Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Film review #17
Director: Michael Radford
A 1984 movie adaption of the famous George Orwell novel 1984 where The Party is everything and all powerful.
In a dystopian 1984, Winston Smith lives in a squalid existence in the ruined state of Oceania. His job is at the Ministry of Truth is to re-write history in accordance with the current political situation. He is haunted by memories of his childhood when his Mother and Sister disappeared. He also keeps a journal of his private thoughts, which is a thoughtcrime, breaking the law of no independent thought.
One day, Winston meets a woman named Julia, and begins an affair with her. (It is against the law for people to fall in love), they live a secret life in an illegal apartment, and drink and eat various forbidden foods such as real coffee and real bread, whereas the workers usually get standard rations to live on, which helps support the parties war effort.
The couple’s (somewhat) blissful existence comes to an end when the two are arrested by the Thought Police. It turns out that the man from whom they were renting the room from is a member of the ruling party. After a lengthy interrogation, Winston learns the truth: That the enemy of the state; Emmanuel Goldstein, does not exist and was invented by the party (The same is seemingly held true for Big Brother). His interrogation continues into Room 101, where he is confronted by his worst fear: Rats. Upon betraying Julia, insisting they inflict the pain on her, is deemed cured, and fit to be released.
In the final scene, Winston is sitting in the Chestnut Tree Café, where he had seen previously rehabilitated criminals. He meets Julia, who informs him of how she betrayed him. Clearly having lost any affection for each other, she leaves, and Winston is left with the glaring image of Big Brother in the café…
There have been a number of adaptations of 1984, into TV series, movies and radio dramas. This particular movie is of particular interest because it was produced in 1984, the year the novel was set. Obviously, when the novel was written in the late 40’s it was a look at the future, but when the movie was made, it was present day…yet it isn’t, because the 1984 it was produced in wasn’t much like the version in the movie. This brings up an interesting comparison between the one imagined by Orwell in 1949, and the actual one. It was however, shot in and around London, where the novel takes place, in the same year and months that the novel takes place.
We perhaps can be thankful that 1984 did not turn out the way that Orwell imagined, which is depicted as a run-down city with no maintenance, and the population live in squaller. Writing after the end of World War II, after the bombing and destruction of Britain’s cities, it was probably difficult to imagine a future rising from the ashes of the war. Another interesting footnote in the development of the movie is that Orwell’s widow, Sonia Brownell only gave permission for the film to be adapted shortly before her death, under the condition that no “futuristic special effects” were used in making the film. This decision perhaps adds to the relevancy of the film, making as “present day” as possible, while still keeping the real and imagined apart.
There is a sense of psychological terror in 1984 that is used to address society that isn’t really seen quite as strongly in other science-fiction works, though it still fits in with the British views of science-fiction. The film takes the concepts of invasion and governmental control to the last bastion of humanity: The inner-most thoughts of the mind. it is a dark and terrifying prospect that is raised, that people will yield control of their lives to the government under the blanket of fear of war and invasion.
Overall, it is a positively received adaption of the book, in comparison to the 1956 US movie (Which gave the story a happier ending, but hasn’t been released since). The franchise has become a mainstay of science-fiction and British culture, with concepts such as “Big Brother”, “newspeak” and “thought police” being popularised by the novel. It also has influenced other films, such as Brazil in 1985, which deals with very similar themes but with a more black humour, or V for Vendetta. So, if you enjoyed 1984 the novel, this adaptation shouldn’t disappoint.