Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil was a groundbreaking work of dystopian social commentary. One of the names Gilliam wanted to give to the movie was actually 1984 1/2 -- a nod to both Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 and Fellini's 8 1/2. The main character is Sam Lowry, a clerk in the Ministry of Information's Records department. Like 1984's Winston Smith, love impels this forlorn everyman into the gnashing teeth of the machine.As with Blade Runner, It is hard to date Brazil as a film over 25 years old by any means. It seems to hold a certain timeless quality. However unlike Blade Runner, a film 3 years its senior, Brazil is dark in tone and worldview instead of just visually. There is a certain crushing insanity of the crass bourgeois commercialism, whereas in Blade Runner things appear merely bleak but rational.
In one of the scenes, there is a long road into town lined with ads. Unfettered commercialism in action. I couldn't help but think of the kind of content sites that proliferate the Internet today. Just utter saturation of the mentalscape. Ad impressions for miles, and nobody really cares.
Brazil is really the logical conclusion of anti-computer ideology of movies like Desk Set from the 50's, along with its anachronisms of forms, stamps, and physical paper reports. Viewing this from our contemporary Internet-obsessed lens, it seems laughable that a future Ministry of Information would need rooms full of paper-pushing clerks next to huge printers and computer terminals, sending information about in the form of an elaborate network of pneumatic tubes.
If anything, we now know that the workplace of worker bees in the hallways of records and information probably look more like the hallowed grounds of Google or Facebook.
(Aside: Notice the common use of bicycles as instant office hipster cred. Awesome. Must use for Posterous office photos.)
The rise of the personal computer and the Internet has been moreso about freedom of information. Yet our fears for Facebook, Google, and other players in the Information Age are couched in dystopian wording and imagery. "Dreams of world domination." Brazil's main theme is that of information control, where the state tightly controls information through bureaucracy and process. Multiple characters submit to this system and go to both banal and extreme lengths to obtain the information they need. Jill, the female lead, witnesses the arrest of an innocent father (result of a clerical error, fittingly), and selflessly fights to find out his whereabouts on behalf of the family. But she is sent from one department (Records to Information Retrieval) and back for the appropriate stamps of approval. Death by bureaucracy. Sam Lowry, the main character in Brazil, must even switch occupations entirely and transfer to a department of higher rank (Information Retrieval Dept) to get access to classified and inaccessible dossiers. All this under a specter of terrorism that never proves itself to be real. In contrast, the ongoing battle waged by angry bloggers against Facebook around privacy is actually over the an enforced *freeing* of information by the allegedly monolithic / Facebook. This is not a part of what the science fiction predicted. But we don't live in works of fiction, now do we?