The Criterion Edition of the 1985 movie known as ‘Brazil’ detailed significant classical theoretical concepts of Max Weber. The paper discussed how specific scenes and dialogues in the movie are related to Weber’s view of the world from a theoretical perspective.
Weber (1864-1920) was a pessimistic classical theorist unlike Karl Marx (1818-1883) who was more optimistic about events occurring in society. He believes that society will gradually become difficult and there is nothing that we can do to fix it. His theory was based on two ultimate themes which are reflected in his entire theoretical thesis: firstly, “the emergence of capitalism as the dominant form of organization in the West and secondly, the relationship between ideas and actions” (McQuaid, summer 1 Lecture, 09). These two components of Weber’s theoretical works were reflective in various scenes and dialogue in Brazil. Also, the idea of McDonaldization that Weber proposed would continue and subsequently lead to the “Iron Cage” of rationality was also highly visible throughout the movie.
Television was an influential component of the society. It serves as a central part of the daily lives of the people as well as an instrument of entertainment, social status and a medium of social cohesion. However, the use of television at the Ministry of Information where Sam Lieway was initially working served a significant barrier to the efficiencies of the division of labor in that department, because occasionally government employees turned on their television sets to watch movies. This attitude placed a huge burden on the department and also led to waste of resources in the form of money, time, electricity and human labor.
Technological advancement was also a key element in the movie. What was significant about technology was how it was used to systematically replace human labor. An example of this was how the key character’s Sam home was organized. His air conditioning system, telephone network as well as bathroom and kitchen were all automated to respond to specific instructions based on time. Weber considered this as ‘McDonaldization’. According to Weber, rationalization is a significant aspect of McDonaldization which is an “on-going process in which social organizations and institutions are increasingly governed by methodical rules and procedures” (McQuaid, Summer 1 Lecture). As a result, scientific advancement leads to the extension of rationalization.
Bureaucracy is one of those “social structures which are the hardest to destroy” (Weber, 1920). It is “the means of carrying community actions over into rationally ordered societal action” (Weber, 1920). It is an instrument for those in power to control the bureaucratic system.
The rule of bureaucracy which is an aspect of modern capitalistic societies was also a central part in various scenes and dialogue in the movie. From his work as an agent with the Ministry of Information (MOI) under Kurtzmann as his immediate manager, to his unprofessional, mothered influenced and oriented promotion as an agent of Information Retrieval known as (DZ-015) was all played and planned according to the rule of modern bureaucratic processes.
In a bureaucracy, there is a formal set of “hierarchical order, a strict sense of division of labor, management systems are based on written documents known as the filing system, and positions require formal training which is based on merit as well as each job is governed by rules which are stable, exhaustive and can be learned” (McQuaid, Summer 1 Lecture). Sam was brainwashed by the bureaucratic system and he failed to play by the rules. He failed to separate his personal or private interest from the public affairs of the job. Weber stated in his article about ‘Bureaucracy’, that “the modern organization of the civil service separates the bureau from the private domicile of the official, and, in general, bureaucracy segregates official activity as something distinct from the sphere of private life” (Weber, 1920). Public monies and equipments are to be used for the intended purpose only. In the movie, Sam used the agency’s materials to accomplish his own interest and that led to his downfall in the system. We are expected to divorce our personal interests from the public interests. In the bureaucratic system, the executives are constantly monitoring the activities of their subordinates to make sure that they are doing their job rightfully. This was the situation with Sam and his former boss Kurtzmann and this led to him being tortured by the system.
According to Weber’s article on bureaucracy, it is stated that “when the office is fully developed, official activity demands the full working capacity of the official, irrespective of the fact that his obligatory time in the bureau may be firmly delimited” (Weber, 1920). However, in the case of Sam as agent of Information Retrieval in “Brazil,” he used his official time and resources to do his personal business and as a result official issues became a secondary factor of his job.
Huffman, Sam’s boss at the Information Retrieval during his visit in the prison told him that “rules of the game are set and everyone is expected to play by it” (Brazil, 1985). Sam used his position to mismanage the agency’s resources and time and also leaked classified information out to unintended recipients.
Some important aspects of the bureaucratic system that is worth considering in this paper are the disadvantages associated with the system as mentioned by Weber. The management of time and resources in bureaucracy is wasteful. In the movie, Jill wanted to file a report concerning an arrest that she considered ‘incorrect,’ because she wasn’t guilty of those charges. She went to Information Retrieval to file the necessary papers, but just to be told that her initial application had to be stamped by the Department of Information Adjustment.
However, getting the appropriate authorities to stamp and file the paperwork (27B-6) as it was commonly known became a problem for her and she had to walk from departments to departments without getting the right person to solve her problem. The system also dehumanized people by allowing robots and specialized computers to do human’s work, thus reducing interaction between public officials and citizens. The rules and regulations governing the system also serve as hindrances for implementing programs or projects.
The inaccurate calculations or mistakes of one person in the system can lead to detrimental effects in the lives of others. An example of this scenario was the issue surrounding the arrest of Mr. Buttle by the Information Retrieval (IR) for not paying his bills. He was arrested like a criminal in front of his wife and son on the eve of Christmas. It was later noted by the Ministry of Information (MOI) that Mr. Buttle was over charged by IR and that his money needed to be refunded. However, Information Retrieval had already executed Mr. Buttle for crimes against the state. The government realizing their mistakes at this time can never do any good for Mrs. Buttle, because her husband had already been killed by the system.
While Karl Marx sociological theory encouraged us that society will gradually become better; Weber on the other hand discouraged us that society will eventually become difficult and everything that is promoted by scientific thoughts as oppose to traditional thoughts will become meaningless, because science is dynamic; that is, scientific thoughts are changing every day. Marx proposed that in order to create social change an individual must be able to understand the economy of a particular region, because to him the economy shapes the way the people think and act. It is through conducting social research that conflicts in society are meant to be addressed. Notwithstanding, this idea was rejected by Weber who suggested that the “essence of sociological thoughts or social sciences is to be able to perceive the world in the own eyes of others. According to Weber, an individual must take a holistic approach in achieving the end results are not meant to create social change, because society will gradually become difficult. In the movie this view of Weber was to perceive the world from a broader perspective was mentioned by Jill when she and Sam went to pick up a cargo (house) from her workplace. On one occasion, she did ask Sam if he had ever met a terrorist in his life before. She did ask him this question because of his suspicion that she had linkage with the terrorist moments. This is because our world view shapes our perception and our perception shapes our behavior and subsequently our behaviors shape our character.
In the movie, people consumed lot of products and services ranging from food, body care, parties, surgery, military, et cetera. In an economic rationalist society we are always in the process of demanding more at the expense of others. In the movie, the government and industries were always refining products and services as a result they produce quality products.
Everyone working with government was able to demonstrate to some degree the relationship between idea and action. The employees at the Information Adjustment, Information Retrieval and Central Services were able to put their ideas to work. In several parts of the movie, people became disconnected with each other because of their commitment to their job and the consequences.
To conclude, Brazil is an excellent movie that needs to be watched, because it provides information as to how bureaucracy works and how disadvantage it is to employees making their lives miserable and discouraging.