Mind Blowing Movies: Brazil, by Tiffany Lee Brown

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

The Other Side: Brazil, by Tiffany Lee Brown

Warning: Spoiler alert!

[Video Link] When I told Boing Boing a few weeks back that I'd write this piece, I hadn't yet sat by my husband's side in the Trauma ICU, wondering whether his mind would stay in the far-off realms of the Other Side, like Sam in the movie Brazil, or whether he would come back to me. Josh was here in this world when I first saw him after his bicycle accident, a duct-like breathing tube emerging from his mouth. His right eye could just barely open, and through it he saw me and our son Gusty. I could tell he knew we were here. I knew he was here. I just knew.

At the end of Brazil, Michael Palin tortures Sam (Jonathan Pryce) from behind a spectacularly disturbing mask until Robert DeNiro's inimitable terrorist plumber, Tuttle, swoops in with his fellow revolutionaries and rescues Sam. Strange shenanigans follow, and Sam even gets to blow up the hideous, Kafkaesque Ministry of Information buildings. He's then swept away by the object of his romantic obsession, a truck drivin' tough gal, to live in the country in a caravan, complete with goats.

Except that Sam's living all these rescues in his mind. The final scene shows him staring out from his far-off mind while an evil overlord remarks, "Jack, I think he got away from us." Sam is gone. He hums the familiar tune: "Braziiiiiil, dah dah du du da da du daaaah..." and we cut back to our own realities, shaken and stirred.

Later on the day of the accident, Josh went away. I knew he wasn't here. I just knew. Then came the CT scan results: as his brain swelled inside his skull, it was bleeding more. I didn't know if he was ever coming back. I whispered in his ear that he was actually in a hammock at the remote beach in Oaxaca where we like to go. Maybe I appeared to Josh the way the truck driver appears to Sam in his dreams: sexy and feminine, calling "Saaam! Saaam!" from behind a rippling veil that separates realities. Only, yeah, I wouldn't be calling him Sam. That would be confusing. Jooosh, Jooosh, you're sleeping, you can hear the ocean, the sand is radiating heat up toward your skin. We have no goats, but a cool breeze floats by and a palapa keeps the sun off your skin. You're sleeping like you never get to sleep, like you always want to. Come back when you're ready. But make sure you come back.

Within days he was squeezing our hands to communicate and at some point engaged his brother in a thumb-wrestling match, complete with the cheater move he always used to pull when they were kids. He was definitely back. Unable to eat or talk or walk or stay conscious for very long, but back.

Meanwhile, I dropped into a zone of retrofuturistic, paperwork-laden, yes indeed Kafkaesque nonsense, the hospitals' and insurance companies' own scattered Ministries of Information. Time stops, then weasels, then shimmies, then stops again, when you're sitting in a hospital. The big cement buildings are bewildering to navigate, like poorly designed airports. There is no time or place. There is just waiting.

As he emerges from some Other Side, Josh goes through realms and experiences that can't be corroborated by consensus reality. Memory and time are malleable, spotty, chaotic -- just like everyone experiences, only since our frontal lobes aren't injured, we have mechanisms in place to reassure us that it all makes sense (whether or not it does). Fantasy and reality dive in and out of each other's peripheries like darting swallows in flight. In everyday life, we attempt to separate the two. Sam Lowry lets them play off each other. Now my husband does, too.

The final scene of Brazil always leaves me stunned and dry-mouthed, no matter how many times I've watched it. I am Sam. I lunge at the Powers That Be, ridiculous incompetent Powers that nevertheless hold my life in their grip; I imagine a better way of living and surviving, not just for me but for all of us; I fail. When I met my husband twelve years ago he inspired me to think that maybe one could be a semi-adult and still be pretty damned cool. Accept some given circumstances, dance with the Powers That Be, pull a Robin Hood on 'em. Become competent in their irritating reality and use that competence to make tiny, subversive, incremental changes in the world while building yourself a better life.

That's what I'm gonna do now, man up and be the competent grownup who can keep my family going. Maybe we'll all end up in a trailer with a goat and a big truck. Maybe I'll push papers at the Ministry of Information until finally they swirl around, plaster themselves to my grey flannel suit, and consume my body. The only thing I know for sure: someday we will cross to the Other Side and never come back.

(My awesome husband, incidentally, is Joshua Berger of PLAZM magazine, known to many of you over the years. Keep up with Josh, help out, post a photo of him, whatever, at Get Well Josh.)


  1. I am stunned; this is a judo flip of a story. Ok then, time to ride my bike across town. I think I’ll wear a helmet. 

    Will be thinking of the both of you.

    1. While that is advice one should always follow, I believe this young man was wearing a helmet, from the additional details available at their site.

      Best wishes for a full recovery. I hope we’ll get an update from Josh’s perspective as well, in restored health.

  2. What a Boing Boing bonanza to have two Brazil related posts in only a few days, and what a poignant story, Tiffany.  Just like the post about Blade Runner here, I found a synergy between the story and movie that brought out a surprisingly emotional response in me.  

    All the best wishes for a speedy recovery for Josh.  With such a great partner at his side, he is certain to face his trials with far greater strength than if going it alone.  With any luck, it’s only a couple of brief siestas in that mental hammock until his brain mends its bruises and scrapes.

  3. i’ll give u ideas about mindblowing movies:

    “They Live”
    “Wild Palms” (miniseries) (Bruce Wagner)
    “White Dwarf” (Bruce Wagner /Coppola)

  4. Thank you for sharing this.  All the best, and may you come out on the other side, some how, some way, goats or not.

  5. The role of fantasy in escaping the oppression of the mundane.
    Great film, and a great question.

  6. Thanks, Brazil, what a crazy intimate movie.
    Brazil wreaked havock on my comfort. My heroes Robert deNiro, and the mechanics of venting were spot on. I clung to them for hope. I was rooting for them every step of the way. I know I was clenching my gut and holding the edge of my seat. I can still feel it. I think I still suffer Palin and the ending in the hyper-vent and the dolly moves on rails… I felt uneasy, desperate, empty much like when I was too little and watching, about the rabbits Of mice and Men,. Different, I know, but I just wasn’t ready to take it on the chin like that, santa clause was kinda still real for me, and plop wow, what another chunk of abandonment to feel..
    it’s a lot of Ouch, for any one

    Though, It’s nice to walk around and notice people. Like sharing a secret in the moment, I smirk and smile with them from the side. A little hello, hi, who, how maybe you too, know something I don’t… It gets my mind off having seen brazil in a darkened theatre with so many others, maybe even a lot of them not feeling to different and unlike me.

    Thanks for sharing your story’s events woven with the flows and crazy menace we find in Brazil.

    Keep venting and breathe. You’ve got a good strategy with your moves on the ground. I hope somebody pulls the whispering ear trick when I get lost, what a total brainer, I’ll share it with every one, feel free to use it on me.
    I’m glad you’re in Portland. I haven’t been home in quite a while. I’m bringing some sunshine Tiffany, Josh and company… A little like you have shared for me…

    Martin r

    Thanks to the crew at boing boing
    It’s been nice to unstick feelings from these Movies,
    some prime pivotal experiences, and many memories past.

  7. This is the first review of the series I read from beginning to end. I started because Brazil is my very absolutely best favorite movie. If there was only one movie I had to take away to a foreign planet, this would be it.
    I continued reading because your recount of the reality you’re living in right now is gripping. Thanks for sharing so much with us, may Josh recover speedily, to pursue the fight against all Ministries.
    “We’re all in it together.” – Harry Tuttle

  8.  I am sitting here crying from your review of a movie I’ve never seen (but will most certainly check out now). Thank you so much for sharing; I wish you guys the best, from the bottom of my heart.

  9. I’m just gunna press the “like” button. I have no words that could do justice to this. Thanks.

  10. If I’m not mistaken, there are two endings to the film.  (Or three, if you count the radically different “Love Conquers All” cut available with the Criterion Collection version.)   The original ends with a shot of Sam in the torture chamber while the wild Samba version of the Brazil” song incongruously plays in the background and the credits scroll.

    The other version I’ve seen ends with the same shot, but soft music plays as the torture chamber dissolves into clouds, in which Sam sits alone.  I kind of like that one better.

  11. As a semi-newlywed who thinks of himself and his wife as “semi-adult and still pretty damned cool” and who rides his bike across town with her at his side… this review was very painful, and made me extremely thankful for what I have.

    I wish you and your husband the very very best.

  12. Having also sat bedside for several weeks just recently watching helplessly as a loved one underwent a horrifying experience, I am absolutely sure that we are not the only two who thought of Brazil.  I love the way you wove the two experiences together.  Best wishes for you and Josh.

  13. Great writing, great review. I’ve seen “Brazil” at least 30 times in my life, in various cuts and edits, and never had such a visceral connection to it. I’ve always just viewed the movie as a glove-slap to cold formality and repressive government (or corporate) regiment. Thanks, Tiffany, for opening another door. Good luck to you.

  14. It is a great movie.  One other movie to explore is the 1973 animated film
    Fantastic Planet.  I think you will like it.
    I saw it in a small theater in Las Cruzes N.M.

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