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Robert De Niro attends the quotMalavitaquot premiere at Kino in der Kulturbrauerei in Berlin Germany on Oct 15 2013 Photo by Clemens BilanGetty Images

HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right? 'Brazil' Edition

Jan. 13, 2015
An engineer who moonlights as a film critic reviews the cult classic "Brazil" as part of HPAC Engineering’s “HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right?” series.

Editor’s note: Hollywood long has been known for—ahem—taking liberties with the truth (just ask any composite character). In HPAC Engineering’s ongoing series “HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right?," Ron Wilkinson, a professional engineer who moonlights as a film critic, takes a look at movies and television series whose makers may or may not have let HVAC fundamentals get in the way of a good story.

Robert De Niro attends the "Malavita" premiere at Kino in der Kulturbrauerei in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)

Brazil (1985)

In this satire on bureaucratic society, directed by Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam, renegade heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) breaks into lead character Sam Lowry’s (Jonathan Pryce) apartment to perform an unauthorized repair. The HVAC system is a hilarious spaghetti bowl of tubes, wires, and contraptions, including a breathing bag pulsing for no apparent purpose. Installing an illegal bypass device that looks like a blood-transfusion bottle attached to an automotive carbon-monoxide sensor, Tuttle fixes the problem and allows Lowry’s claustrophobic apartment to return to normal temperatures—at least until Central Services returns to take its revenge. Tuttle blames his renegade status on his loathing of paperwork. Who cannot identify with that?

Later in the film, Lowry short-circuits pneumatic message tubes to staunch his office’s uncontrollable information stream. As the system reacts with an upwardly spiraling pressure peak, the ductwork in the heart of the Ministry of Information ruptures in an avalanche of paperwork. In the ultimate HVAC engineer’s nightmare, the forms have become the ventilation!

About the Author


The founding principal of Seattle-based Wilkinson Commissioning Management, Ron Wilkinson, PE, LEED AP, CPMP, is the author of the first commissioning training program for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for New Construction and Major Renovations Green Building Rating System and the founding recording secretary for ASHRAE Guideline Project Committee 0.2/1.2, The Commissioning Process for Existing Building Systems and Assemblies/The Commissioning Process for Existing HVAC&R Systems. An ASHRAE Distinguished Lecturer and an American Institute of Architects Continuing Education Lecturer, he has spoken on commissioning practices internationally. He is a longtime member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board.