In The Cinema as a Graphic Art, Nilsen maintains that the cinematograph film is a “synthetic art [which] is built up as the result of collaboration of a numerous creative group: scenarist, director, camera-man, sound-recordist, composer of the musical score, art director, and actor” (p. 7). Modern cinema is not merely a “synthetic art,” but a branch of industry developed on an industrial basis in which the single form of artistic expression is lost amidst the plurality of artistic representations. Here, Benjamin illustrates the myriad of artistic voices which shape film production:
The camera that presents the performance of the film actor to the public need not repsect the performance as an integral whole. Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes its position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional view which the editor composes from the material supplied him constitutes the completed film. It comprises certain factors of movement which are in reality those of the camera, not to mention special camera angles, close-ups, etc (p. 228).
Unlike a painting, whose sole artist (producer) is the painter, cinema is a productive genre in which the culmination of various artists and technicians ultimately yields one final product, the film. Thus, in cinema there is no possibility of an individual subjective utterance.
Yet, this collective artistic production is further inhibited through the institutionalization of cinema by the power structures which control the film industry: financers, private studios, and government sponsored agencies. Using various methods of normalization such as: monitoring, rating, and censorship, these institutions neutralize artistic production, creating cinema which is completely beyond the power of the original artists. Instead, we have movie studios that want to produce boxing films, banking institutions that only finance movies which will make “big profits”, and government agencies that don’t allow for “butt-fucking” on screen. Individual artistic expression has become far removed from the product, cloaked behind the censorship of contraversial material, the “necessary” editing of footage that won’t sell, and the script that has been altered beyond recognition. As cinematic/artistic production has metamorphisized into the “film industry,” the sole artistic voice has disappeared.
The film industry compensates for the diversity of content and artistic expression with an abundance of feature films giving the public the illusion that they are making a decision: “Choice and diversity, though separate concepts, are in fact inseparable; choice is unattatinable in any real sense without diversity. If real options are nonexistent, choosing is either meaningless or manipulative” (Schiller, p. 19). This type of abundance in movie production can best be seen in Hollywood where any artistic production is closely tied to the corporate economy through commercial ties — where the images and messages purveyed throughout the film are constructed to achieve similar objectives which are: “profitability and the affirmation and maintenance of the private ownership consumer society” (Schiller, p. 22).
Through this beaurocratization of film production we can see the death of the artistic subject. Film makers are suffocated, clouded behind the structures of power which have the ultimate authority to make script changes, to alter plots, to edit footage, and to place “X” ratings on “obscene” films which ultimately means that these films will not be accepted into most theatres (thus, these films will not be readily available to the public and will be doomed to imminent failure at the box office). An easily maleable instrument of these beaurocratic institutions, the artist has no choice but to comply with these rules — the alternative is to risk being deleted from the production. Yet, in complying with these meta-narratives, the artistic subject has necessarily become removed, disappeared. Orson Welles gives us a new and ironic meaning to “death of the subject” when in his will, Orson Welles left specific instructions restricting any post-humous editing or colourization of his films. Hence, Welles’ subjective determination of his films was realized only through his death.
As the film industry manifests a death of the artistic subject through the manipulation and beaurocratization by the various meta- narratives of the government and private industry, many films, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, embody a death of the subject through plot content and structure. I shall discuss Brazil through a close examination of the plot narrative and form, analyzing the Foucauldian power structures which are not only inherent throughout the cinemagraphic production, but are also demonstrated throughout Gilliam’s nightmarish and not-so-fictional vision of the beaurocratization of the recent past/present/future. I shall devote the first part to a detailed discussion of the plot content, and the second part to an analysis of the plot structure and its referentiality to history and past cinema (pastiche).
The world depicted in Brazil reveals a society whose existence is contingent upon the legitimatization of the State. Through the government’s rubric of information departments, the individual’s existence is contingent on the life of the state through their perpetuation of the power structure and their contribution of information into the system. As Foucault states:
Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by out social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies (p. 217).
In Brazil, the State is nameless, faceless — there is no “presidential” figure situated in the middle of this vast panoptical structure. The State is a self-propelled, anonymously-governed structure of power where the various meta-narratives within the Ministry of Information (the Department of Records, the Department of Information Adjustments, and the Department of Information Retrieval) serve the government institution through the retrieval, organization, and transference of knowledge. Carefully woven into the state apparatus, each citizen serves as a tool for this bureaucratic system of information wherein the individual legitimatizes the structure through their everyday existences which simultaneously maintain a flow of information. Information is the totalizing force in this society which motivates the beaurocratic structure, ultimately rendering the individual subject powerless, or rather, dead. As one character in the film states: “Information is the name of the game.”
