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1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Hey 2005! 1984 called & said it wants its plot back!
(Part of our series on negative utopias and dystopia in media)

I first read 1984 as a pretentious teen, when I was going through my beret-wearing "pass me the Sartre" phase. Although it had some impact on my thinking then, I was already leery of any government (as William Burroughs once said: "A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on") and it didn't radically change my thinking, but did lead me to read a lot more Orwell, especially his essays. This did indeed have an impact on my thinking over the years. It wasn't until I picked up the DVD release of the movie in 2004 that I became a little disturbed.

I was immediately struck by what has now become almost a clichéd observation: The enemy of the state, Goldstein, bears a striking resemblance to the elusive Osama bin Laden. Thank god bin Laden exists, or we'd have to, ahem, create him. The parallels with life today hardly stop there. The events of the past several years and the Bush administration's reaction to them have managed to create a sort of twisted version of many elements of Orwell's story. INGSOC (English Socialism) could easily be replaced by AMROY (American Royalty). The doublethink/newspeak elements of the story are found everywhere in today's media and politics: the Defense Department now attacks, rather than defending; the Correctional system corrects nothing; Social Security creates everything but. We're now in a perpetual war with an enemy that has no central location and no clearly defined opposing ideology. This enemy is even more ethereal and convenient than Orwell would have dared describe his Eurasia for fear of entering the realm of the utterly implausible.

Doubleplus good, Mr. Rove, et al - doubleplus good indeed.

In yet another strange inverted analogy, you could take the passage below:

"But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet--!"

...and replace "prole" with "Educated Liberals".

But I ramble. We're talking about a book and a movie here, not a new school of sociopolitical thought. 1984 the movie does something that rarely works in film. It stays remarkably faithful to the structure and dialogue of the book, and doesn't suffer from it. The monochromatic rubble and the bleak colorless interiors that are Oceania are cleverly portrayed rather simplistically, almost like sets for a live theatrical production. This lends a lot to the feeling of isolation and hopelessness. Winston Smith (the books central character) is played masterfully by John Hurt, somehow expressing all at once despair, detachment, and vague hope. Thank god this movie was made in England when it was; Hollywood would probably have managed to cast Will Smith in this role, and had Danny Elfman do the soundtrack. This film is well-crafted, acted, and so stylish that Apple swiped it's look for an ad campaign. The Bush administration should ban this movie, before it makes people awaken to things and "rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies". Pardon my thoughtcrime. Bush is a brilliant leader, doubleplus good!

Ian Gray
January 2005

Read more about negative utopias and dystopia in film here.

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