Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) Review

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Big Brother is watching you watching this.

In the dystopian world of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984): 8 out of 10: Winston Smith (John Hurt) navigates a bleak existence under the omnipresent surveillance of the totalitarian regime of Oceania. Working at the Ministry of Truth, Winston alters historical records to fit the Party’s narrative, while secretly harboring rebellious thoughts against Big Brother.

His life takes a drastic turn when he embarks on a clandestine affair with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), a fellow dissenter. Together, they indulge in forbidden pleasures and share their disdain for the oppressive regime. However, their rebellion is short-lived as they are captured by the authorities and subjected to brutal interrogation and torture.

Under the manipulation of O’Brien (Richard Burton), a high-ranking Party member, Winston is coerced into betraying Julia and renouncing his rebellious beliefs. Broken and stripped of his individuality, Winston is released back into society as a shell of his former self.

Betrayal and Submission

Returning to the familiar confines of the Chestnut Tree Café, Winston encounters Julia once more, both now obedient adherents to the Party’s ideology. Despite their shared past and the torment they endured, they exchange hollow pleasantries, their connection now tainted by betrayal and submission.

As Winston succumbs to the Party’s indoctrination, he finds solace in fleeting memories of love and resistance. With tears in his eyes, he whispers his forbidden affection for Julia, clinging to the remnants of his humanity amidst the suffocating grasp of Big Brother’s tyranny.

Ageless

Most films simply don’t age all that well. Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, for example, simply doesn’t have the same impact today that it did in 1993. (Both gay people and AIDS are simply less scary to the public today.) In another example we have seen both technology and fashion move so fast that the futuristic phones in many a seventies sci-fi movie look positively ancient today not to mention the burnt orange and avocado green color scheme of the future that so many seventies sci-fi are stuck with. (I’m looking your way Rollerball.)

So how has a film, released when people outside of American colleges actually believed communism worked, aged today?

Brilliantly. If I say so myself. If anything, the film works better today than it did in 1985.

Timeless

For starters, the film itself is timeless. Nothing about the film gives away the date that it was made. Only the fact I know who John Hurt and Richard Burton are gives a hint to time period. The film itself could have been released in theaters last week.

Since the film comments heavily on torture in its last act and on “Big Brotherism” throughout, if released today it undoubtedly would be seen as a direct attack on both the Bush administration and the British Labor government. (Yes, I wrote this review originally fifteen years so. Of course, we no longer have any Big Brother issues at all. Hail Eris)

In fact, many scenes are a straightforward attack on the Bush administration’s torture policy and the endless war on “Terrorism”. One could almost never believe the film was about communism at all. Modern audiences today would laugh at such a quaint notion.

I asked my Amazon Alexa, and the idea that there would be some device in your house listening to everything you do is pure science fiction.

For the greater good

With few exceptions, I have never known a film so timeless. Heck, it is one better than simple timelessness. It is actually more relevant today than when it was made. The idea of government using an endless indefinable and unwinnable war to curtail its subject’s freedoms is right from today’s headlines; whether you are discussing the war on drugs, terrorism, or global warming, the results are the same. All the good intentions in the world simply mean less freedom for you and your children. “For the greater good” no less.

Orwell would be shocked at the creativity governments today would use to curtail people’s freedoms and lives. Or perhaps he wouldn’t and that is why his story is so timeless and, most remarkably, the film based on it is as well.

Oh, and the film is fun with a brilliant and perfectly cast John Hurt in the primary role as they put upon and tortured everyman. Richard Burton, not chewing scenery for once, shines in a role with gravitas; The fact Burton was basically on his deathbed when he performed it adds to his performance.

Also Nineteen Eighty-Four stars super cute and believable Suzanna Hamilton, who looks like a real woman both in and out of her clothes as the love interest and the catalyst for desire of change. And a special kudos to a fantastic direction by Michael Radford and production design by Allan Cameron. The really capture a place and time that as I have said before is timeless.

Alas, Brazil is a better film.

1984 is the Ying to Terry Gilliam’s similarly themed Brazil. While Brazil is the better film and more effective 1984 is like the older, slightly less entertaining brother who is not as interested in putting sugar on the lesson. And in fairness to 1984, Brazil is one of the best films of the eighties. Nineteen Eighty-Four on the other hand, is one of the best movies about the early 21st century that just happened to be made during the nineteen eighties.

On the bright side, Winston Smith gets his own podcast.
I have picked on Richard Burton in the past for hamming it up (Cough… Exorcist II: The Heretic… Cough) but he went out on a significant note.
I keep forgetting until I see 1984 again how ridiculously cute Suzanna Hamilton is
I mean, I could have fifty screenshots of her in this review.
Though one has to wonder about the occasional High School English teacher who, while aware of the landmine that is Olivia Hussey’s breast in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, is blissfully unaware of the sheer amount of full frontal nudity in Nineteen-Eighty Four.
Nudity and Sex….
Honestly, I would have trouble focusing on reading with someone cuddle up with me in that way. For one thing, my arm would go to sleep.
1984 has a helicopter. It seems to have been a while since I had a good helicopter shot in a review. Though I am preparing my Dune Part One review. Plenty of funny looking copters in that one.
Find me a science fiction film that better predicts the modern office cubicle. Go ahead, I will wait.
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