A very effective adaptation of the George Orwell novel, which depicts a future totalitarian society – bleak in every aspect, thoroughly controlled, and impossible to escape. [Dir: Michael Radford/ John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton/ 115 min/ Drama, SciFi-Fantasy/ Anti-Socialism, Propoganda, Government as Torturer]
This Orwellian view of a possible future draws heavily on modern experience with totalitarian socialism: People in this world are slaves to the state. They live in fear and poverty. Art and media are used to control them. History is rewritten to create an appearance of progress. People are forced to make confessions of crimes they never committed. Families are destroyed to insure complete loyalty only to the state. And the state is in constant war with neighbors to unify the people through an “us against them” mentality. It’s a distillation of all the horrors of National Socialism, Soviet and Chinese Communism, and the various variants thereof. The story was meant as a warning to the remaining free countries, whose academic eggheads in particular seemed curiously open to socialist ideas. It opens with a propaganda broadcast in which Goldstein, an enemy of the state, is being denounced. A crowd watches the broadcast and begins shouting feverishly anti-Goldstein condemnations. The propaganda has clearly had its effect. However, in that crowd is a man who sees through at least some of it. He meets a young woman who, in her own cynical way, also sees through the propaganda. The two arrange a series of trysts in which they gradually get to know, trust, and love each other. But in this world, love for anything but the state is forbidden, and despite the most minute precautions, one day they are caught. Such are the horrors of torture and mind control that in the end the state succeeds in destroying even their love. In the background to all this is the full panorama of Orwell’s projected totalitarian world: the control of the individual through control of the language (“newspeak”); endless broadcast of faked production statistics intended to give the impression of material progress despite obvious widespread poverty; purges and denunciations of supposed traitors; televised executions; 24-hour surveillance via in-home monitors, and so on. It would be hard to imagine a better dramatization of Orwell’s novel than this film. It does a good job of communicating the novel’s substance and spirit, and it has some compelling performances. In particular, the expressive John Hurt is riveting in the lead role. However, this is such a powerful portrayal that many viewers will find the ultimate defeat of the individuals in the hands of the mega-state depressing, and some scenes of torture are graphic. It’s not the most uplifting film, but certainly a very important one.
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.