Brazil

Objective Review:  I think that the key scene from this film was at the beginning when the Information Retrieval squad burst (literally) into Archibald Buttle’s apartment to arrest him.  After they have “subdued” him one of the officers gives his wife paperwork to sign which she does almost mechanically.  She doesn’t question what she’s signing or why and keeps the copies as though it was such an ordinary thing to do that even in the shock of her husband’s arrest and the storming of her home she doesn’t think twice about it.  This sets up the basis for what almost becomes a joke throughout the rest of the film: paperwork.  Everything in the society of the film has paperwork associated with to the point of it being beyond excessive and the people in the film appear to be so used to paperwork that they don’t think twice about it or how superfluous it may be.

Reaction:  My reaction to the film was a bit varied.  In many ways it seemed almost like a parody of classic dystopian future novels such as 1984.  Their technology was in some ways advanced (they had robots of unclear functionality) but much of their technology was basic or inferior to what existed even at the time the film was released.  The entire plot of the movie began with a minor typewrite malfunction due to a fly.  The technology also seemed to be poorly designed with problems seeming to be rather commonplace.  The story itself wasn’t bad although it got very strange near the end.  The end itself was rather appropriate for a dystopian future story though; they rarely seem to end well for the protagonist.

Interpretation:  My interpretation of the film focuses on the idea behind biopower/biopolitics, specifically in regards to paperwork.  The idea behind biopower is having control over others in some way that is different from the traditional sovereign style of power that was focused on control through fear.  Biopower instead is control often based on an emphasis on promoting life, such as protecting or improving the controlled lives.  There many ways that this can be done through both moral and immoral means although the two concepts are dependent if one uses the lens of moral relativism as opposed to moral absolutism.  In what some would call it’s most ugly and extreme form biopower  can be accomplished through eugenics or genocide.  Destroying all Arabic states in the middle east to destroy terrorism is an example of real world biopower.  It is however such an extreme and (many would say) wrong thing to do.  Early in the Birth of Biopolitics class reading it discusses the way Foucault defined government and discusses the governing of self and the governing of others.  Biopolitics is the governing of others in a way that over time they don’t even question what it is that’s controlling them, instead accepting as a basic part of life that is barely given any thought.  In the case of the movie Brazil this biopolitical control method is done through paperwork.

The early scene in brazil of Mrs. Buttle mindlessly signing paperwork despite clearly being shock is only the first example in the film of how much of an everyday thing superfluous paperwork is.  There’s paperwork in every aspect of their society and people do it without a second thought.  When Jill is trying to free Mr. Buttle after his wrongful arrest there is so much paperwork and procedure she has to go through that he dies in custody long before she’s even close to helping him.  Sam even takes advantage of the overabundance of paperwork to keep the two repairmen out of his apartment when Tuttle is in there and they leave without argument for not having the “required” forms.  Tuttle himself became a vigilante air conditioner repairman (because who hasn’t wanted to do that before…) because he was sick of all the mindless paperwork he had to fill out simply to fix someones heater.  All the people in the film appear perfectly content with their dystopian society and the way that this was accomplished by the government was through the use of biopower through paperwork.  Which is probably the most horrible of any dystopian society I’ve ever heard of.

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5 thoughts on “Brazil

  1. It was a success for the government to establish this sort of bio-politics. Because Mr. Buttle’s wife signed the receipt for her husband, she has little right to pursue a trial against the government on the grounds of wrongful imprisonment. The courts will just say that her signature is proof that the she acknowledged that Mr. Buttle deserved to be taken away. With this sort of society, it would be difficult to claim any acts of injustice against the government. Well done government!
    There was one scene that was contradictory towards the bureaucratic social norms of Sam’s world. Sam and his boss were trying to figure out what to do with the recently deceased Mr. Buttle. Sam’s boss was outwardly confused and distressed, so distressed that he could not write his own signature. Sam easily and generously volunteered to forge his boss’ signature, to which the boss accepts the offer. This does not seem to fit the bureaucratic nature of the world. It would seem that the citizens would find it outrageous not so sign their own signature, given the strict of the society. I waited for this scene to come back to haunt Sam, but it did not seem to progress the film any further. Did anyone notice this or find a conclusion to it?

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  2. You’ve made a really good observation in the use of paperwork and bureaucracy in this movie. I agree that it is a method by the government to control peoples’ behaviors. They’ll self-govern themselves to the point where it is almost subconscious, as evident in signing those papers. It seems that biopolitics, however, is the relation of politics and biology. The examples you offered of eugenics and genocide are matters of biology, of life or death. The article you cited mentioned population control through selective reproduction as an example of biopolitics. Back to the paperwork in the movie, in my opinion, it does not relate to biology. It may not be a matter of life or death. How might this be applicable to your interpretation of the paperwork in the movie?

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  3. I find your interpretation of the paperwork in the bureaucracy to be interesting, I also noticed this to be a common recurring theme. I did like your comparison of biopower, eugenics, and genocide to the issues in the middle east, I have never made that comparison before. Your interpretation of the film almost seemed that you felt the bureaucracy was actually trying to do the right thing by being so controlling, kind of acting with the best intentions, however some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions. This is where I would disagree, I actually received the notion that the bureaucracies are only working for personal gain (we can see this when Sam is being forced to promote even though he’s not qualified). But I could very well be wrong on interpreting your interpretation, which I probably am. I thought overall your take on the film was a “fresh” or “new” interpretation that I have not yet seen.

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    1. It’s worth remembering that bureaucracies (and policies and procedures as well) are almost always created for reasonable and reasoned purposes – that is, to do the right thing. If that’s the case, then the questions that follow are ones like: why does bureaucracy go awry? Is it necessarily the case that bureaucracy’s efforts are necessarily good OR bad (as opposed to AND)? Can bureaucracies be “fixed” or are they at best, better or worse? And… all of these questions focus on the bureaucracy as if it were a monolithic entity, rather than an amalgamation of all those who make it up. As such, another question is, how do we get from lots of individualized knowledges and intents of bureaucrats, to bureaucracy as a monolith.

      There’s another great link between Foucault and Dean’s interpretation here in that we – as a culture/society – tend to believe that intent matters, and that it should be grounded in knowledge. That is, there is an ethos in the US and the west that assumes that when good intent is linked to good knowledge, good outcomes will result. However, when you consider the possibility of good knowledge from a Foucaultian perspective, the quality and character of outcomes becomes more complicated.

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  4. When you say “Destroying all Arabic states in the middle east to destroy terrorism is an example of real world biopower” – how do you mean that? While Foucault acknowledges the presence and use of direct, physical force, he tends to distinguish that form of force and violence, from the unobtrusive forms that constitute biopower/biopolitics and technologies of the self. It’s not clear to me how military force can be used very effectively to create subjects.

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