Nineteen Eighty-Four authoritatively fictionalises truth in the midst of mass totalitarianism. London, 1984. Formerly known as England, now the governmental repressive state of Oceania. Outside the colossal walls of Airstrip One, containing a society manipulated by an omnipotent political party sought to oppress its regimentation of people, a war rages on with East Asia and Eurasia. Mounted screens consume the dilapidated interiors, issuing mass surveillance and deceiving propagandism across the authoritarian state. The party’s supreme leader, Big Brother, “always watching”. Their overwhelming control of its inhabitants prevent unapproved political and personal thoughts, punishing those who arbitrarily exude “Thoughtcrime”. Individualism tyrannical relinquished by totalitarianism. Soldiers, social stratum workers and civil servants. All representing metaphorical cogs in a mechanical communistic locomotive that propels historical negationism.
For Winston, a diligent employee of the Ministry of Truth, the regime’s overbearing power forces him to embrace insanity. Humanism diminishes within his soul daily. He begins a forbidden romance with a fellow worker, but must keep the illicit affair hidden from proletarian society. As such consequences could extinguish his remaining individualistic embers.
Radford’s mostly faithful adaptation of Orwell’s titular dystopian novel manages to perpetuate the source material’s plunging darkness of bleak realities. The novel itself, remains one of the greatest pieces of literature to ever be conceived. Its influence, regardless if one has read its contents or not, is scattered across pop culture, political ideologies and art conceptions across the globe. Drawing parallels to instances of communism, dictatorial states and totalitarian governments that still, despite being written in ‘49, apply to various governmental bodies operating today. Orwell undoubtedly formulated a masterpiece of modern-world thinking. Still, the book is not the medium being reviewed here. Radford’s gloriously British adaptation is. And simply put, it’s a solid illustration of the core ideas that Orwell had originally implemented. To capture the full-scale of its central perpetual war and governmental surveillance would be a near-impossible task. Rather unfortunately, any and all adaptations are just mere shadows of a greater work of fiction, with the same being applied here.
However the pivotal story of Winston, as he rewrites history in accordance to the party’s socialistic ideologies, is captivatingly maintained throughout. Radford initially minimising Orwell’s obtuse language to allow Deakins’ bleakly beautiful cinematography to build the foundations of its oppressed world. Exposition is kept to a minimum, as we follow Winston’s mundane daily routines with fragments of private thoughts embedded throughout. Haunted by searing memories and replenishing desires. His inner rebellious nature soon overwhelming the outer emotionless facade, portrayed exquisitely by an effortless performance from Hurt. The illicit affair with Julia soon comes to fruition, an underdeveloped crucial aspect of Winston’s humanity that severely lacked any impact within this adaptation. Regrettably, rather rushed. The buildup to the rural meetup and subversive exchange was non-existent, mostly due to the disjointed narrative that had far too much world-building to establish.
Burton, in what was his last performance, soon enters the foray as the calmly antagonistic party member O’Brien. His introduction initiating a sharp change of pace, tone and narrative style. The eventual attempts of “rehabilitation” and systematic torture for indoctrinating “doublethink”, holding two contradictory thoughts simultaneously, almost resembled a complete different feature in itself. Orwellian’s poetically philosophical language seeping through Burton’s commanding voice. The infamous “2 + 2 = 5” false dogma. If everyone believes something, even if it is factually incorrect, then it must be true. The psychological resistance to disbelief. Whilst this second half is extraordinarily engaging, to the point where each poignant word lingers momentarily (“You are outside history. You unexist.”), it failed to marinate with the visually explicit first half. As soon as the “Thought Police” storm the screen, a sharp snap of transition arises within the story’s aesthetic. Consequently, the mind needs adjusting to the psychologically inclined second half, which abruptly arrived with no indication. The score headed by Lennox’ Eurythmics suited the opaque ambience, although occasionally repetitive with its style.
Regardless, Ninety Eighty-Four remains a faithful adaptation to, what can only be described as, nationalistic futurology. Orwell is a challenge. A behemoth of political vocabulary and insight. To even attempt such cohesive translation deserves recognition for sheer audacious ambition. Whilst it will always pale in comparison, this film manages to incite and excite through fearful visuals and commanding performances. Perhaps “1984” isn’t so far off from our current reality...