In Brazil, the individual is reified through the established governmental structure maintaining the subject as a replaceable part of the institution’s machinery. Lukács states that the individual who is reified in a beaurocracy is “turned into a commodity, mechanised and reified in the only faculties that might enable him to rebel against reification. Even his thoughts and feelings become refied” (p. 172). The characters have become mechanized — their bodies and existences conform to the system, allowing little room for resistence.
While Buttle and his family are celebrating Christmas, the police forcibly enter their apartment and expediently cover and shackle Buttle with a hooded body garment. The chief of police enters the room and hands Mrs. Buttle a series of forms which she must sign. After signing the forms, the chief of police hands her the receipt for her husband, and then takes his receipt for her receipt. We never hear from Buttle who is scooped up and eliminated by the system; Buttle has no voice, no power, no identity apart from “his” receipt. Due to this “wrongful arrest,” Buttle is consequently tortured and then killed — his body is replaced with form, Buttle is reified by beaurocratic procedures and ingested into the system as a receipt.
Upon meeting Mrs. Buttle to deliver an indemnity check, Lowry finds a distraught widow who keeps asking, “What have you done with his body?” Buttle’s body is the widow’s last effort to realize her husband’s life. Buttle has been replaced by the beaurocratic simulacra of his body: a series of receipts, a check, and yet, another receipt for the indemnity check. Buttle has been negated by the system; his life/body was easily disposed of and it can be just as easily replaced and forgotten. The only institutional concern with the death of this subject is that the problem be quickly and silently ammended, because it is an embarassment to the State — it is a “mistake” (a word which is only whispered once throughout the film).
As the the individual/body is transformed into or interpreted through the sign-systems within the bureaucratic structure, likewise all actions and perceptions are objectified against the ideological prescriptives of the State. When two Central Service repairmen come to fix his air ducts, Lowry fears for that the repairman will discover that a free-lancer had been working on his unit; so he asks the repairmen for a “27B/6,” the repair authorization form. Since they do not have the “27B/6,” they are forced to return to their headquarters and file for the appropriate papers. This bureaucratization of procedure makes all human action impossible without the legitimization of the State and the proper channeling of information and forms.
The death of the subject through the individual’s bureaucratic reification is best demonstrated when Tuttle’s body becomes completely encased and mummified in newspapers. As Lowry tries to saves Tuttle’s life by pulling off the paper, frantically searching for Tuttle’s body, Lowry finds nothing at the center of the massive heap of papers. Tuttle/his body has become digested by paperwork. The system that the State has promoted to keep the flow of information properly channeled has consumed the individual, leaving no trace of his existence. In Brazil, the subject can communicate and be understood only through their bureaucratic position, papers, or identification number. Ultimately, the subject becomes disappeared and all action becomes meaningless without the proper procedures, forms, and signatures.
Brazil also demostrates a society where the subjective will and cognitive process are transformed through the informational and beaurocratic discourses. As de Certeau writes: “In the name of the “real,” they [informational discourses] institute a symbol-creating language that generates belief in the process of communication and what is communicated” (p.206). Thus, we see not only the disappearance of the individual subject through the sign/word systems implemented by the State, but also a loss of original thought and individual action which maintains a “belief in what is being communicated,” regardless of its absurdity.
The State legitimatizes the inanimate through sign systems which create a belief of that which no longer exists. When Lowry, his mother, and her friends order dinner in a restaurant, they choose their selections from a menu composed of photographs of the different entrées, each one accompanied by a number. After their dinners arrive, the different entrées all look the same despite the fact that they all made different selections: each plate contains three round, flat discs of various colours with a photograph of the “real” entrée affixed to the plate. The State compensates for individual choice (freedom) by reinterpreting subjective will into a homogeneity of choices that merely give the appearance of difference. The pictures of the “real” food represent the “choice” the subject has made; yet, there really was no choice. Individual will has become hogenized through the sign systems which give the illusion of individuality.
When Lowry is given a promotion to the Department of Information Retrieval, he receives a badge with his new identification number on it and an office with the same number on the door. He immediately “loses” his name and becomes “35Z/8.” Before Lowry can be recognized by the system, he must be interpreted through his department and identification number — his name has no meaning, no relevance in the system and his emotions become incorporated and hidden within the world of papers and computers. It is only through these sign systems that his existence is granted any significance, yet Lowry’s individuality has become cocooned within the State.
