Technology & Architecture

Brazil 1986: State Management by Committee

My favourite ever film is the black comedy and pastiche of Orwellian dystopia that is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

I love the film so much I even called my eldest after the hero, Sam Lowry. It features the cream of British and American acting: Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm, Robert de Niro to name just a few.

It’s full of clever references to administrative overhead and complicated paperwork. I love particularly the part where Kurtzmann is talking to Sam about someone to whom they aren’t able to refund a cheque.

Kurtzmann:
The population census has got him down as dormanted. The Central Collective Storehouse computer has got him down as deleted

Sam Lowry:
Hang on. [goes to computer terminal and begins typing]

Kurtzman:
…Information Retrieval has got him down as inoperative. And there’s another one – Security has got him down as excised. Administration’s got him down as completed

Sam Lowry:
He’s dead.

Kurtzman:
L… [pause] Dead? Well, that’s awful!

[Kurtzman sits down and looks at refund cheque]

Kurtzman:
[desperately] We’ll never get rid of the damn thing now! What are we going to do Sam?

What Gilliam nails here is how systems are built by departments and the ‘end state’ of all of the people in those systems are all called something different. None of the systems talk to each other, all of the systems have different meanings for the same description of poor old Archibald Buttle.

Gilliam is giving us a living breathing example (albeit on celluloid) of Conway’s Law in action.



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