Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Release Date: December 14th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Radford Actors: John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Cyril Cusack, Gregor Fisher, James Walker, Andrew Wilde
ineteen Eighty-Four” is rarely adapted for the screen, especially in forms that don’t make use of heavy special effects or extensive artistic reworking. Michael Radford’s version, released in 1984 itself, is perhaps the most notable due to the faithfulness in which it translates the weighty themes found in the book (first published in 1949). The movie was photographed in and around London during the period of April – June 1984, the exact time and setting imagined by author George Orwell. Dispensing with CG and action/adventure allows for a more prominent examination of the harsh sociopolitical environments, which would have made Orwell proud, but prevents casual viewers from enjoying typical, over-the-top visual construction.
Oceania, ruled by a totalitarianism government, is at war with East Asia. The year is 1984, set in the bleak future (despite the fact that it is now in the past). Many forms of overbearing control exist, designed to prevent free thought: Newspeak is the replacement English language, slowly being converted to use as few words as possible to prevent intelligent communication (“double plus good” is a phrase that represents just about every form of satisfaction); TV screens play constantly, spouting propaganda that cannot be turned off; uniforms are worn by everyone to suffocate identities; names have been reduced to little more than numbers; an Anti-Sex League strives for neutralization of the orgasm; and Thought Police seek out Thought Criminals who daydream of revolt.
Winston Smith (John Hurt), known as “6079 Smith,” haggardly works to rewrite history in the Ministry of Records, where lies become truths and the erasures of truths are forgotten. His only escape from this mundane reality is writing in a secret journal hidden in the wall of his shabby home, where he can think to the past (or to the future), an age when thoughts weren’t stifled by “Big Brother” constantly watching, intimidatingly outlawing countless freedoms. He pens various experiences in his life, including visiting a hooker, seeing a dead body covered in rats, and interactions with his mother and sister. Smith also constantly thinks about the Proletariat, groups of rebels who refuse to adopt such controlled conditions, and of the possible existence of the Resistance.
During the day, he continually crosses paths with a young woman named Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), who eventually passes him a note that leads him to Victory Square to receive further instructions. She claims to love him, and he is thrilled by the idea of rebellion against the system; the two meet repeatedly to engage in sex and other illegal frivolities, such as sugar, white bread, jam, real milk, tea, coffee, and more, all outlawed by the Party that governs Oceania. But it’s only a matter of time before the Thought Police catch up to them. No one eludes them forever.
The film is slow moving and lacks suspense, instead relying on the famous story to naturally unfold. Many viewers might become agitated at its placidity, especially considering the cheerlessness of the subject matter. The book explores dismal, realistic, thought-provoking topics, most notable for an archetypal form of evil totalitarianism, the dangers of quelling freedom, and for the shockingly morose conclusion. The film adapts these ideas without any real concern for entertainment value, though it’s accomplished with remarkable faithfulness. The happenings become plodding and uninspired, as most of the novel’s content is translated with decided lifelessness – ignoring the opportunity for visual intensity, disturbing imagery, or even cheap scares (despite the themes of brainwashing and torture). “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is almost as powerful as the novel in the examination of the themes, but seems to exist solely for the sake of art – not even for edutainment.
– Mike Massie