When the Tuttle/Buttle mixup is acknowledged, Jack tells Lowry, “We got the right man, they [the police who apprended Buttle instead of Tuttle] got the wrong man.” Through the bureaucratic procedres of legimization (the paperwork which verifies Buttle’s arrest), Jack interprets Buttle as the “right man,” denying any error on his part. For Jack, Tuttle is no longer an issue since he has already tortured and killed Buttle whom he interpreted as Tuttle. The individual is de-individualized and consequently homogenized through paperwork which has the power, the ability, to transform one person into another in a matter of one typographical error. The system does not acknowlege the subject apart from the forms bearing the subjects name; thus, all individual existence is contingent upon the “belief process” established and firmly entwined in the system which legitimizes the validity of both the institution and the individual regardless of accuracy.
If the subject does not conform with the State’s agenda by acting autonomously from the structure or by achieving a type of individuality, the subject must be eliminated. When Lowry’s air conditioning unit breaks down, his apartment is broken into by a free-lance repairman, Henry Tuttle, who is wanted by the government because to work for any institution except the State is illegal. In this beaurocratic society, individual will is considered subversive since it is not necessarilly aligned to the needs and format of the system. Tuttle’s subjective actions place him at odds with the State, therefore he is a threat and labeled a “terrorist.” Tuttle’s subjectivity becomes incorporated and recognized not just an act of individuality, but as an act that threatens the system since Tuttle’s actions clearly do not legitimatize the power structures. In labeling Tuttle a “terrorist,” the State empowers itself with a reason for eliminating Tuttle’s body/existence.
The fear of individual will and action necessitates a homogenous system of thinking, acting, and representation. Throughout the film we see characters exchanging Christmas gifts — all of which are the same the same: a mechanical device with an arrow that point to the words “yes” or “no.” Everyone gives and receives identical gifts, opening and wrapping the presents as if they will be a surprise. As de Certeau describes a “symbol creating language,” the institution has inscribed a language into the system which establishes a loss of the subject, the disappearance of original thought, and the marginalization of subjective action manifesting itself throughout the body, mind, and soul.
The environment depicted in Brazil is a panoptical structure which Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish :
The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new object of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised (p. 204).
Throughout the offices and workspaces the system of surveillance penetrates the individual action, collecting and disseminating information. Televisions and cameras maintain a two-way system of information which penetrates the working and “private” individual. As the individual is subject to a “field of visibility” basing all actions and will upon this knowledge of surveillance, the individual subject “assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the priciple of his own subjection” (Foucault, pp. 202-203). Brazil demonstrates a society where the system of surveillance “automatizes and disindividualizes” power and the individual becomes an “object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault, pp. 200-202).
The opening scene of the film shows a storefront window where television sets on display are televising a speech given by the head of Information Retrieval, Mr. Helpman. While he is addressing the situation of terrorist bombings which had been occuring for the past seven years, a bomb explodes leaving everything desicrated except for one television which continues the broadcast amidst the charred ruins. The bomb could destroy everything except the institution. The dissemination of information through televisions is just one of the many methods the State utilizes to maintains its authority. As each individual is informed of the danger posed by the terrorists, the individual also realizes the importance of the State as the information penetrates the minute micro-political structures of the home and everyday life.
Throughout each building are video cameras which record every action that occurs: as Lowry enters the Department of Records, he is video-taped; the first time Lowry sees Jill Leighton is through the television screen in the Department of Information Adjustments; and Lowry notices the camera which follows his actions as he walks down the hall to Jack’s office. All movements are recorded and fed to the institution, surveilling the individual who might be subversive, late to work, or in the wrong department. The power of the State compartamentalizes the individual, fragmenting the the subject into an organism who exercises all will and actions in accordance with the institution.
The panoptical system is also executed through the structure inscribed into the office environment. The office space in the Department of Records, where Lowry and hundreds of his colleagues work, is a large room with hundreds of desks and computers — all of which can be easily viewed from Mr. Kurtzman’s elevated office. When Kurtman closes the door, the workers turn their computer consoles into a television set where they watch cowboy westerns. As soon as Kurtzman opens the door, the consoles are back into their computer mode and everyone continues shuffling papers and keying information into their computers. De Certeau contends in The Practice of the Everyday that this type of subversion of company time in order to assert their “artistic achievements,” would be considered resistance to the power structure (p. 28). Yet, Yúdice maintains that the system allows for a certain amount of resistence in order to enforce the control it has over the individual (p. 217-218). We may even wonder why the computer consoles even had the ability to pick up television signals. Nevertheless, the workers continue to produce and realize the limits to which they may extend their television viewing breaks. Kurtzman’s frequent appearances from his office door preserve the automatization of power, serving as a gentle reminder to the masses that their duties and lives belong to the State.
