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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!