When I first read Orwell’s classic novel of a dystopian future in which individualism is systematically destroyed to the benefit of an elite few, I was horrified but intrigued. The imagery I constructed from the pages was vividly bleak. Even now, the mere mention of 1984 recalls those images without effort.
Last night, 30 years after the film version was released, I watched it. While I’ve seen loads of other films featuring the effects of totalitarian rule, 1984 paints one of the most thought-provoking and detailed portraits.
Visuals are gray, harsh and hopeless in the society where war is manufactured to keep people’s minds partitioned into a permanent us and them. The ‘big brother’ picture is constant and stationary on every screen, everywhere – watching, judging, keeping count and waiting for the next thought-crime. The punishments for love, sex and siding with ‘them’ are severe and creepy; I am talking about the notorious rat mask that is applied to the face of the main protagonist.
I’m not sure they could have cast a better Winston than John Hurt. He is very convincing, physically and emotionally, as the weary, weak protagonist on the verge of total collapse, yet he emanates a glimmer of hope continuing throughout the film. You want to shore him up, you hope that his illegal romantic relationship will flourish, however you know in the end its simply doomed and the consequences will be unspeakable.
Its easy to switch off the show and move on with the pressing details of here and now. However, aspects of Orwell’s fictional society are alive in our own. The omnipresent pumping of media, controlled by a few, has often created a false perception of the world; sometimes building fear from distortion of isolated events, sometimes bubble-wrapping atrocities with comparative analysis and shady interpretation of history.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”
George Orwell, 1949