1984 (1984) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

George Orwell was dying in the bleak and desolate countryside when he wrote 1984. Cut off from the literal warmth of nature and the figurative warmth of humanity, in great physical agony, Orwell poured all of his pain into one of the most depressing works of literature ever composed. He took all the worst elements of human society, all the most corrupt and soul-destroying elements of government, and all the darkest angels of our nature, and whipped them into his famous dystopia.

Most of his world was based on Soviet Russia, of course. Stalin's habit of changing the past to suit himself and his ideology, coupled with the complete disappearance of Stalin's former colleagues from state photographs, formed the basis of Winston Smith's job at the ministry of information. My wife is Russian, and I have often mentioned to her that studying history in the USSR is the only time when it was really fun to be a historian, because if the facts didn't conform to your hypothesis or ideology, there was no need to change your opinion. If you were high enough in the Party, you could just change the past instead.

Stalin's control of the borders and literature, his employment of children to spy on their ideologically impure parents, and his complete state control of the media, formed additional elements of the world of 1984. Also derived from observations of Russia are the universal unsmiling, humorless, ash-gray look of the people, and the ubiquitous outdated technology.

Stalin, however, was never strong on salesmanship and psychology. Rather than convincing people of his positions, he preferred killing them if they disagreed. But they were never really persuaded. They just learned to shut up. Russians didn't have a completely accurate picture of the world because the state controlled their information, but they have been a cynical and intellectual people throughout their cultural history, and have always been distrustful of their leadership. Their artists and writers had the same problems before Communism. Let's face it, they got the gist of what was going on in their country. Pretty much every educated Russian knew that the whole system was bullshit; they just couldn't do anything about it. Rather than a Russia-like country where jaded people secretly laugh at their government, Orwell wanted a more sinister, insidious state presence for his future world. He wanted a society where the populace actually believed the official state bullshit. He had to turn, therefore, to the recently defeated empire of Nazi Germany to provide the spirit of his propaganda machine. The contribution of Nazi Germany to the Orwell vision was that Goebbels actually got people to believe his lies through a systematic program starting with children's education and moving into patriotic public rallies, always keeping the people inspired to fight against real or imaginary threats, always allowing people to blame internal and external bugbears for the fact that conditions were not better.

England, too, contributed its share to Orwell's vision. The politicians of a free society practice their own form of mind control, what we would call "spin" today, but what we have always known as hypocrisy. For the twenty years after WW1, England educated its people that Russia was the enemy. For a brief period in the first half of the 40s, the spin doctors in the U.K. (and the USA) got to work and said, "No, Russia is not the enemy. They are our beloved allies and friends. Germany is the enemy." When the war was over, within just a few months, the spin doctors were saying, "No, Russia is our enemy. They have always been our enemy". Looking back from a half-century later, you may think that the need to fight Germany was obvious, but America and England were filled with a highly sizeable minority who believed that Nazi Germany was our best defense against the spread of Communism. The enemy of our enemy was our friend. To get people "thinking right", spin doctors worked full time then, as they do now.

Churchill, the great hero of the 20th century, was about the only man on the planet who saw through the spin. He had no love for Stalin, but when the USSR went to war with Germany in 1941, Churchill was proud to offer Russia assistance. When criticized by opposition party members for supporting a monster like Stalin, Churchill expressed the idea as clearly and accurately as any politician has ever expressed any thought: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." It was Churchill's ability to see through the spin that inspired Orwell to name his freethinking 1984 hero Winston Smith.

Orwell took the worst elements of all those societies and spun his tale, adding an element of futuristic technology that was a Stalinist wet dream, a sort of interactive two-way television set that seemed to be everywhere. The overall presence of the state was called Big Brother, and BB watched everyone through the TV sets, at the same time that he was spewing out his propaganda and false news. (We have since learned that Russia was once getting very close to this condition. The Russians revealed a few years ago that they have tapes of almost every word that Lee Harvey Oswald spoke in his houses while he lived there. Can you imagine the size of their information archives, which were assembled before digitization?)

