R, for a lot of sex, nudity, and torture. It's pretty American of me to be so scandalized about sex in a movie that talks about how governments stigmatize sex, especially when there's a scene of rats trying to gnaw a man's face off. It's all very uncomfortable. I don't know if this surprises you, but 1984 is supposed to be an uncomfortabe movie, thus the R rating is totally valid. R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Radford
I see what they did. It was actually the year 1984, so they made a movie out of the book. These are things that I think about pretty often. Like, you know that there was at least a conversation that some studio head had in 2001 to remake A Space Odyssey. There had to be. Some guy threw it down and thought it was genius and I'm probably grateful that it got shut down early. But there is an odd thing that happens when we adapt literature so far after it has become a classic. I also have to say that my politics aren't exactly in the same place that they were when I first started loving Orwell. I guess there's going to be a journey of self-discovery going on when I write this because I don't know where this is going as of right now.
There's something very odd about 1984 coming out in 1984. I can't deny that the film that Radford made isn't extremely effective. It is bleak as heck and it is meant to be so. If there's ever been a movie that is so blatantly screaming about the dangers of an all-powerful government, 1984 is that movie. I get it and I don't want to pull from it. But the same thing kind of happened with Back to the Future II a few years ago. It's not as overt as Back to the Future II, but it definitely has that element about it. 1984, from Orwell's position, was the near future. It was far off enough to know that, if as a a culture we screw up the planet, this was how it was going to look like and we'll mostly be alive to witness this living hell. But making 1984 in 1984 gives us a kind of alternative history. Alternative histories are kind of fun. It's guessing what could have happened if things played out kind of differently. But the big split between Back to the Future II and 1984, in terms of alternative histories, is that 1984 is meant to be a cautionary tale. It's this story that reminds us that we are oh-so-close to causing our own annihilation. Does it still do that? I suppose. But the other factor is that it also allows us to pat ourselves on the back for a battle won. And we really haven't won that battle. I'm going to get political here because I...I just can't not get political. ('Tis a double negative, but 'tis also a litote.) The world's pretty much ending right now. Each time that I think I've seen the last generation ending disaster, we're entrenched in something bigger. I apologize for being such a pessimist, but that's where I'm at today. Tomorrow might be different. The thing that's driving me nuts is...I don't know if the deaths of so many Americans due to governmental mismanagement has changed the mind of one single Trump supporter. There is so much evidence that Trump bungled everything, leading to me being in my house for weeks on end and fearing for the life of my wife and unborn child and trucks stuffed with dead bodies because morgues are overflowing...but still Trump rules supreme?
If George Orwell is "yay, capitalism", it's really weird that Trump represents the most intense version of capitalism. This leads me to all kinds of thinking when it comes to breaking down the message versus the context. Soviet Russia was pretty rough. They aren't great now under Putin, but I know about what resulted out of the Russian Revolution of 1917. I continue to teach Animal Farm every year because I think it is an absolutely essential book. But I also can't stop thinking about how Orwell might be all about President Donald Trump and his capitalist ways. We're, right now, living in a culture where a major part of the population gets its news from Fox News, the same people who openly called Covid-19 a hoax and no worse than the flu. And the viewers of Fox News just accept that. It is part of the history of the past month. (Please note, I hate getting political. I'm very scared deep within me about the safety of my family and I need to vent. 1984 seems like the good place to bury this stuff.) The government has control over the media. Our president tells us which news sources not to listen to because they are too critical of him. Watching 1984, I felt both gross and responsible at the same time. Yeah, 1984 is a knee jerk reaction to communism in many ways. It's afraid of dictatorship, and at the time that meant being afraid of the communists. But I also think of the people who are so brainwashed out there that they can't possibly split from Big Brother today. I know that there was a spike in 1984 sales (the book) when Trump took office. At first, watching the film, I thought it was a stretch. But now I'm scared and I can't help but wonder what the heck is going on with the world.
1984 is a sledgehammer. Rather than actually being concerned with a story, Winston is a means to world build. He has a goal. I read the book. The movie is actually slavishly devoted to the tone that Orwell fashioned in his novel. I'm not saying that this is a good or a bad thing. As much as I love Animal Farm, I am not the biggest 1984 fan. It's really hard to bond with Winston because Winston isn't a fully developed character. When horrible things happen to Winston, it's kind of equivalent to horrible things happening to the camera of the film We get that it is terrible and we emotionally shift from a place of comfort to a place of discomfort. But Winston was never in a place to tear down a system. Oddly enough, it feels like Orwell and, by proxy, Radford are all about the reader / audience experiencing one thing: disappointment. The entire movie is an attempt to bolster hope only to remove it. It's because Winston is on rails. With Big Brother constantly monitoring him, everything that is laid out is somewhat of a trap. The entire point of the story is that Winston isn't special. Throughout the story, there are confessions being broadcast all over the country. Someone is always getting caught for this. If anything, Winston's crimes are minor. He never tries raising the revolution. His crimes are minor on purpose, showing the true evil of a dictator police state. But this is a world without hope. We're pretty much on an-rails ride through the sad world of 1984 and there's nothing anyone can really do about it. Winston, at best, teases that there might be a revolution out there.
And that's probably why 1984 does nothing for me. Not nothing, but it just leaves me empty. The movie isn't about fighting the system or even having a prayer to fight the system. I don't mind a movie where the system wins. I actually like bleak endings. But Brave New World has those moments where the protagonists actually fight the system and lose. That's never really Winston. There's never this moment where "He's gonna do it" and then does. The movie doesn't even imply hope. The disappointment comes from the idea of a chance of a man just hiding out while the world passes him by. So what does this tell us? From an optimistic (relatively) perspective, it could be that we have to fix the world now because we won't be able to fix it later. But pessimistically, we're told never to fight back, because the government is always too big. That's where we're all bummed. Because there is no fighting against people like Trump who shut down the media and tell false histories. People want to embrace someone who tells them how to think and there's no fighting against that. I can't change good people's minds about the evils of this man and 1984 got that as right as possible. There is no fighting this system. But should I still try?
It might be because I don't bond with Winston as a character that I'm reminded about the importance of trying. Winston goes through the ringer. That rat thing? Gross. But it probably doesn't get worse than that. If Winston Smith is tortured for falling in love (a very nice way of saying what is going on in the film), what more could happen if you actually fought the system? O'Brien implies that he's a former rebel, but now he's the head of the re-education of rebels. The worse thing is that he's lost his soul...but so has Winston. There's little fight in him at the end. They wouldn't have released him if there was. I can't help but make the comparison to "There are Four Lights." I mean, we all acknowledge that The Next Generation got it from 1984, but I love "There are Four Lights" so much that I don't even care.
It's bleak. It's music video bleak. Part of me always thought of the commercial (Pepsi?) and that was all that existed. But 1984 is one of those bad times that might actually put you in a bad mood. That's the worst takeaway I can give, but it is also incredibly honest. It's made the way that Orwell probably would have like, Eurythmics and all. But it isn't the movie I wanted for today. The world is bleak enough as it is.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.