1984 (1984) - 9/10
It’s been a while since I watched 1984. School in fact. Long time. I’ve read the book many times over the years, but revisiting this, I’m reminded that it really is a fantastic adaptation. The opening scenes in the mass screening are pretty arresting. Big Brother glaring down from the screen while the faces of the party masses scream at the propaganda they’re being fed. All the visuals are arresting though, Roger Deakins cinematography is wonderfully bleak. The shot of Winston hiding from Big Brother in the corner of his room with his diary, tells you instantly who he is. A rebel. Winston Smith (John Hurt) lives in George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare. Controlled by an invisible dictator and enforced by an indoctrinated societal machine. War, propaganda, rations, reducing the language capabilities, editing history. All to control the population through fear. Winston is part of that machine, albeit reluctantly. Working to control the news narrative, not only of the present, but the past. He’s privy to the world he’s helping to change and control. He’s more of a free thinker than The Party allows though and it’s a dangerous world. “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”. Screens watching them everywhere, except the proletariat areas, where Winston likes to go, to remind himself of a vague truth he recalls as a boy. Hurt is brilliant. We are Winston, we see the world through his eyes and Hurt is the perfect conduit. His soften spoken portrayal seems perfectly normal in this horrific world. His furrowed brow conveying his childhood guilt and driving his need to retain his feelings, his humanity, as the system tries to beat it out of him and suppress the individual. As he falls for Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) his simple world gets all the more complicated. She’s a catalyst to Winson’s rebellious nature, she sees their world for what it is, “None of it’s real”. His increasing rule breaking behaviour brings him to the attention of O’Brien (Richard Burton), an inner party member. He wants to use Winston to rat out the resistance. One run by ‘Goldstein’, by confusing poor Winston with propaganda and misinformation. This is what I like about 1984, the way the lines blur to layer up confusingly over a simple concept. Who is Big Brother, does he exist, where is Goldstein, how much does O’Brien really know? As likeable as Hurt is, Burton is the opposite. He’s the cold heartless torturer. Scenes of which make up most of the final act as Winston is slowly broken in mind and body, winding up in the dreaded Room 101. It’s not an easy film, but then it’s not an easy book. It is brilliant though and one of the best adaptations I can think of.