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.
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?