Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Lowdown: Orwell’s 1984 filmed in 1984 England.
I was unaware of it at the time, somewhere around 1985, but I actually managed to pull my mother to join me for the Israeli premier of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I believe it took place at Tel Aviv’s then rejuvenated but alas short lived Gordon cinema. Most importantly, it had John Hurt attend in person, talk to us about the movie and attend a Q&A session. There was another production stakeholder there, I recall, but I don’t remember who; what I do remember is an impressive hour long procession. I also remember the movie that followed was rather disappointing.
By that time I already read George Orwell’s 1984 twice. Once because it was hyped as one of the must science fiction reads of all time, twice because the year was 1984 and [people seem to forget, but] there were lots of doomsday prophecies at the time. Probably even more than the 2012 bullshit parade we saw more recently, and with the cold war peaking there was probably more reason to entertain oneself with various incarnations of the collapse of civilization as we know it.
We live in a different world today, a world in which the Sword of Damocles no longer hangs on our necks. At least not as much. However, courtesy of one Edward Snowden, we now know that our governments have been systematically abusing the technological means at their hands to spy on us at previously unprecedented levels. We know our phones are tapped and that everything we do online passes under the government’s watchful eye. In other words, we know that Big Brother is here, making sure we do not commit any thought crimes he might disapprove of. In too many respects, 1984 is firmly here with us and we might have not even noticed it. Obviously, it was time to revisit Orwell’s masterpiece.
Revisitation started with the book; half way through I watched Nineteen Eighty-Four again, too.
Perhaps the most telling comment I can make of Nineteen Eighty-Four is that there is not much for me to say about the movie that will not be covered by my future review of the book. The movie lies completely under the book’s shadow. Perhaps that is not too bad, given the greatness of the book; but I think the problem is with the movie’s rather pale appearance, obscured by shadows as it is. Reading 1984, with its lengthy descriptions of the horror of its totalitarian regime, is a truly mesmerizing experience that has me constantly comparing hero Winston Smith’s escapades with what we are going through at this day and age. The movie simply fails in that department: sure, it conveys the annoyance of living under constant surveillance and constant propaganda bombardment, but it fails to horrify. For a start, nowadays the citizens of London are probably under observation much more than their imaginary movie counterparts. By leaving too little to the imagination, and by missing out on the finer details from the book, Nineteen Eight-Four comes out more like criticism towards communist/fascist societies. That was probably the book’s starting point, too; however, the movie fails at showing viewers how close today’s society is to 1984’s.
Sure, all the key plot elements are there. But it just doesn’t work, to the degree I found it hard to stay awake towards the end. I wonder if it would ever be possible to produce a movie version of 1984 that is both loyal enough to the book while standing out as a good movie by its own rights, the way Peter Jackson managed with Lord of the Rings (but thus far failed with The Hobbit). For it's part, Nineteen Eighty-Four doesn't even qualify.
Notable scene: Nineteen Eighty-Four starts with a depiction of Two Minutes Hate, which happens at the book’s early stages too. The fact the filmed version was so much lesser than the one my imagination came up with as I read the book says it all.
Interesting scene: There is plenty of nudity in the movie, mostly on the part of Suzanna Hamilton playing the part of Smith’s female co-conspirator. That part is fairly loyal to the book; however, I remember that uneasy feeling I had when John Hurt appeared naked on the screen while I could see the real John Hurt sitting just a few meters away from me.
Overall: Even Richard Burton doesn’t save this one. Only the relevancy of the book’s original message does, which is why I still give Nineteen Eight-Four 3 out of 5 stars.

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