Wednesday, September 3, 2014


(October 1984, U.S.)

Look carefully and you'll see that I had to insert the year of this film's release next to the film's title. Looks weird when you read it, but in actuality, director Michael Radford's film is the second screen version of George Orwell's acclaimed classic novel of our dystopian future. The first one came out in 1956 and starred Edmond O'Brien. I haven't seen it.

So let me get this out of the way now and say that I did read the original novel sometime during my early years of college, though I can't remember its details very much. Regardless, it's one of those books you can't seem to get through life (or high school!) without it being a required read, along with CATCHER IN THE RYE, BRAVE NEW WORLD or any of Shakespeare's many works. It's just inevitable that you read this stuff and very likely be prepared to take an essay exam upon finishing it. Had 1984 been a required read during the Fall semester of my senior year in high school, the film's time of release would have been perfectly timed and I very likely would have been one of those kids who tries to get away with simply seeing the film and letting those nearly two hours in the movie theater pass for reading the book and trying to pass an English exam based on the book. Probably wouldn't have worked, though. Teachers inevitably caught onto that deceptive shit.

Actor John Hurt performs a very solid version of Winston Smith, a man who endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania in London under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. He works in a small office cubicle at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the "Party" and its supreme figurehead, Big Brother, a man who stares at you like this...

Winston is a man haunted by painful memories and restless desires; an everyday man who keeps a secret diary of his private thoughts, thus creating evidence of his "thoughtcrimes". His life takes a fatal turn when he is approached by a mysterious, bold-looking girl named Julia (played by Suzanna Hamilton) and they begin an illicit sexual affair, something absolutely forbidden in this futuristic society. It all comes to an end, though, with the sudden raid by the "Thought Police". The young lovers are both arrested and we learn that there's been a telescreen hidden behind a picture on the wall in their room, and that the proprietor of a local pawn shop, Mr. Charrington, is actually a covert agent of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are taken away to be detained, questioned and brutally "rehabilitated". Winston is brought to the Ministry of Love, where O'Brien (played by Richard Burton in his final film role), a high-ranking member of the Inner Party whom Winston had previously believed to be a fellow thought criminal and agent of the resistance movement, systematically and brutally tortures him in order to "cure" him. In the final and rather haunting moments of the film, Winston appears to be "cured" and finds himself saying "I love you" when faced with the image of Big Brother once again. Who he's actually saying these words to is a mystery. It may be to Big Brother, as he's been systematically trained to do, or it could be to Julia, a phrase that the two of them repeatedly used during their relationship, indicating the possibility that he still loves her and isn't as fully "cured" as we and the futuristic fascist government would like to believe. As cliché as it may sound, it would seem that love may still triumph in the end, even in the world of Orwell.

As a film, the photography and production design are nothing short of visually stunning, particularly in shots where any hints of comforting sunlight has been eliminated from life in this time. The entire look of the film, in general, tends to penetrate deeply into the original vision of Orwell's heart of darkness. It's a far cry from another Michael Radford film, an Italian film, that would take the world by storm in 1996 with its bright beauty and sunshine of life, IL POSTINO.

So, the big question still remains - did Orwell's vision of the future actually come true? In the real world of 1984, it did not...not yet. However, if we were to jump ahead thirty years to our current year of 2014, it's quite possible that Orwell would have seen it all happen. Not in the same dark, grim and underground fashion, of course, but rather in the form of the electronic cyber world, where our issues of personal privacy and the governmental tampering of such privacy comes into play. The difference between our world now and Orwell's version is that we, society's people of today, practically give away our privacy without even fully realizing it. Think about it! What kind of personal shit are you texting, emailing and posting on the social media networks? What kind of shit are you verbally spewing out there every time you have a personal cell phone conversation on a crowded train or bus? In Orwell's world, Big Brother was watching and society generally hated it. In our real world, Big Brother is also watching and we're all likely too stupid to realize that we're inviting him inside with a great big hug and kiss!

Think about it, people!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Winston Smith: "Look, I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don't want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt."
Julia: "Well, I ought to suit you, then. I'm corrupt to the core."
Winston: "Do you like doing this? I don't mean just me..."
Julia: "I adore it."

1 comment:

  1. This was an excellent version of the story. The book is a tough read but well worth the effort. I have some stories about seeing this but I'm going to save them until I post on this film on my 1984 blog. When I do, I'm going to link back to your post here because you expressed some very true ideas about how we are treating our own privacy these days. I will say, that I was really impressed by Richard Burton in the film. His voice has always been so distinctive and his line reading "If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever." is pretty haunting in itself.