Brazil – The Cyberpunk Christmas Movie

The neon flows...

Brazil is a cyberpunk Christmas movie if there ever was one. The movie is born out of the same social anxiety that the cyberpunk movement was. There is an unfortunate lack of dystopian Christmas stories. This lack of dystopic Christmas features may be an artifact of the minimalist, anti-consumeristic message that much of dystopian fiction carries. Brazil is no exception. Brazil is set during the Christmas season and uses this backdrop to make commentary on our materialistic society, as well as other ridiculous aspects of western culture.

Screenshot from 2014-12-21 07:16:52

The basic plot of Brazil is that Sam Lowry, a low-level government employee, has dreams about a woman who embodies the damsel in distress. In this fantasy, Lowry is a knight in shining armor who is coming to her rescue. In the real world, he meets a woman who looks like the woman from his dreams and gets caught up in a bureaucratic mistake that spirals out of control resulting not only in wrongful deaths, but also Lowry’s eventual loss of his apartment, job, love, and sanity.

Brazil has a dichotomous visual style that is simultaneously very cyberpunk, and very not. The world is a mostly a drab, crumbling industrial place, which brings to mind many cyberpunk backdrops. This is offset though by retro-futuristic technology and style inspired by the Humphrey Bogart/ Noir era. True to this era, the walls are plastered with Nineteen Eighty Fourish propaganda posters, encouraging the populace to watch each other, and report suspicious behavior.

Although Brazil was released in 1985, it has themes that are just as relevant today. The inciting incident in the movie is the bombing of a electronics store (blowing up consumerism), which due to a bureaucratic error results in the wrongful raid of the Buttle home (the intended target was Tuttle). Buttle is arrested and their home is seriously damaged. This scene is reminiscent of the late night raids that have happened in reality and resulted in the deaths of people who weren’t even on the warrant.

Screenshot from 2014-12-21 06:59:47

This, of course, is the result of the overzealous execution of anti-terrorism operations in the movie. There is a large string of terrorist attacks throughout. One showcases the society’s attempt to downplay the reality of the anti-consumeristic terrorist attack by literally putting up shutters so that customers can’t see the chaos and destruction. Another results in a second wrongful accusation of terrorism in the movie, because Jill Layton (the love interest), brings a box into a mall just before another attack. Another example of the out of control anti-terror regime is that Jill is posted as suspicious for trying to prove that Buttle was never a terrorist in the first place.

Jill Layton is the most punk part of this movie. She represents the underprivileged worker class. She is a trucker living in a shitty apartment, that is trying to live a a worth while life. Her attitude is also rather punk, kind of a paranoid, bleeding heart, with a rough edge. A large part of the plot is driven by Jill trying to get justice for the Buttle family.

Screenshot from 2014-12-21 07:12:02

The fallacy of high society is another major theme of the movie. Both Lowry’s mother, Ida Lowry, and his mother’s friend, Mrs. Terrain, are the recipients of frequent plastic surgery. This is an allegory for the ideal of unrealistic body image that is perpetuated in media. In one case Lowry’s mother slowly becomes completely disconnected from her real relationship with her son, and in the case of Mrs. Terrain she is literally reduced to a liquefied corpse. The food that is served in the restaurants is a colored mound that resembles the texture of cottage cheese. Steak for instance is pink mush, but it’s okay because it is accompanied by a beautiful picture of real steak. In another case, Lowry visit’s the Buttle recidence which is located in Shangri La Towers. Shangri La was a mythological place that amounted to Utopia. In Brazil though, Shangri La is a literally crumbling apartment tower – complete with graffiti, dirty children, and burning cars. The failed promise of Utopia. Then there is the fact that wearing a shoe on your head is considered fashionable…

Shangra La

Eventually, we do meet Tuttle. Tuttle turns out to be a rogue air conditioning repairman. Tuttle arrives at Lowry’s home to fix his broken AC, and succeeds in doing so quickly by installing an illegal module. Later, government sanctioned AC repairmen show up and discover the illegal module and insist on removing it. The result is the complete destruction of Lowry’s apartment, and ultimately seizure of the premises. This is a commentary on the value of an actual craftsman’s ability in society. Today, a piece of paper that shows a credential is often more important than displayed competency. Tuttle also possesses the hacker ethos. Fix it instead of replacing it, and make it do what you want.