Besides the surveillance through video and hierarchical positioning of the work space, the individual, seemingly-privates offices maintain a surveilling control of power. When Lowry receives his own office in the Department of Information Retrieval, it turns out to be quite small and no so private: Lowry depends on his next-door-neighbor to use his computer since Lowry no longer has a console and Lowry only has half a desk — the other half of which is in his next-door-neighbor’s office. The panoptical structure has penetrated the massive grouping of hundreds of workers in one office with one boss who occasionally checks up on them. Instead, we have a more individualized, micro-political, system of surveillance where one cannot move without the next-door-neighbor knowing about it. As Foucault asserts, it is the “individualizing distribution” of power which maintains an “organization in depth of surveillance and control, and intensification and ramification of power” (p. 198). Thus, through the video cameras, televisions, the massive grouping of workers, and the individualized offices, we see the surveillance system inscribed. The maintenance of relational power which “sustains itself by its own mechanism” preserves the institution’s hold over the body and the mind, thus eliminating any subjective action or identity (Foucault, p. 177).
Inherent throughout the film, is the death of nature, the removal of all which is organic — technology replaces human interaction and organic existence. As Lyotard explains: “Technology is therefore a game pertaining not to the true, the just, or the beautiful, etc., but to efficiency: a technical ‘move” is “good when it does better and/or expends less energy than another” (p. 44). Humans are implemented to aid technology, only interfering with technology when there is no other recourse. Science is more perfect, more accurate, more beautiful than the organic — technology replaces and marginalizes the individual mind and body to the point of the individuals disappearance.
In the office where arrest citations are being printed, a man is standing on a chair attempting to kill a fly. When he finally swats the fly, it falls from the ceiling into the printer causing the name on the citation to read “Buttle” instead of “Tuttle.” The existence of the organic, a fly, cannot be tolerated. As we see, the fly causes a printing error which, later in the film, is manifested as an institutional error, distorting and confusing the beaurocratic process. Technology has a priveleged position in this society their function is “not to find truth, but to augment power” (Lyotard, p. 46). The necessary removal of organic intervention from the technological establishment provides the institution with the only flawless agenda under which it can operate and maintain its power.
Computers are the primary source of communication between individuals — whenever, organic intervention is utilized, it becomes awkward for the individual and a possible threat to the institution. Upon learning of the “wrongful elimination,” Sam Lowry is given the task of depositing an indemnity check into Mrs. Buttle’s bank account. When he can’t deposit the check through computerization, he is forced into making a personal visit to Mrs. Buttle. The State promotes technology as the medium for all person-to-person contact. In this society, any personal interaction is considered unorthodox and highly irregular. Once Lowry appears in Mrs. Buttle’s home, he is vulnerable to physical danger: he is beaten up by the Buttle’s son and his car is completely destroyed. The removal of human intervention through the computerization of daily tasks and duties preserves the power structure as a faceless and untouchable institution, while disappearing the individual.
The air ducts in Brazil are personified elements of technology — the air ducts provide a technological environment of nature. Lifelike organisms which have the ability to move and breath, the polymer ducts replace the organic. As Lukács states:
‘Nature’ . . . refers to authentic humanity, the true essence of man liberated from the false, mechanising forms of society: man as a perfected whole who has inwardly overcome, or is in the process of overcoming, the dichotomies of theory and practice, reason and the senses, form and content; man whose tendency to create his own forms does no imply an abstract rationalism which ignores concrete content (pp. 136-137).
The death of nature is replaced by mechanical or false forms of nature, the ventialation ducts. In creating new forms of nature, the State denies any “authentic humanity” or organic presence. The existence of the organic (beyond the already reified individual) would pose a threat to the institution, crippling the bureaucratic nature of human-technological relations.
When nature fails to do the best job, science takes over the body. Lowry’s mother and her friends are all patients of the local plastic surgeon (his mother even spends her Christmas holiday at the plastic surgeon’s office). Lowry’s mother becomes younger looking every day, while her unfortunate friend ends up dying because of “complications.” Flawless beauty is the object for these women. Where nature/body can’t produce perfection, plastic/science can. While many of the woman remain behind gauze and plastic, their bodies disappear behind the polymer code constructed around them. These woman give up their bodies/lives to the institution of science, allowing their lives to become completely absorbed with their next appointment with the plastic surgeon. The death of nature takes on a new life of science.
