“’Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’
While it’s widely deliberated that George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four couldn’t be more relevant right now, nearly 70 years after publication, it’s also clear that the extremes of his work haven’t come to fruition as a widespread worry – not disregarding regimes like North Korea of course. However, there’s little doubt over many elements, and even belief systems, that have found their way into modern society. Whether that’s a case of fiction creating fact is always a stimulating debate but there’s no doubt that Michael Radford’s film version of the dystopian sci-fi classic continues to offer an significant impact.
Written and directed by Radford, the film stars John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton, Gregor Fisher and Richard Burton, and that small ensemble do end up bringing the terrifying nature of Orwell’s narrative to life…rats and all. Based around the fictional life of Winston Smith (Hurt), he’s a worker in the Record Department of the Ministry of Truth whose job it is to rewrite the past to promote the beliefs of the leading political party. While day-to-day Smith obeys his orders and lives in fear of doing the wrong thing, and being caught out by Big Brother (an always watching eye that spies on your life through all types of screens), something starts to stir as inwardly he begins to question his own reality. This pondering is spurred on after he meets Julia (Hamilton), a co-worker with which he begins a secret love-affair…something that is strictly forbidden.
Nineteen Eighty-Four might always feel timely due to its social commentary, depending on the era you’re in, but there’s probably never been a more poignant time when it comes to the discussion of truth and untruth in the public eye and news media, on all sides of the spectrum. The film will probably always hold that intrigue and whilst it’s often described as a dystopian sci-fi, as I did myself, the plot is riddled with reflections of today’s society. The underlying story of the necessity need for the 3-tier society structure is present and correct. In logic, it exists because without it, civilisation would fail and collapse. Obviously this is shown to breaking point but this is just as compelling as ever as John Hurt’s Winston Smith unravels the world behind the world in which he exists.
Hurt is exceptional, from that deep-rooted innocence within his eyes, you can also tell he’s eager to explore the world beyond the darkness but also aware of horror if he’s caught, having seen it in people whose lives he’s changed by editing the past. The second half of the film features some quite harrowing torture scenes (after Smith’s caught breaking the rules) that remain deeply affecting, and Hurt reflects his name with the suggestion of genuine pain as Richard Burton’s O’Brien electrocutes and stretches every ounce of ‘self’ out of him. Burton is compellingly dark and twisted, and also patient with his desire to bring back control to Smith’s deception. It’s an absolute masterclass.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins offers the edges of an art-house style film with some beautiful shots, especially including the huge contrasts of ‘normal’ life the world outside. That shot of the green hills outside the dark doors of unknown discontent particularly shines and spreads beyond the screen, even some 34 years after its release. Despite the ever-lurking question of whether Orwell’s world can be wholly adapted, the film remains important and interesting in its own right but also absolutely terrifying at the same time. It’s also worth exploring for the first time or re-visited for its sheer impact.
“The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
1984 is available now from HMV in their exclusive Premium Collection which gives you a Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Download and 4 collectable art-cards.
Order here: http://HMV/1984Exclusive