I started off writing about Vampire Circus. I do love me some Hammer films. But on Tuesday, April 4, I went to the national screening of 1984. Even then, I wasn’t sold on the idea of writing about it, so this may be less a bona fide review than a quasi-narrative series of observations.
Okay. So I saw on The Book Of Faces that Naro Cinema would be participating in this. I missed it when it first hit the big screen. I mean, it was 1984, literally. I was 19. In high school I blew off reading 1984 because my English teacher was boring and made literature boring, so I assumed Orwell would be boring. I’ve read and seen it since, but at the time, hey, what can I say? I was 19. I was an idiot.My point is, here was my chance to see it in the theater. Plus, given the rabid, willful incompetence of pretty much anyone in the White House with a pulse, who wouldn’t want to be able to say they went to this? So Co-conspirator and I decided to go. That afternoon, I got a text from my friend Manic Mechanic asking if I wanted to go with him and Angela (who, incidentally, writes The Late-night Picture Show). Off the four of us went.
I forgot how relentlessly bleak 1984 is, right through the very end. Winston Smith (a haunted-looking John Hurt) writing 2+2= in the dust isn’t hopeful. It’s tragic, suggesting the torture he underwent was pointless and/or that he is doomed to repeat it. The “I love you” is, at best, ambiguous.
Speaking of torture, the rack Smith is subjected to is rough to watch, not in a Hostel or even Clockwork Orange sense, but in the sense of the depth to which he is broken and the unfeelingness of O’Brien (Richard Burton’s final role). Even when Smith gives O’Brien what he wants, it’s irrelevant. The state does not care.
This makes the rat scene that much worse. If I didn’t consider 1984 a horror movie, I’d include this scene on a future list of non-horror movie horror moments.
Still, this is also what I enjoy about dystopian film and literature when it’s done right. It’s bleak. It’s pessimistic. It’s cynical. It offers no happy endings tied up in neat little bows. Think about the endings of 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Rollerball, Road Warrior, even The Prisoner.
But there’s something even more disturbing about tales of dystopia. They show us our baser, more venal, misanthropic, and I think truer selves. Those parts of us we don’t want to admit or acknowledge are there. Don’t believe me? Think about how most of us behave behind the wheel.
Or maybe that’s just me. It’s been suggested on more than one occasion that maybe I shouldn’t write when I’m grouchy and cantankerous. Probably not terrible advice on the face of it. Almost everywhere I’ve gone this week, I’ve been surrounded by shrieking children, obnoxious drunks, super-entitled fuckwits, and people who have never heard the phrase “indoor voice.”
When I sat down to write this post, somebody started running a weed eater outside. Once that stopped, three dogs in my building started barking, and the voice teacher on the third floor was giving a lesson. Often I refer to these as “singing” lessons. I think running a business out of your apartment violates some kind of city code, but whatever. So yeah, grouchy and cantankerous.
To be fair, I’m only grouchy and cantankerous when I feel misanthropic. It stands to reason that if I don’t write when I feel misanthropic, well…
I’d never set down another fucking word.
It should surprise nobody that, at moments like these, I can generate a good-sized list of people I’d like to see in that rat cage.
I’m not proud of that, but I’m afraid that I’m very confident in saying I’m not alone.
This national showing included an interview with director Michael Radford. At one point, he talks about how everything that happens in 1984 is happening somewhere in the world right now. It was disappointing he didn’t name names since what is possibly most unnerving about dystopia is how prophetic it can be.
In 1958, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, discussing those things from his 1932 novel that came to pass. He could just as easily have called it 1984 Revisited. Show me Sesame Street, and I’ll show you a variation of Huxley’s Hypnopaedia. Show me Orwell’s surveillance state, and I’ll show you the beginning of Caught On Camera that says “It’s estimated there’s one CCTV camera for every ten people in the UK.”
Did you see 1984 on the National Screening Day?
Leave a comment about it! I’d love to know!