Alternate Universe: The "Somewhere In the Twentieth Century" setting seems to lampshade this. We normally expect this sort of dystopia to be in the future, but the very Zeerusty, retro-Used Future aesthetic with technology that is anywhere from equivalent to the 1980s to already-hideously-outdated (tiny display screens which need huge magnifying glasses to view, for instance) seems to suggest it's an alternate version of the present, or at least twenty minutes into another universe's future. As one version of the script itself put it according to the Other Wiki: "It is neither future nor past, and yet a bit of each. It is neither East nor West, but could be Belgrade or Scunthorpe on a drizzly day in February. Or Cicero, Illinois, seen through the bottom of a beer bottle." Or, according to Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro: "a view of what the 1980s might have looked like as viewed from the perspective of a 1940s filmmaker."
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Charges against Sam Lowry are as following: Giving aid and comfort to the enemies of society, attempting to conceal a fugitive from justice, passing confidential documents to unauthorized personnel, destroying government property, viz. several personnel carriers, taking possession under false pretences of said carriers, forging the signature of the Head of Records, misdirecting funds in the form of a check to A. Buttle through unauthorized channels, tampering with Central Services supply ducts, obstructing forces of law and order in the exercise of their duty, disregarding the good name of the government and the Department of Information Retrieval, attempting to disrupt the Ministry's internal communicating system... wasting Ministry time and paper.
Bittersweet Ending: In the face of torture, Sam retreats into some kind of fugue state, oblivious to external stimuli. He is finally free of his responsibilities, in a place where the bureaucrats can't get to him: "I think we've lost him" "I'm afraid you're right Jack... he's gone." Gilliam admitted that the conclusion of the movie was the first idea that came to him. He asked himself what kind of story would have a man going insane as a happy ending.
Bowdlerization: The version broadcast on American television was a print that was heavily edited to remove content Universal head Sid Sheinberg thought too disturbing. About half an hour of footage — including most dream sequences — was cut, and it completely rewrote the ending into a "Love Conquers All" ending simply by removing the sounds of Jill's off-screen death and the final scene that shows the "happy ending" is just the dream of a Sam gone mad. It was put into circulation solely because it was the only version that could fit into a two-hour slot with commercials. See Executive Meddling below for more.
The engineers Dowser and Spoor ruin Lowry's apartment for sending them away on a technicality rather than letting them answer his service call. Pettiness and lack of empathy are a running theme in the film's dystopian world.
Lowry's ultimate fate as a result of the trouble he causes.
The Ditz: Dowser, the tall, skinny repairman with the Welsh accent who repeats everything that his partner says.
Dystopia: The bureaucracy has grown so large and unwieldy that it has taken over all aspects of modern life and nothing works right. No one bothers to fix problems or help people because it's not their responsibility. The state has become tyrannical, but is so incompetent that it assassinates the wrong people based on typos. It's also implied that the terrorists fighting the government are really just fictions created by the government to hide it's own screw-ups.
Dystopia Is Hard: The system is paper-thin and inefficient. Unfortunately, the populace is too moronic, cowed and conformist to do anything about it.
Faceless Mooks: Played with. Lowry is in a police van when two assault troopers, who up to now have been completely hidden by their riot armor, remove their helmets and start complaining about how they can't see with them on and how the armor makes them sweat.
False Flag Operation: The film is deliberately ambiguous as to whether the bomb explosions are this or not.
While Sam talks to the girl with braces at his mother's party, she can be seen flirting behind them.
In the scene in the restaurant, the waiter can be seen storing the dog under a serving tray for safekeeping.
Lots of weird posters and graffiti pepper the background of the city. For example, in the scene where Sam is outside of the Buttles' apartment, there is an ad for a vacation offering "a panic free atmosphere," and someone has changed "Shangra La Towers" into "Shangorilla Towers."
