1984Synopsis: George Orwell’s landmark novel is the basis of this eerie, darkly satiric tale whose futuristic world is divided into three sections following an atomic war. London, capital of the Oceania sector, is where Edmond O’Brien is a clerk for “Big Brother,” the totalitarian government that keeps a close watch with all of its subjects. When O’Brien carries on a forbidden love affair with Jan Sterling, officials try to brainwash the couple into abandoning their free will. With Donald Pleasence, Michael Redgrave; directed by Michael Anderson (“Around the World in 80 Days”).


1984 8.0

eyelights: its forewarning of a dystopic future. its cast. its set design.
eyesores: its fake scare.

“Remember: Even in your sleep, Big Brother is watching you.”

Big Brother isn’t a TV show. But someone wants you to think that it is. In fact, Big Brother might want you to think that “Big Brother” is merely a TV show; by co-opting the concept, it is stripped it of its original meaning.

And it’s the kind of sinister misuse of language that George Orwell warned about in ‘1984’.

Big Brother.
Ministry of Love.
Hate Week.

Look them up if you don’t know them already. Read all about them. And, whatever you do, memorize these words before they are erased from our vocabulary permanently. Words are power. Words are freeing. And Big Brother wants to control you.

‘1984’ is a 1956 motion picture “freely adapted” from George Orwell’s eponymous 1949 novel. Set in London, on April 18, 1984, it presents a dystopia grown in the shadows of the atomic raids of 1965, which left only three regions: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia.

In this world, there is constant war. Not the threat of war. War. The Ministry of Peace wages war against its purported enemies in the other regions to keep the population destabilized, in perpetual fear, scrambling to avoid the sounds of planes, bombs and explosions.

In this world, everyone is being watched. Everywhere they go they are monitored by the Ministry of Love; even their homes have televisors permitting the Ministry to intrude on their privacy. Ominous posters emblazoned with “Big Brother is watching you” are omnipresent.

Everyone is suspicious of everyone else. Anyone could be a dissident, working against Oceania – so the population is trained to report any suspicious activity to the Ministry of Love. Disturbingly even young children are programmed to spy and tell on people that they suspect.

Our hero is Winston Smith, a man who works for the Ministry of Truth. The Ministry controls all information and has employees like Winston tailor it to match the word of the day. Big Brother always speaks the truth, and they ensure that whatever he says becomes truth.

If retroactively.

In today’s world, Winston is probably one of those guys rewriting Wiki pages from his government computer.

Of course it happens. Google it.

At the beginning of our film, Winston is becoming suspicious of a woman from his Ministry who appears to be following him; everywhere he goes she lurks not far behind. Winston has reason to worry: he’s just bought a contraband diary – and keeping one is punishable by death.

One day, at an assembly at work, in which all party members watch propaganda and are stirred into a frenzy against Europa, she discreetly slips him a note: “I love you”. At lunch, they briefly talk and agree to meet later. From there begins a series of clandestine meetings.

Eventually they rent an apartment above the antique shop where he bought his diary, and they have secret rendez-vous every Sunday. They speak of turning their backs on the Ministry of joining the underground. And so Winston turns to the one man he thinks could help them…

But nothing can help, or even save, them.

I’ve never actually read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this adaptation, but I have seen the 1984 adaptation a few times and this iteration echoes its more modern sibling. While I’m sure some plot points or details are different it’s accurate enough.

The biggest differences are the fact that it’s black and white and that it’s less oppressive. Although its concepts remain potent enough, one doesn’t feel as crushed under its weight as with the 1984 version. I’d say that it’s possibly far more accessible for that reason.

And yet, some aspects are more disturbing, like watching them leading a double life, tender with each other secretly and then having to pretend to be strangers the rest of time, while following the party and screaming at the top of their lungs to kill all Eurasians.


The cast is very good. I’ve read somewhere that leads Edmond O’Brien and Jan Sterling are much older than what Orwell had intended but they’re so convincing that it’s nothing to be truly concerned with. It doesn’t change anything anyway, as their age doesn’t come into play.

The film is a tight 90 minutes and tells its story very efficiently, with the notable exception of a cheap scare that finds Winston looking over Julia’s shoulder while making out: his eyes bulge, as though they were caught – but it’s just a rat, the thing he fears the most.

I even liked the look of the production, despite being a low budget British production from the mid-’50s. Yes, the set designs were spare – but it seemed contextually appropriate, as there wouldn’t be any frills in this future. And the televisors were appropriately eerie.

All told, I rather enjoyed ‘1984’; it tells its story, a story that continues to be thought-provoking even as our society slowly slips into its nightmare, well. Although it’s dated now, it retains much of its potency some 60 years later, and certainly deserves to be seen.

Frankly, I’d be curious to know what Orwell scholars have to say in its regard (i.e. how decent this adaptation actually is, what changes the filmmakers made, good or bad, …etc.). Since it was pretty much out of circulation for many years, I wonder if it’s been taken notice of.

Who else but Big Brother is watching?

Date of viewing: May 11, 2016

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