THEORY -Why the movie Brazil is called Brazil


Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL might divide the opinion of viewers, but just why is it called BRAZIL?


Have you ever felt alienated from everyone around you? Ever felt like ‘the system’ just does not cater for your own personal growth and developmental needs?

To me at least, this is the theme of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It’s a longing -not for any one particular thing, but instead just a dreamy longing –a non-specific belief that somewhere, somehow, in some ways life is not like this.

The theme song itself is one of those wispy, dreamy tunes that sticks in the mind of an individual who is already lost in a world where everything and everyone else is seemingly struggling hard to move in a direction that appears to be meaningless.

For the benefit of those who don’t know the tune in question, it’s actually entitled (according to “Aquarela do Brasil” by Ary Barroso and it goes like this…

Bra-zil, Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaa
Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaa
Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaa laaa-laaaaaaaa,
laaa-laaaaaaaa laaa-laaaaaaaa, Braaa-zil.

(* Ok there are other words to it, but for the purpose of this ‘proposal’ we’ll stick with la las.)

This is a transportation tune for the mind and I defy anyone not to be carried away, at least for an instant, to another ephemeral realm where tweety birds hum this daydream theme all day long.

In the book The Battle of Brazil, Gilliam tells us as much himself when he explains his inspiration for the title:

“Port Talbot [in Wales] is a steel town, where everything is covered with gray iron ore dust. Even the beach is completely littered with dust, its just black. The sun was setting, and it was quite beautiful. The contrast was extraordinary, I had this image of a guy sitting there on this dingy beach with a portable radio, tuning in these strange Latin escapist songs like ‘Brazil’. The music transported him somehow and made his world less gray.”

…So there you have it. From the horse’s mouth. Case proven. It’s all about the song Brazil, not the country. Let’s go home.


But wait, there’s more!…

.The original motion picture soundtrack was composed and arranged by Michael Kamen, who worked closely with Terry Gilliam on the score.

.For anyone, like myself, who bought this soundtrack it will not come as any surprise to point out that the main chorus tune itself (above) does not actually feature in any significant manner, apart from in the final track -“Bachianos Brazil Samba.”

.Each of the other tracks is a build-up of one sort or another to this anthemic chorus. Each one sucks you in and pulls you effortlessly along towards the distant, dreamy shores of the land known as… Bra-zil, Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaa. But just as the listener is about to burst forth into this land, the song ends. Each and every time we are abruptly snapped away from this joyous outburst by a deafening silence that marks our return to the drab and mundane existence that envelopes our own daily lives.

The first time we have a build-up in the song is during this scene. In fact the whole scene is one long build-up to what should be a burst-forth of the main chorus, but (as happens again & again), it comes to an abrupt end.

And yet we find ourselves dreaming now more than ever of a land –of a place –of an existence known only as… Bra-zil, Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaa…

There are a few tracks that feature far-off, echoey renditions of this refrain, but nothing that permits the listener to meaningfully grab a hold of and fly away with.

.Only during the dream-sequences is the music (and character) free to explore the central (musical) theme -albeit in a far-off dreamy kind of way. Again, this continuously comes to an abrupt end as Sam & the viewer are dragged kicking & screaming back into “reality.”

Just past the half-way mark on the soundtrack we are permitted a nice conga rendition of the main song (entitled “Brazil-Geoff Muldaur”) which does indeed feature the full tune -well, most of it anyway. This is a nice reward to the viewer/listener for making it this far and a promise of more to come, but still suggests a system-structured serving that is not quite the unadulterated abandonment we are subconsciously expecting. Here there are rules (conga rules) and structures to conform to.

Sam enjoys his Brazil-conga from the safety of his little bubble car -off in his own little bubble-world.


This too is briefly interrupted with news of ‘terrorism’, until Sam retunes to his daydream.


…until it is finally slammed to a halt as the bubble is re-sealed (with Sam on the outside).


Look at that poster (one of many from this film) -it really wouldn’t look too out of place in most Western countries these days.


“You illiterate foreign pig!”


One way to avoid having to use a pooper-scooper .