Genre Deconstruction: Of sci-fi Dystopia works. The world of Brazil is terrible but not malevolent, just run down. The hero who tries to free himself does so with abandon and brings about his and his love interest's downfall.
Gone Horribly Right: A rare and brief heroic example. When Sam decides to rebel against the bureaucracy, he attempts to participate in a terrorist attack. The terrorist he's assisting isn't one, and points out the horrific carnage around them, telling him he needs to help the people hurt.
Played straight: Mrs. Ida Lowry regenerates to the point where her last appearance is played by a different actress — although it could be argued that was fever-induced.
Subverted: Alma Terrain is promised this, but deteriorates instead, to the point of Ludicrous Gibs.
"My complication had a complication..."
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Quite deliberately invoked by Terry Gilliam in the casting of Jack Lint. Real-life nice guy Michael Palin brings all his wit and charm to bear on the character, which makes Jack even creepier when you remember what his actual job is.
Punch Clock Villain: All of the villains and stooges in the film are essentially punch clock villains. They're simply apathetic cogs in a merciless and out of control bureaucratic machine. Jack, the white-collar torturer who brings his kids to the office, is a notable example.
Rube Goldberg Device: Every machine in the film is this. Each telephone has its own switchboard, the plug for the bath descends from the shower head, heating is controlled by an impossibly complex array of pipes, valves and rubber bladders and driven ruinously out of control by the tiniest piece of crud. Director commentary says that this is a world where everything is done the hard way, though the denizens probably think of it as all perfectly reasonable.
Running Gag: Sam's personal carrier (car) that gets torched by the urchins. Since he's obsessed with Jill, he doesn't report it stolen and ignores countless memos he receives which attempt to find out what happened to it. One of the crimes he stands accused of at the end is losing an entire fleet of personnel carriers.
Schizo Tech: The future is apparently powered by pneumatic tubes, typewriters, fresnel lenses, and the omnipresent ducts. Technology has apparently stagnated in this dystopia.
Mr. Kurtzmann, Sam Lowry's neurotic boss, is named after Harvey Kurtzman, the cartoonist who discovered Terry Gilliam. Also Dr. Chapmann, thought to be named after Gilliam's fellow Python, (Dr) Graham Chapman. Both characters had an extra 'n' added to their names to make this less obvious.
The various old movies that the characters attempt to enjoy.
Both a parody and a Shout-Out: the soldiers marching down the steps after the janitor's contraption a la The Battleship Potemkin. This film knows how to make film lovers laugh too.
The soundtrack to the western movie that the clerks surreptitiously watch is the same music that played when Sir Lancelot rampaged through Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Take That: Sidney Sheinberg is credited as "Worst Boy" due to his Executive Meddling.
Theme Music Powerup: The film ends with Sam sitting humming to himself after torture, and we then hear him singing the words to the film's Recurring Riff in a mournful tone. When it becomes apparent he's finally escaped the insane and ludicrous world he used to live in, the music segues from morose violins to an impossibly upbeat Latin American dance number. Arguably a subversion since, from where we're sitting, Sam isnotin a good place.
This Is Your Brain on Evil: Sam enjoys his moment of rebellion when he and Jill Layton escape from Information Retrieval and make a getaway in her cab... until he spots an innocent bystander a soldier giving chase being slowly burnt to death and realises how much damage they have caused.
The Trains Run On Time: Deconstructed; the system isn't actually very efficient at all, but virtually everyone thinks it is.
Tomato Surprise: Everything after Jack starts interrogating Sam is a hallucination.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Lowry dreams that he is a hero fighting an evil regime. He could not be further from the truth.
Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Played with. Any time that any act that can be classified as freedom fighting is shown, it is made clear that innocent people are still getting hurt and killed, and ultimately harms the public more than the society. The only time the freedom fighting is portrayed positively is at the end and that all happens within Sam's head, which would likely filter the actions in a positive light. Also, by the end the film implies that there aren't any terrorists at all, and the explosions are just the machinery malfunctioning as usual.