So, I had never seen Michael Radford’s 1984, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. And, boy did I have an interesting time. In light of recent political events, select cinemas across America, as well as one in Canada, showed the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 to protest Donald Trump on April 4 (the date the film starts). Originally written as a protest against London’s unjust system during the Cold War against communism, do the ideas still apply today? Are the extremes and ideals even relevant?
1984, in case you don’t already know, is about a man named Winston (John Hurt) who lives in a dystopian, totalitarian society and tries to find a semblance of humanity and identity through journaling, Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) and rare knickknacks. From the very start of the film, it’s clear that painstaking effort went into producing it. For example, there are many practical effects and masses of people that are physically on set. Nowadays, there would be more CGI, which makes the effort of some older films stand out more than newer ones. Also, most of the shots are really crisp, making it appear to have been made more recently. The film has a similar set-up to the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich whereas the audience learns about the world and atmosphere via a character instead of a character study. Most of this picture is dedicated to learning about the world and its implications.
My biggest problems with 1984 involve lack of establishing the environment, the system and philosophy. It is fascinating to see this futuristic world through the eyes of a worker, but the biggest downfall there is that very few things are established earlier. So, the audience can’t feel the weight of the situation because they don’t know the stakes. For example, Winston waits to board a train, but wouldn’t that mean that he does have freedoms and can escape? If the system is as controlling as they make it out to be, wouldn’t they find it suspicious and prevent it? But, since Winston seems to have no trouble leaving, it leaves the audience wondering the real level of danger he is in until the end when they actually do find him. Also, the all-seeing Big Brother seems to turn a blind eye too many times. Winston has sex with a prostitute, writes in his journal, buys knickknacks to feel human and sleeps with Julia, all of which are outlawed. In fact, it isn’t until later that there is a surveillance camera in Winston and Julia’s room. So much for Big Brother always watching.
There are a couple of scenes that dragged, but the ones that felt longer were the philosophical ones. You know what I’m talking about: like the scenes that are in the Matrix that are trying too hard to be important and impactful instead of talking how someone really would. It didn’t help that sometimes I couldn’t understand what people were saying. And, I still don’t understand why O’Brien (Richard Burton), a high-ranking official and a changed rebel, set-up Winston to get caught. He didn’t know Winston hated the system, so why set him up to fail? Also, why do we randomly go inside Winston’s head sometimes, and how did he find out about room 101, a room I only heard spoken out loud towards the end?
One big reason why this film was so memorable was because of its shocking visuals. There are rats almost eating faces and on dead bodies, people being stretched into submission and war footage. I thought the excessive amount of full frontal nudity in the film was ridiculous, especially considering I had no idea what to expect going to see it. It seems that it’s supposed to represent rebellion in a society that doesn’t allow sex and appreciation of the body or humanity, but it’s just awkward.
So, is it still relevant? As much as it was back then. 1984 isn’t about the time, it’s about the extreme actions of a society that restricts freedom. It is important to hold onto humanity, and an over controlling system that only wants obedience is not something that anyone should have to suffer though. Two plus two really does equal four (despite O’Brien saying that it equals whatever he says it does). Many of these questions that the film raises are relevant and should be discussed, even if they’re already sometimes overanalyzed within the movie. It’s interesting to see a system becoming exactly the system it fought against. In total, I’d give this film a rating of 4 out of 5 for its controversial themes, shocking content and realistic style, as well as for its plot holes, slower scenes and over-analysis of philosophical ideas. Now, I can only hope that on November 5th, Cornell Cinema will play V for Vendetta where John Hurt becomes the leader of the next dystopian, totalitarian regime.
Trip Hastings is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]