It is only during the final credits that we are allowed bask in the land of Brazil -the music. The final rendition -“Bachianos Brazil Samba” is a Mardi Gras bells, squeaks & whistles affair that to my ears is also somehow disappointingly subdued, perhaps reflecting the melancholy aspect of the main character’s predicament and, by extension, our own.

.To me, Brazil -the movie, features an upbeat ending (and I’m not speaking here of the US “Love Conquers All” version) with regards the main character, but one that is not particularly flattering of the society in the movie nor of our own.

This is why the movie is called Brazil. It’s a longing by the main character to live in that other realm where life is not a scramble and a struggle amid corruption and grime, where people do not slavishly live in a non-thinking, tunnel-vision existence that pooh-poohs any suggestion of another life free of paperwork and ducts. Where the tune is never broken and where we can run free with little furry bunnies in a perfect Tellytubby la-la land…



Now he is free. In Brazil.


…Lala la lala la la laaaaaaaaaa….




…Now if you liked that, check out the hidden plots in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Or, What makes Barry Lyndon a Great Film?

Or, how about What is Looper all about then?

Or, Superman’s Underpants and the movie “Inception”

Or, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg -My Kind of Anti-War Movie

Or, why not take a look at some under-appreciated movie gems?



11 thoughts on “THEORY -Why the movie Brazil is called Brazil”

  1. I really adore Brazil (and Terry gilliam for that matter). I only thought about the whole meaning-of-life part of it a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The little dream every drab man and woman hopes for, to fly and bask in the sunlight, ruined by the reality of war and degredation we live in. Bless all who have the joy to see this Movie!

  2. Hey, I’m designing a play right now, and I’m trying to find a good still of Harry Tuttle as a reference. It looks like you might have a copy of the film? Could I ask a favour of you, to send me a still that shows Harry in his full glory, when he first bursts into Sam’s apartment? I would be so grateful.

  3. A good summary and probably dead-on, now that I think of it. One addition: Brasil also refers to a mythical Irish island (also called Hy-Brasil) which, like the snatches of the theme song and dream sequences throughout the movie, represents a paradise that is rarely glimpsed and never attained.

    Ah, and a translation of the song, from the Sinatra rendition:

    Brazil, where hearts were entertaining June
    We stood beneath an amber moon
    And softly murmured “Someday soon”
    We kissed and clung together

    Then, tomorrow was another day
    The morning found me miles away
    With still a million things to say
    Now, when twilight dims the sky above
    Recalling thrills of our love
    There’s one thing I’m certain of
    Return I will to old Brazil

    Then, tomorrow was another day
    The morning found me miles away
    With still a million things to say
    Now, when twilight dims the sky above
    Recalling thrills of our love
    There’s one thing that I’m certain of
    Return I will to old Brazil
    That old Brazil
    Man, it’s old in Brazil
    Brazil, Brazil

  4. hi, i’m so happy you posted this explanation and your addition, peter mcbride, is really helpful, too!
    i’m a german student who’ll give a little speech about Brazil tomorrow ~ i simply love it, my teacher likes it too and now i’ll have the possibility to explain to him what we had been dicussing for a long time – why it is called brazil!
    thank you!

  5. Correlation or Causation? I’ll add a side note. After having seen the movie I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the 90s, where I was astonished to drive a section of motorway where the billboards seemed as numerous and as extensive as in the billboard scene. I’m not sure if Terry Gilliam had seen that stretch of motorway, but it would make sense.

    I saw the movie first in Italian with no subtitles, and despite my limited semi-fluency at the time, it was powerful and evocative, a testament to the visual component of the storytelling.

  6. The often forgotten historical context that could shed light on this title is the town of Brasilia in Brazil.

    It was to be a centrally organized from the ground up, with straight streets on a grid and everything planned from the get go. The only problem was, the people rejected this … a lot like the utopia that is supposed to occur from the government in this movie. It fails, like Brasilia, to provide that promise of utopia. Instead there’s backlash from political insurgents and ineffective workers and public servants hoping for an escape, the protagonist. It is a complete slap on central planning. Central Services versus Harry Tuttle.

    Or more eloquently from this author:
    “Centrally managed social plans misfire, Scott argues, when they impose schematic visions that do violence to complex interdependencies that are not—and cannot—be fully understood.”

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