Title: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Director: Michael Radford
Cast: John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton, Richard Burton
1984 remains a monumental piece of literature that everyone should read at least once in their lives. For those who haven’t had the experience of reading George Orwell’s 1984 I’ll give you the lowdown. This was a novel written way back in 1949 as a cautionary tale; a “what if” of what could happen to our collective and individual freedoms should a totalitarian government arise. This was Orwell looking into the future and seeing a very grim, cold and impersonal society.
Oceania is a society
devoid of emotions, individuality and freedom. In this future, everyone dresses
the same colors, children rat out their parents should they betray the
government and big brother (read: the government) is always watching you, they
know what your saying, they know what your doing, they are in your home, Big Brother dominates the lives of the people of Oceania. Be it through the huge
television screen that everyone has in their homes, or by hidden cameras and
microphones, Big Brother knows. In this future there is such a thing as a ‘thought
crime’ and a government ruled organization created to deal with them called the
‘thought police’. Basically, in this world, you are not allowed to speak your
mind, oh and sex is a crime, you can only have sex if you are married and even
then, it’s to have children; not for pleasure. 1984 was a novel written to warn
us of what we should never allow our countries or governments to become. Sad
part is that many of the things that happen in this novel and are meant to be
considered horrid abuses of human rights are actively happening in our modern world.
Mind control at full force!
Over the years, Orwell’s book has proven to be prophetic. How is Orwell’s novel slowly becoming a reality? Let’s see, we can start by mentioning that ‘Big Brother’ is watching over us all the time. We do have video cameras constantly surveying us, watching us, documenting our behavior. We have devices that can pinpoint our exact location. We all have huge television screens in our homes (they get bigger every year) which the media uses to manipulate public opinion. Many news channels display the faces of the current political enemies and make the masses hate and despise them, same as the ‘two minutes of hate’ that appear in the book and film. These two minutes of hate are two minutes in which political enemies of
are displayed by the government on huge screens so that the proletariat (the
working class) can scream and hate them. At one moment Winston says “There is truth and
there is untruth, to be in the minority of one does not make you mad” a
statement that makes perfect sense in this world we live in; by this I mean
that in our society, whenever you think differently for example by not being
patriotic or not believing in god or
religion, well, then to the rest of society your just a nut job, a loon. The
idea behind this statement is that just because you are in the minority does
not mean you are wrong. Sadly, this is what happens in the world we live in, if
you’re not thinking with the collective then you’re a conspiracy nut, or a
Even though we live in a slightly ‘liberal’ society, sex before marriage is still frowned upon by the grand majority of the population; the desire to have sex is something that comes naturally from within us, yet religions seek to dampen our sexualities, demonize them by calling sex before marriage a ‘sin’ same as in the world of 1984 where sex is a crime! The beautiful thing about 1984 is that the love that Winston and Julia develop for each other is genuine; they truly do love each other. They enjoy each others warmth and company, where pray tell is the crime in that? Same as in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (1999), sex can become the ultimate act of revolution, the ultimate expression of freedom; it’s the one thing that the system cannot take away from you, the love, the affection, the warmth. In other words, the things that makes us human. And remaining human is a big part of 1984, it’s at the very core of it. Winston himself says it: “It’s not so much about staying alive, it’s staying human that’s important. What count’s is that we don’t betray each other.” “If they can make me change my feelings, if they can stop me from loving you, that would be betrayal” to which Julia answers: “They can’t do that. It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can torture you, they can make you say anything, but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you. They can’t get to your heart”
Amongst other themes the film plays with, Nineteen Eighty Four is primarily about being able to speak your mind and say the truth about things, it’s about freedom of the mind, of being able to tell it like it is. To say that 2 + 2 = 4 and not 5. It’s about the ability to have control over your own mind, to say what you want to say without fear. Are we living in a world in which you can do that? Because if we’re not, then we’re living in Orwell’s nightmarish totalitarian future, and it’s come true. But then again if this is what is actually happening, and we’re living the nightmare, way back in 1949, Orwell knew it would happen. He said it with his novel. He’d seen the future and he knew what it was going to be like. “If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever” That line of dialog is so gut wrenching, yet so true. How many times have we not seen government stomping, no worse, killing, murdering their people? So yeah, 1984 was prophetic in deed.
The film itself is a marvelous adaptation of Orwell’s book. It captures the essence, the mood and the overall vibe that Orwell created in his masterwork. The film has a slightly decolorized look to it, reflecting the dreary lives and world in which these characters live in. John Hurt perfectly embodies Winston Smith, the epitome of the blue collar worker, working day by day to pay his way in life, which isn’t much of a life. It’s boring and redundant, so much so that he thirsts desperately for something more; he hates what his life has become. He wants passion and freedom; two things that can make anyone feel alive. Richard Burton did his last film performance here, he died before the film was premiered, but his portrayal of O’Brien, the government operative, is chilling and memorable one, so cold, so robotic. Between film and book there are very few differences…some moments from the book where left out and I do feel that the ending was a bit more grueling in the book, but the film gets its points across as well, just not as detailed and extended as in the book. Still, I’d say that this is an excellent adaptation, which is something that rarely happens in the book to film transition.
So folks, we’re talking about an important book and film here, I highly recommend everyone out there to read the book and then see this film. It’s one of my favorite books, it actually brought me to tears while reading it, its that good. Not many books have that effect on me, but this one really got to me. How influential is this novel in the film world? Well, I can mention some of the films that were influenced by it for example: V for Vendetta (2005),
Equilibrium (2002) and THX-1138 (1971) to mention but a few. For more on films of this nature, check out this article I wrote a while back called Totalitarian Futures (Big Brother is Watching You!) In the end, though Nineteen Eighty-Four is sad and
torturous to watch at points because of how strongly we feel the systems boot stomping
on humanities face, the film does have an inspiring message. That evil will
fail, that humanity will prevail, someway, somehow, goodness will win in the
end, let’s hope that Orwell's novel was equally prophetic with these words as well.
Rating for both the book and the film: 5 out of 5