thing could’ve never happened before the stupid tier reorganisation!” Its their fault. Not ours. We’re perfect!

With all these blatant facts and the enlisting of acting techniques, is vanity not without a doubt the biggest theme in Brazil? The theme is after all present throughout the entire portrayal of the society there which is pretty much what the entire film is about right?

The answer is wrong apparently. In Gilliam’s eyes anyways. He instead insists that he intended for the main theme of Brazil to be responsibility.

What rubbish!

I mean surely it can’t be.

Could it?


I guess it makes sense if you look at it in a different way.

Yeah it most definitely makes sense.

Doesn’t the blame game played by the different organizations about Mr. Buttle’s and their refusal to take responsibility for it point to a theme of… well… responsibility? Are their actions really a lack of responsibility rather than an act of vanity?

And what about Sam Loury’s boss, Mr Kurtzman? He doesn’t seem to do, or know a lot for that matter, in his office. When he is met with a problem or issue his first response is to bring Sam into his office that contains eerily low lighting (for all we know, someone out there believes this minor aspect to be of great importance in delivering what they believe to be “the main theme” of the story which is God-knows what!) and whines for a solution. Lying back and humming a diegetic tune while hurried typing can be heard in the background, Mr Kurtzman, like a dog awaiting food from its owner and a child begging for the purchase of a toy at a shop from their parents, can be seen watching someone else, Sam Lowry, take responsibility for the issue.

The epitome of teamwork and responsibility: One person slaves away while the other watches and “thinks”

He’s quick to accept any answers laid out to him as evident in how fast he was to accept Sam’s plan to get rid of the “refund check”. Sitting on his miraculously clean and tidy desk (please don’t get me started on how many themes people will allude this use of mise-en-scene to.), he even offers Sam a cup of tea as if nothing happened. This façade of a calm demeanor quickly dissipates the moment the “refund check” comes back and Mr Kurtzman tumbles back and resumes his complaining, unable to take responsibility for the problem.

There is a 39 second interval between the still on the left to the still on the right.

So that’s the main theme of responsibility. While I personally cannot imagine anything else to be the main them of Brazil, there are countless opinions outside of this review with different thoughts on what the themes of this elusive film is.

Ranging from “love conquers all…

… to bureaucracy and deceit

…and finally yours!

Yes you! The one reading this right now!

There’s your opinion on the theme of Brazil which may or may not be completely different from mine and you may have felt like you just read utter nonsense and this review wasted 5 minutes of your life because you know in your heart that the theme of this film is that freedom is a lie due to the symbolism used in the presence of ducts being everywhere and mise-en-scene enlisted in the , something I personally cannot even fathom being connected to this film. An yet it could make perfect sense to you.

And it is because of this, the abundant amount of filming techniques and symbolism ranging from camera shots, to mise-en-scene and to diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, present in this film that allows it to be interpret in countless ways, each with their own set of unique and innovative proofs and ideas. Brazil can truly never be seen in the same way by two people of different souls.


- (2019). Brazil Themes. [online] Available at:

[Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

- Cinephilia & Beyond. (2018). Duct Soup: The Daffy, Dystopian Design Nightmare of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ • Cinephilia & Beyond. [online] Available at:

[Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

- The Criterion Collection. (2019). Brazil: A Great Place to Visit, Wouldn’t Want to Live There. [online] Available at:

[Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

- (2019). Images — Terry Gilliam and Brazil. [online] Available at:

[Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

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