It Can Happen Here

For some reason, George Orwell’s 1984 is a current bestseller on Amazon. Something to do with the new administration and its forward-thinking views on the mutability of facts? I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Orwell’s satire was based on the author’s time working for the BBC, where he was a wartime propagandist. He even named his protagonist “Winston,” as if in honor of Churchill. The book is a hammer against those who looked the other way at the crimes of England’s then-ally, the USSR. Details of the show trials, the paranoia and the use of raw alcohol to cope are straight from the communist regime.

Available for free on Vudu—free, if you can stand a barrage of noisy commercials—director Michael Radford’s 1984 does an outstanding job of illustrating the book. It’s a parallel universe, where WWII is in its 45th continuous year. Loyal party member Winston Smith (John Hurt, who died last week) is starting to have doubts about the news he’s made to obliterate at the Ministry of Truth. Against the will of the state, and its symbol Big Brother, he starts an affair with a fellow party member, Julia (Suzanna Hamilton, whose intensity and haircut suggests Ayn Rand).

The standard critique of 1984 is that Julia isn’t much of a character, being a symbol of hope and romance more than a protagonist. No argument here. The necessarily hushed dialogue makes it hard for those who aren’t familiar with the plot.

In the credits, Radford notes that the movie was shot in the spring of 1984, the time frame of the novel. At that date, there was still enough post-industrial wreckage left in London to serve as backdrop for this bleak parable. That wrecked London is gone now, but it’s the linguistic cargo—the story of “newspeak,” the outlining of the censor’s calling—that still makes this tale frightening.