Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

(On Cable TV, November 2017) I remember reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four during high school and being bleakly depressed for the rest of the day. I’m pretty sure we saw clips of the movie in class, but not the entire film. As it turns out, Nineteen Eighty-Four itself is just about the most straightforward adaptation that anyone could have made of the novel. The high points are all there (even down to the device of having the protagonist keep a diary as a way to insert voiceover narration), the atmosphere is bleakly industrial and the film, at times, seems to have emerged straight from the dreary post-war years in Britain, all bathed in dusty grays and dirty browns. It is also powerfully depressing to a degree that I had almost forgotten: By the time the film discusses removing fundamental biological imperatives as a way to further control the masses, we’re way past most of the nicest dystopias out there. (In fact, Nineteen Eighty-Four makes most post-apocalyptic stories look positively cheerful in comparison.)  John Hurt is both bland and good as protagonist Winston Smith—Richard Burton is more lively as voice-of-authority O’Brien. Writer/director Michael Radford did an exceptional job putting Orwell’s genre-defining vision on-screen. But, as faithful as the film can be to the novel, it’s also limited by that faithfulness. Having seen Brazil, I know which bleak dystopia I prefer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *