The lowly and passive government employee, Sam Lowry, living in a dystopian future, descends deeper and deeper into insanity as he tries to balance his existence among two worlds; a real world of oppression run by a bureaucratic and totalitarian government, and a fantasy world of dreams where he flies across the land; fighting to save a damsel in distress against the aforementioned totalitarian government. These two worlds merge into one, and Sam’s insanity becomes our own.
Our Christmas tale begins with a governmental error to a file that causes the innocent Archibald Buttle to be mislabeled a terrorist and killed by the government instead of freelance heating engineer Archibald Tuttle. Realizing the error, the government refunds Buttle’s widow the money it charged Archibald for the costs incurred from his torture. Sam is sent to deliver the check since the family doesn’t have a bank account they can direct deposit the check into.
Once there, Sam is rejected by Buttle’s widow, and accosted by his young son. In Sam’s hysteria from losing control of the situation, he suddenly catches a glimpse of the always-in-control Jill Layton in a reflection in a broken mirror. Like an angel from above, Jill peers down through a hole in the Buttle’s ceiling. Not only does Jill look exactly like Sam’s damsel in distress in his dreams, but she lives the rebellious life that Sam can only dream of, and acts without the fear of the consequences of her actions that Sam can only dream of. Is Jill real? Is she Sam’s alter ego taking control of him à la Fight Club? It’s hard to say, but from here on out, Sam’s destiny is forever out of his control.
Jill is on a quest to clear Buttle’s name, and she becomes frustrated with a government who’d like nothing more than to forget the whole incident occurred. They label Jill an accomplice to the terrorist Archibald Tuttle for her efforts which in Sam’s mind can only mean her death.
Sam sets out to find Jill, but has no luck in his current position, and he becomes frustrated in his efforts. One night after work, his air conditioning breaks, and Sam calls Central Services to fix it. He can’t get a live person to talk to, and hangs up without leaving his name. A short time later, the “real” Archibald Tuttle, shows up to fix his air conditioning. That is what renegades do of course. Tuttle used to work for Central Services, but he left because he became frustrated with all the tedious and repetitive paperwork. Is Tuttle real or a figment of Sam’s imagination? Once again, it’s hard to say, but Tuttle does something Sam can only dream of. He breaks the law without care for the consequences, and fixes the air conditioning himself.
As Tuttle fixes the air conditioning, two Central Services’ lackeys show up to repair Sam’s unit too. Tuttle helps Sam get rid of the men by getting him to ask the men for the correct paperwork. The lackeys have to leave to get the correct paperwork, but they become very suspicious of Sam. They will later return and seize his apartment by destroying all the ducts in his flat.
The only way for Sam to find out the information he wants about Jill is to get promoted to Information Retrieval. His mother, Ida, who is the epitome of the consumerism and vanity theme throughout this film, has connections everywhere in the government. She gets Sam the promotion because she thinks he lacks the ambition to do it. Little does she know, that his alter ego has all the ambition he could ever want.
On Sam’s first day at his new job, he gets the information he needs, and tracks Jill down, or if you think Jill is Sam’s alter ego, he finds her in his mind; never leaving his desk at Information Retrieval. The two go on a fantasy sequence where they escape from the government in a truck, and Sam falsifies Jill’s records to make her deceased in the computer system. As the two consummate their relationship, Sam is arrested, and charged for treason for wasting paper – not for falsifying any records mind you.
Sam is sent to a torture chamber, and strapped into a chair where his old friend, Jack Lint, who had cut ties with Sam earlier in the film due to his erratic behavior, will do the torturing. Jack wears a mask that has only been seen Sam’s dreams. He tells Sam that Jill has been killed for resisting arrest. Maybe Jill was never there in the first place, and it’s Sam’s mind that has killed her. What is real at this point? Probably nothing, but before Jack can torture Sam, we see Tuttle arrive from the heavens with the Resistance in tow, and they swoop down to save Sam. Jack is shot in the head and dies. Sam blows up the Ministry as they all escape.
Tuttle suddenly disappears among the floating papers of the burning Ministry, and Sam runs off. He finds his mother at a funeral, and she is no longer recognizable as his mother due to all her cosmetic surgery. In fact, she now looks just like Jill, and she rejects Sam in favor of a bunch of younger, more capable men that are swooning over her.
Sam then falls into the open casket, through a empty void, and into his daydream world. He escapes the police and imaginary monsters that fill this world. A trap door opens up, and there is Jill, and she is taking them away from the city to Sam’s safe place in the country side, but of course Sam is not a free man.
We see Sam one last time in the real world; still strapped into the same chair in the torture chamber. Jack and a friend of Sam’s family, Deputy Minister Mr. Helpmann, look down at Sam, and realize that he has descended into blissful insanity, they declare him a lost cause and exit the room. The film ends with a lobotomized Sam, sitting in the chair, smiling, and singing “Brazil”.