Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984 is a screen adaptation of George Orwell’s famous novel, directed by Michael Radford. It was symbolically filmed and released in 1984, and received great critical reception, something that is usually difficult for movie adaptations of well known pieces of literature to achieve.
The film’s plot is set in a dystopia ruled by the repressive totalitarian regime of Oceania, one of the world’s three superpowers. The protagonist is Winston Smith (played John Hurt), a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth, who is tasked with rewriting historical facts and wiping out the existence of certain people, as the written propaganda plays a huge role in shaping the minds of the citizens into blind obedience. He spends his life reviewing the news and modifying them for publication, “correcting” the past, to be in line with the ever changing politics of the Party.
The story begins on April 4, 1984, at 1 p.m., though Smith is unsure if this is an actual date since the regime had a habit of constantly manipulating history. Smith reads the book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism, written by renegade Emmanuel Goldstein. It is implied that a nuclear war took place before the civil war during which the Party managed to rise and establish the order that suited it.
Oceania, which corresponds to the Anglo-Saxon world, is a state led by a single party which, thirty years ago, came to power in a “glorious revolution” and established a collectivist and totalitarian regime, called the IngSoc. The Party is personified by the face of the omnipresent leader of the revolution, Big Brother. The state controls people through continuous propaganda against the enemies of the Party, the development of a Newspeak, which reduces vocabulary a little more each year, the revision of the archives. Everyone knows that there is, however, a mysterious and much more terrifying Thought Police.
Although he is aware that Big Brother is constantly watching his every move and listening to every word spoken, he begins his own struggle against order. What started as secret journal writing turns into complete disdain for social norms, which forbid everything that is individual. And what started out as confusing feelings for Julia (played by Suzanna Hamilton), turns into his biggest crime yet, as relationships, especially those of sexual nature, are strictly prohibited.
A whole new life begins with this romantic relationship that they must keep secret. They start renting out a room in the proletarian zone. Winston persuades himself that one of his hierarchical superiors, O’Brien (played by Richard Burton), member of the Inner Party, could be a member of the Brotherhood, a resistance organization led by Goldstein. In an encounter with Julia, both are arrested. Winston is tortured, while having to face the worst of his fears, as the objective of these tortures is the total surrender of the individual.
The book this movie was based on will always be socially relevant, and this adaptation is by far the best one. The film is captivating to those who haven’t read the book as well, it is captivating for anyone worried about the erasure of critical thinking.