When the individual does observe the rules set by the State, the body and mind are further “eradicated” — the subject’s mental state is further transformed into insanity. As we see when Lowry tries to save Jill from the authorities, he is captured and tortured by his best friend, Jack Lindt. As the institution wants to find information from Lowry about what he knows of the “terrorists,” torture is used to extract knowledge and modify behaviour through destroying the mind. Foucault asserts that the soul is “the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body” (p. 30). Through torture, the body produces and reproduces the “truth of the crime,” providing a synthesis of knowledge that the State needs in order to stop subversion against the system (Foucault, pp. 30-47). As Jack did not comply with the system, his body becomes useless to the State and his mind is further fragmented into a state of insanity, Jack’s dreamworld of Brazil.
As we have seen, the death of the subject manifests itself invarious functions throughout Gilliam’s Brazil : torture modifies and/or kills the individual, technology overcomes the organic, surveillance monitors the subject, sign-systems defeat subjective will and action, and bureaucratic paperwork consumes the individual. Lyotard asserts that: “power is not only good performativity, but also effective verification and good verdicts. It legitimates science and law on the basis of their efficiency, and legitimates this efficiency on the basis of science and law” (p. 47). The systems utilized by the State legitimatizes the information and, likewise, the information legitimatizes the State. In complying with the laws of the system, the individual legitimatizes the structures of power by supplying and feeding information into the State apparatus. Ultimately, the individual subject has become disappeared — digested in the line of duty — serving the State’s need to collect information/knowledge through this vast panoptical and technological system of bureaucracy.
Brazil has been called a futuristic vision of the world, implying that this bureaucratization of society does not yet exist. In fact, Brazil could best be described as a film which incorporates the past and present with the future. De Certeau writes that “time is precisely the impossibility of an identity fixed by a place,” implying that history is inscribed in the place of the individual (Heterologies, p. 218). In Brazil, we see the synthesis of past artifacts with present and futuristic technologies. Jameson defines pastiche as the “dissappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, the increasing unavailability of the personal style ” (p. 64). Pastische is an acknowledgement of the impossibility of originality; thus, the only recourse is to return to the past utilizing: “dead styles [and] speech through all the masks and voices stored up in the imaginary museum of a now global culture” (p. 65).
In Brazil, we see the use of pastiche through historical components: clothing from the 1930’s, Nazi Germany military uniforms, and computers which are made from archaic television sets. Yet, the pastische exists not only on a material level, but on a textual level as well. While the workers watch television, they see old Hollywood westerns and “Casablanca.” Kurtzman incorporates the film vocabulary into his speech when he says to Lowry, “Here’s lookin’ at you.” Contrary to Hutcheon’s description of Brazil as a parodic film, I maintain that what may seem like parody does not manifest itself as laughter. Jameson describes pastiche as “blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs.” The textual references to “Star Wars,” Orwell’s 1984, The Trial, and “Battleship Potemkin” are seemingly parodied, but still maintain a “neutral practice of mimicry,” amputating any “satiric impulse” within the narrative (Jameson, p. 65). Through its referentiality, pastiche acknowledges the impossibility of creating anything original — it acknowledges a death of the individual subject. Like pastiche, the film industry manifests a death of the artistic subject through the bureaucratization of process.
I contend that Brazil is a film about film making — Brazil demonstrates a society where the individual is incapable of subjective action or will because of his or her place in the system. When Lowry finally rebels against the system he is tortured, and he consequently becomes insane remaining in his dreamland of Brazil. This is analogous to the writer who cannot sell a script because it simply does not fit into the system and the director whose films must be edited beyond recognition in order to conform with the other box office hits. There is no originality in film that depends on the structures of the State and private financers; everything must refer to the great westerns, Bogart, and Eisentstein.
Brazil suggests that madness, Lowry’s escape into his illusionary world of Brazil, is the only hope for resistance. As Harootunian states: “The division of reason and its other constitutes the latter as unreason, opposing reason, and it thereby becomes an object submitted to knowledge. Whether it was the mad, the diseased, or even the criminal, it was no different from the Other. . . (p. 118). The Other constituted in Brazil is the insane person — individual who thinks and acts independently of the State. In the film industry the Other is represented by those artists who can’t get funding by private business, or the artists who get funding and are forced into turning a documentary on the Mozambique revolution into “Rambo XXIII.”
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