Brazil is borne out of doom-based fiction such as George Orwell's 1984; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; and Franz Kafka's The Trial, chronicling a story where a reluctant bureaucrat is dragged into a web of conspiracy in a society of automatons.
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price) is a civil servant working for the Ministry of Information. The Ministry is divided into two parts, both operating at peak efficiency. The first part has to do with the recording (and disbursement) of information (and that is the currency in the world depicted in Brazil); the other has to do with its acquisition. The former is where Sam works, and the latter is where his close friend (Michael Pain) has chosen to offer his services as an information extractor.
Sam is unambitious, to the chagrin of his plastic surgery-obsessed mother (Katherine Helmond). That is until he runs into a beautiful girl, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), while trying to correct a mistake about her neighbour's false arrest and execution (caused by a fly in a typewriter changing the last name from Tuttle to Buttle). An unchallenged Sam decides to help Jill, the girl he has been fantasising about in his dreams. In doing so, he ends up taking on the entire Ministry and morphs from a public servant to an enemy of the state. Ironically, as Sam goes about his business to clear Buttle's name, he aids and is aided by Archibald "Harry" Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a subversive who is bent on destroying the bureaucratic state.
The movie works on many levels, thanks to a great cast, and excellent visuals lending a surrealist atmosphere. The world of Brazil is one that exists only in people's imaginations, and Terry Gilliam's direction only serves to enhance the perception that what we're watching is all a big dream.
Like with other similar movies and stories, this film's most powerful moment comes when the dreams of Sam are revealed, and then starkly contrasted with the reality he faces at the hands of his friend. It is a depressing moment and awakens us (at least me) to ensure that the power of the individual must never be second to the power of a so-called "state". The greatest danger to individual liberties lies not in an authoritarian dictatorship but in a mindless bureaucracy.