Orwell Cinema: Living in the Land of the Blind
By John W. Whitehead
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face.”
It has been 60 years since George Orwell published his novel 1984. Described as political satire, it is, in reality, a political prophecy.
1984 portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom. Snitches and surveillance cameras are everywhere. And people are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of such thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.”
Orwell’s story revolves around Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party. When Winston meets and falls in love with Julia, they begin seeing each other secretly, thus embarking on an illegal relationship. They are eventually arrested by the Thought Police and placed into reprogramming.
Much of what Orwell envisioned in his futuristic society has now come to pass. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. The government, as we have learned, listens in on our telephone calls and reads our emails. Political correctness—a philosophy that discourages diversity—has become a guiding principle of modern society. Hate crime legislation punishes thoughts. We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the state. And much of the population is either hooked on illegal drugs or ones prescribed by doctors.
All of this has come about with little more than a whimper from a clueless American populace largely comprised of nonreaders and television somnambulists. But we have been warned about this in novels and movies for years. In fact, film may be the best representation of what we now face as a society on the verge of fulfilling Orwell’s prophecy.
The following are ten of my favorite films on the topic.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Adapted from Ray Bradbury’s novel and directed by François Truffaut, this film depicts a futuristic society in which books are banned, and firemen ironically are called on to burn contraband books—451° Fahrenheit being the temperature at which books burn. This film is an adept metaphor for our obsessively politically correct society where everyone now pre-censors speech. Here a brainwashed people addicted to television and drugs do little to resist governmental oppressors.
THX 1138 (1970). George Lucas’ directorial debut, this is a somber view of a dehumanized society totally controlled by the state. The people are force-fed drugs to keep them passive, and they no longer have names but only letter/number combinations such as THX 1138. Any citizen who steps out of line is quickly brought into compliance by police equipped with “pain prods”—electro-shock batons. Sound like tasers?
A Clockwork Orange (1971). This masterpiece from director Stanley Kubrick presents a future ruled by sadistic punk gangs and a chaotic government that cracks down on its citizens sporadically. Alex is a violent punk who finds himself in the grinding, crushing wheels of injustice. This film may accurately portray the future of western society that grinds to a halt as oil supplies diminish, environmental crises increase, traditional morality is destroyed and the only thing left is brute force.
Soylent Green (1973). The year is 2022 in an overpopulated New York City. A policeman investigating a murder discovers the grisly truth about what soylent green—the principal food for people—is really made of. The theme is chaos where the world is ruled by ruthless corporations whose only goal is profit.
Blade Runner (1982). In a 21st century Los Angeles, a world-weary cop tracks down a handful of renegade “replicants” (synthetically produced human slaves). Life is now dominated by mega-corporations, and people sleepwalk along rain-drenched streets. This is a world where human life is cheap, where anyone can be exterminated at will. This film questions what it means to be human in an inhuman world.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). The best adaptation of Orwell’s dark tale, this film visualizes the total loss of freedom in a world dominated by technology and its misuse and the crushing inhumanity of an omniscient state.
Brazil (1985). Sharing a similar vision of the near future as 1984 and Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, this is arguably director Terry Gilliam’s best work, one replete with a merging of the fantastic and stark reality. Here a mother-dominated, hapless clerk takes refuge in flights of fantasy to escape the ordinary drabness of life. The longing for more innocent, free times lies behind the vicious surface of this film.
V for Vendetta (2006). Society is ruled by a corrupt and totalitarian government where everything is run by an abusive secret police. A vigilante named V dons a mask and leads a rebellion against the state.
Children of Men (2006). It is 2027, and the world is without hope since humankind has lost its ability to procreate. Civilization has descended into chaos and is held together by a military state and a government that attempts to keep its totalitarian stronghold on the population. But hope for a new day comes when a woman becomes inexplicably pregnant.
Land of the Blind (2006). This dark political satire is based on several historical incidents in which tyrannical rulers were overthrown by new leaders who proved just as evil. A demented fascist ruler of a troubled land named Everycountry has two main interests: tormenting his underlings and running his country’s movie industry. Citizens who are perceived as questioning the state are sent to “re-education camps” where the state’s concept of reality is drummed into their heads.
Likewise, as Orwell’s novel concludes, Winston and Julia are taken to the Ministry of Love as part of the reprogramming process. Since Winston fears rats, he is tortured with rats until his feelings for Julia are destroyed. As confirmation that he sees the new reality of the state, Winston writes that 2+2=5. The reprogramming is successful. He is cured. As the final sentence of Orwell’s book concludes, “He loved Big Brother.”
Let us hope this is not an epitaph for our times.