Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)


With all of the wonderful reporting about countries and corporations spying on their own people, and the flagrant use of repeated lies to change public opinion by politicos, it seemed like a good time rewatch an old classic like 1984. The message and story are as vital today, if not more-so, as it was when the book was written in 1948. Depressing, in some ways, as we were warned and still walked full-tilt into the wall while blithely whistling and looking at our feet.

The film is an interpretation by writer/director Radford, best known for his multiple award-winning Il Postino. He tackles Orwell’s material with almost no sentimentality. The world is bleak and washed out. The locations practically a war zone. The relationships superficial and brief, but with a ringing hollowness of desperation for them to be real. He also enlisted the Eurythmics to create a subliminally pounding soundtrack, that is both haunting and foreign enough to help set the mood and add an energy to an otherwise intentionally flat presentation.

Hurt’s emaciated and weathered form captures the feel of the world and the dying inner-soul of the population in the film. His slowly dying spark of hope and humanity briefly being fanned, only to have reality come in. His performance draws you in, because all the power of it is bubbling just under his skin in a suspenseful tension waiting to explode or implode depending on the influence.

Amusingly Hurt gets to play other other side of this story in V for Vendetta. But unlike V, which is one of the most rousing call to arms I’ve seen in years, you can leave 1984 crushingly depressed or empowered to act, depending on your mood.

Opposite Hurt, Hamilton is intended as a tempting subversive influence, but frankly doesn’t work very well. It is more the script than her–she really gives it her all. The story just doesn’t provide us quite enough depth of story on her side for the romantic fumblings of the couple to feel worth cheering for. In part, I think this is because the script spends a great deal of necessary time showing the workings of the world rather than the consequences of it, outside of the squalor.

A more notable performance is Burton’s, in his final appearance on the big-screen, who turns in a wonderfully subtle, creepy, genuine bit of political fundamentalism.

This isn’t a perfect interpretation of the classic book, but it captures the sense of it well and blares the warnings of Orwell’s fears chillingly, even after 30 years.  While I wish Radford had taken a few more liberties to update the story for a modern audience (even in the 80’s) I do give him credit for leaving in a lot of the material that typically would have been edited out in a more mainstream production. However, in choosing to focus almost purely on the political, and in an attempt to create and focus the story on a fantasy of Room 101, some of the impact got lost. It became more clinical than visceral–which is not out of keeping with the world, but less effective for a viewer. If you haven’t read the novel, you should do that before seeing this film; it will help fill in some blanks. 

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