Finally, a predominant theme of the movie is fantasy. Sam Lowry dreams of being a knight in shining armor who rescues a damsel in distress. This knight has the wings of an angel literally flies through the sky, the ultimate metaphor for freedom. Later, Lowry’s fantasy damsel is kidnapped and he has to go and rescue her. In a fight to free her from a Samurai demon, his wings are clipped. The demon has his face, an allegory for fighting between his reality and his fantasy. This fantasy begins blending into Lowry’s reality as the movie progresses. The movie comes to a close with Lowry being arrested for abusing his position and is taken to the inside of a nuclear cooling tower to be tortured. He is then rescued by Tuttle and a masked group of anti-bureaucracy terrorists and Lowry escapes with Jill to the country to live happily ever after. This is, unfortunately, Lowry’s fantasy and the reality is that he has been broken by torture.

Torture

So why is a such a depressing dystopic movie the perfect cyberpunk Christmas movie? Christmas has in reality been largely commercialized to sell all of these things we don’t need. Many of these things aren’t even remotely practical and essentially amount to the shoe hat. Lowry on the other hand never really buys into this illusion and instead is constantly chasing his dream of having a meaningful relationship. Something of true value. Something that we should perhaps bare in mind during the holidays. Brazil tells us that Christmas is about our relationships, not the presents we get. This message is why Brazil is the perfect Christmas movie. Plus there are Christmas decorations everywhere!

Brazil film

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Veritas is a cyberpunk and writer who enjoys all aspects of the cyberpunk genre and subculture. He also journeys deeply into the recesses of the dissonance exploring his nihilistic existence. If you'd like to contact Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas), the founder and editor-in-chief of Neon Dystopia, you can do so here: ilwheeler.founder@neondystopia.com
14 Comments
  1. I don’t consider Brazil to be cyberpunk. In my opinion, it’s retro-future steampunk. That’s why I refuse to add it to the DB

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  2. Microchip, I can certainly see how you feel that way. Brazil definilty opted for a retro-futuristic look over the cyberpunk aesthetic of the time. Thematically it very cyberpunk however. Cyberpunkreview used to use two scales for rating movies as cyberpunk. Cyberpunk visuals, and cyberpunk themes. There are plenty of movies that have intense cyberpunk visuals but fail to fit the genre thematically.

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  3. @Veritas

    Is there punk? Definitely! Is There steam? Definitely! Is There cyber? No 🙂

    Reply
  4. @Veritas

    I think we need to watch out using “cyberpunk” to class everything that has some similarities to the genre. If we continue this path, soon true cyberpunk will get worn out and be out of class. People will start shouting “it’s cyberpunk!” to virtually everything that borrows some elements from this genre.

    Of course we all have our own view on cyberpunk, but I tend to think hard before I class a work as cyberpunk

    In the Brazil example, I would call it “cyberpunk-like” but not true cyberpunk. Since that sort of films have their own genre name (steampunk) we should refer to them with the correct genre name. Is steampunk very cyberpunk? Definitely, as it comes from it, yet it is also distinct in the way that it takes a different “path” than “regular” cyberpunk

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  5. Guess this just means more discussion as to what constitutes “cyberpunk”. I for the record would put it in a Cyberpunk collection, with obvious genre overlaps.

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  6. There is an argument to be made that Bladerunner isn’t actually cyberpunk, but rather biopunk for the same reasons that Microchip puts forth. I agree that Brazil is not pure cyberpunk, but as far as a Christmas Movie that comes close to capturing the ethos of cyberpunk, you can’t do much better.

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  7. @Veritas

    Yes, I agree to some extent. Actually, Blade Runner “lies” to the public in that at the beginning of it, when the text scrolls and reads that the Tyrel corporation has made robots virtually indistinguishable from humans, the movie does not keep true to this claim. The replicants are fully portraited as humans, with weaknesses, flaws, and other things usually common in people. Very few instances show their strengths (as you would expect a robot to have). I can imagine that it could be possible that humans in the future create such “robots” mirroring them, but I have a hard time believing that there are no traits that distinguishes them from us.

    I guess I must have a (slightly?) different definition of what a robot should look/act like. I think that Blade Runner should have called these “robots” enhanced genetically engineered humans grown in a lab, and not robots as it fails to display the essence of what it makes a robot…. well, a robot. If you read the definition of what a robot is like (even from an encyclopedia), you won’t find these things in the replicants as the movie fails to display them

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  8. @Microchip & @veritas

    So are we to only define cyberpunk movies as those that involve the usage of AI or digital reference? I can understand the point of defining the differences between say cyberpunk, steampunk, and biopunk but then you have movies like Johnny Neumonic or Gattaca who I see people argue about constantly about where the overlap lays and ends.

    Not trolling, but genuinely wondering where your definitions end. As for Bladerunner, the want to push the singularity movement forward is there, thus biopunk but is it not also a Cyberpunk movie for the same reason?

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  9. @spawnsyxx9 we have a page dedicated to the discussion of the definition of cyberpunk here: https://www.neondystopia.com/what-is-cyberpunk/ . I see biopunk, and some of the other -punk spinoffs, as being subgenres of cyberpunk. Steampunk doesn’t usually fall into that realm for me because it usually doesn’t have much of a punk emphasis and is based on alternative history, rather than the future. Brazil doesn’t make me think steampunk, although I think I can see where you are coming from. It is more like neo-noir retro-futurism. Alot of cyberpunk has retro-futuristic qualities today.

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  10. @veritas Yeah I’ve been following it. Wasn’t saying this movie made me think it was steampunk but when it’s biopunk, as you said or any other genre under Cyberpunk, I figure categorically it still fits which is why I’d find it odd that someone would say it can’t be called Cyberpunk if it’s biopunk. I do get the clear distinctions between cyberpunk & steampunk.

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  11. @spawnsyxx9

    Wait, I don’t follow. Who said you can’t call biopunk also cyberpunk? Of course you can as there’s this thing called “overlap”. However, if a biopunk film or other work focuses much more on the genetics side of things and their implications, and much less on the “hard” technology that makes genetics possible, then it is my opinion you should call it biopunk. There was a reason why this word and subgenre exists

    Take Gattaca for example. The whole movie depicts a world where genetics rule our whole society. Those fortunate due to genetics, enjoy the benefits and privileges. Those not, often get pushed out and suffer the consequences of not being able to take part is this genetically discriminating world.

    Gattaca doesn’t focus on the technology which makes all this possible for better or worse. It focuses, well… on what I just said above. On what does cyberpunk focus? What is one of its major “ingredient”? Hard technology, cybernetics, artificial intelligence. Tell me on what Nemesis or Nirvana or The Matrix or any other film that 99% agree is proper cyberpunk, focuses on?. Right, you got it stud! It’s this damn focus on technology. Does Gattaca in our example focuses on technology? No, it doesn’t. It focuses on the genetic implications of a possible future world. How was that genre called again that deals with this stuff? Right, biopunk. I don’t see why it’s so hard to distinguish what clearly differentiates these genres

    Anyways, this is my opinion and I don’t really feel to continue the discussion since people will always disagree with each others.

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  12. Couldn’t this be CyberRetroPunk? To me, cyberpunk at its core is “High tech, low life” which Brazil does have. I think everything else that people want cyberpunk to be is up for debate. For example, I love the idea of cyberpunk ONLY being neon lights, mechs, rebels and a dystopian future… but as well all know, not all cyberpunk movies and books have those things. I say Brasil fits enough, everything else is just splitting hairs.

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  13. I don’t really like splitting the cyberpunk genre into infinite subgenres, so personally, I wouldn’t try to invent a new term like CyberRetroPunk, but your point is good. Brazil is cyberpunk in all of the important ways. I like to think about it as a cyberpunk Kafkaesque nightmare with a dash of Christmas!

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