When this film came out, in 1984, many people thought that Orwell had not only missed the boat, but perhaps couldn't even have found the ocean. The world seemed to be liberalizing and democratizing. The Evil Empire was collapsing. Stalin had been stripped from Russia's pantheon and his methods were recognized as monstrous even within the borders of the Soviet Union. The world economy was starting to boom at the beginning of Reagan's second term. The quality of  life seemed to be improving. Nothing seemed to be happening as Orwell foresaw it. The brighter angels of our nature seemed to have a chance to triumph over darkness after all.

In the year 1984, the film 1984 seemed to be about the distant past, not the present or future. It looked like it took place in 1948, the time that Orwell wrote it, not in 1984. It has a deliberately cultivated aesthetic consisting of rusty machinery and industrialism gone mad. The film, like Orwell's thought process, seemed paranoid and quaint at the time at was released.

It seems a lot less quaint today.


Suzanna Hamilton shows all parts of her body in several scenes.

Shirley Stelfox lifted up her skirt to show her pubic area.

John Hurt shows his butt.

Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." We might say something similar of Orwell. In 1984 he seemed like a hopeless maroon. He seems to have learned a lot since then.

In the past two decades, the human race has taken some steps backwards in some ways. The current regime in North Korea is the best example. It seems to be almost identical to the world of Orwell, controlling the borders, controlling the information flow, keeping the populace cowed with false war fears, militaristic to the nth degree, with smiling posters of Big Brother and the thought police everywhere.

Some people see elements of Big Brotherhood in the existing trends in the United States as well. Since September 11th, liberal and libertarian fears have grown that the government is developing an ever more intrusive network to spy on its citizens, while justifying the curtailment of rights in the name of security, meanwhile whipping the populace into a war frenzy in ways somewhat similar to those pictured in 1984, using a permanent state of war (the ongoing war on terrorism) as a justification to treat prisoners as "enemy combatants" and thus deprive them of the rights they would have as "criminals".

Of course, the United States is a long way from Orwellian, isn't it? For one thing, I am free to type these words. For another, I am free to vote for the other guys next time. We have the First Amendment, a free press, and an opposing party to provide ongoing checks and balances against the abuse of power. People might have argued that the USA was headed toward an Orwellian world in 1974, with Nixon's official state paranoia and enemies lists, but much of that was gone and forgotten a decade later. Life in a democracy, after all, is about cycles.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic. 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features, but a gorgeous transfer

During this part of the cycle, Orwell seems to be speaking to us again. The film still looks like it took place in the distant past, and it is more dated than ever in that respect, but you may find some of the concepts fresher today than they were when the film was released.

By the way, the film was actually photographed during the exact 1984 time period and in the exact English locations specified in the book


When this classic George Orwell novel about a possible dark future was made into a second film in 1984, it was clear that his prediction had not come true, even though we children of the 60s once felt it well might. Watching this new DVD release, I couldn't help but think of Homeland Security, Patriot Acts One and Two, Ashcroft, the state of the economy, and the threatened war with Iraq. I would say the film is more relevant today than when it was made in 1984.

It stars John Hurt as the outer circle party member who is guilty of thought crime (he doesn't believe everything big brother tells him) and sex crime (he actually has sex with Suzanna Hamilton). Richard Burton, in his final film appearance, plays an inner circle member in charge of reprogramming Hurt.

I found the film much less terrifying than the book or the first (1956) film. The pace was a little slow, and the characters, if anything, were somewhat understated. The set design and cinematography evoked exactly the correct somber mood without obscuring the scenes. This film is at least a C, possibly higher who see us very close at the moment to this dark Orwellian future.

The Critics Vote

  • It won a BAFTA nomination for best art direction

The People Vote ...

  • Although produced lavishly, publicized (it was released in 1984, and filmed in the actual locations described in the book) it grossed only $8 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C (Tuna) or C+ (Scoop). A depressing film up to the very end, made for thoughtful people. Good movie, consistent in tone and art design, but NOT an entertainment. 

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