Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

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 Oceania 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 crazy.

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), Brazil (1985), 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


Jack Thursby said...

Cracking film and book. I think Orwell would be proud of what it has accomplished over the years. A person just has to say the words "Big Brother" or "1984" and everyone knows what they are talking about.

Don't know if you could ever do a "perfect" adaptation of the book but this one was appropriately bleak and sobering tone/look. Hurt was a great choice for Smith. So fragile and withered.

Can't say I will watch this movie over and over again (I've probably only seen it twice) but the images have stuck with me for decades.

Franco Macabro said...

Exactly Jack, I'm so glad 1984 has become such a part of popular culture, the fact that most people know where the phrase "Big Brother" comes from let's us know the novel will be around forever.

I loved Hurt's performance as well, those scenes where he is being tortured...wowzers!

Agree, it's a tough movie to watch, same as you, I've only seen it twice. Once right after I read the book a couple of years ago and now cause I found it on Netflix streaming.

SFF said...

I saw this film when I was young and in the theatre. Glad to see you take a look at it.

I may need to revisit the picture because I'm sure I would appreciate it far differently today.

When I was young it felt slow and labored, but, well, I was young.

I was and remain a huge fan of John Hurt and would love to see this one again. Great coverage Fran!

By the way, really cool moment. I was in Ireland in the 1990s and I was at this little fish and chip shop on the coast in County Cork and I was sitting at the table eating when lo and behold John Hurt sat down at the table next to me. He was with another fellow and a boy and I didn't have the nerve to say hello, but I was just in awe.

Later that night I was at a pub in Ballycotton and he was there surrounded by a few babes. Once again, I was drinking lager just feet away from Hurt. He was apparently in the area filming. Word on the street was he was making a film with Brando and Depp but that film never came to pass.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, this movie deals with adult themes, for a kid, it must have felt boring. This is a very cerebral film, it's main pull for me is the issues it addresses, but I must say that I love the dreary, lifeless look the film has.

Thanks for sharing your story Gordon, that must have been cool. John Hurt is truly great, my favorite performance of his is from Lynch's The Elephant Man, so moving.

The closest I've been to a hollywood star was having Elsa Pataki right next to me while they were shooting Fast Five here in Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, I didn't even know it was her next to me until much later when I had left. I noticed this short woman next to me, next to her an important looking lady producer yapping on the phone about wrapping up the shoot. Next to this producer, I noticed this short attractive woman wearing glasses and a cap to cover her face. I was immediately suspicious that she might be Michelle Rodriguez...but it was Pataki. Her facial birthmark gave her away. It wasn't until I saw the movie in theaters that I realized it was her standing shoulder to shoulder with me the whole time!

SFF said...

Nice story and you gotta love those wild moments. Just surreal.

Elephant Man, another one I never fully appreciated as a young man but was truly moved by and broken hearted by. Great one.

You have forced me onto a John Hurt hunt between your coverage here and my recent viewing of Alien.

How about The Osterman Weekend? oooh.

Franco Macabro said...

I need to watch The Osterman Weekend! Maybe it's time to go on a John Hurt watch a thon!

SFF said...

You are right. We must.

Also, and I know you know this, but just to mention it, of course John Hurt does a role reversal from his part in 1984 to his role in V For Vendetta to juxtapose the irony and the versatility of this amazing actor.

I have to get Midnight Express as well. Oh, love the big Hurt! : )

Franco Macabro said...

Midnight Express, now there's a shocking and impactful film for ya! The first time I saw it I was like...wow...what a movie! I certainly need to re-watch it.

Yeah, I noticed that in V for Vendetta suddenly he is big brother, nice inside joke there!

Of course, we can't forget that awesome scene he has in Alien..the chest bursting scene is still show stopper; and then he went and made fun of himself by spoofing that very scene (himself!) in Mel Brook's Spaceballs; one of my favorite of Mel Brook's films, still makes me laugh.


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