Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four ★★★★½

A self-serving, shallow reading of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will simply work to reinforce your own preconceived political biases and preconceptions of man’s nature. Radford in his adaptation thankfully strays away from the popular misgivings and bids for relevance that any other filmmaker during the Thatcher era would have jumped for and instead conjures something fairly close to the Orwellian revelation, something both alien and familiar. Those who read Nineteen Eighty-Four purely to stick it to the perceived fascism of the right are doing it wrong. Those who read Nineteen Eighty-Four to stick it to the governmental overreach of the left are doing it wrong. The only way to know that you are reading Nineteen Eighty-Four the right way, the deeper way, is to come away from it completely shattered of any and all political persuasions or blinding ideological comforts. 

It’s disturbing to me that Orwell’s intricate detailing of the perception of man’s totalitarian and cyclical nature is so often used as a prop in the superficial identity-fueled war of “left” versus “right” or “right” versus “left,” when the philosophy presented in the novel, and loosely depicted in the film, is far more esoteric and sophisticated. The character of O’Brien reveals the true horror of INGSOC and Big Brother’s authoritarian regime in the prolonged, torturous finale. The “Orwellian totalitarian state,” which begins as a socialist upheaval of capitalism no less, is rooted in pure subjectivity and social constructivism, willing to mold the objective truth at any given whim so as to perpetuate its obsession with the permanence of power.

As Winston writes, “GOD IS POWER.” Those dictating the terms of truth in Orwell’s world can’t distinguish between authority and power, because for the left, power is a god, and for the right, authority is power, and therefore the circle meets where authority is god. In reality, authority is competence, privilege is inherent to experience, and hierarchy is inescapable, inextricably tied to our cognitive perception and nature. But Orwell’s dystopian vision of this reality and subsequent twisting of the truth is ultimately apocalyptic for man and his consciousness. It’s emblematic of the end of a long, exhaustive game between nature and culture. This settles in once Winston reads Emmanuel Goldstein’s book — a section of the novel that I’d imagine is often skipped over by readers, but is thankfully included in excerpts by Radford in his adaptation. These polemic writings are given to Winston by O’Brien, who later claims to be the true author. The book is a decoy, a mere ploy used to trick Winston into thoughtcrime. What’s scarier, though, is that it contains such riveting insight.

Some may see Orwell’s own philosophies seeping through the cracks in the fictional Goldstein’s writings, despite it mostly serving as a parody of Trotsky’s beliefs. Trotsky didn’t share the same negative light in Animal Farm as Stalin did, mind you. O’Brien isn’t afraid to give Winston the truth — a widened perspective of history and tyranny perhaps from the author of the very book from within which they literally live — because he knows he can turn Winston’s brain to mush and mold it any way he likes. Orwell’s actual authorial voice comes through either way in prose passages like, “If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable — what then?” Indeed. What then? The metaphysics of consciousness are fickle and Radford translates this with a dreamlike air. So, beware if you walk away from Nineteen Eighty-Four thinking that you are right and they are wrong. Whoever you are. And whoever they are. You may be just as broken as Winston.

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