WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
The now-classic John Hurt film version of George Orwell’s 1984 is probably the definitive cinematic interpretation, but the 1956 and 1954 tellings continue to attract fans. All three films are of strong interest to libertarians for their enduring anti-totalitarian message.
Review of 1984 (1984)
A very effective adaptation of the George Orwell novel, which depicts a future totalitarian society—bleak in every aspect, thoroughly controlled, and impossible to escape. [Dir: Michael Radford/ John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton/ 115 min/ Drama, SciFi-Fantasy/ Anti-Socialism, Propaganda, Government as Torturer]
This Orwellian view of a possible future draws heavily on modern experience with totalitarian socialism: People in this world are slaves to the state. They live in fear and poverty. Art and media are used to control them. History is rewritten to create an appearance of progress. People are forced to make public confessions of crimes they never committed. Families are destroyed to insure complete loyalty only to the state. And the state is in constant war with neighbors to unify the people through an “us against them” mentality. It’s a distillation of all the horrors of National Socialism, Soviet and Chinese communism, and the various variants thereof.
The story was meant as a warning to the remaining free countries, whose academic eggheads in particular seemed curiously open to socialist ideas.
It opens with a propaganda broadcast in which Goldstein, an enemy of the state, is being denounced. A crowd watches the broadcast and begins shouting feverish anti-Goldstein condemnations. The propaganda has clearly had its effect. However, in that crowd is a man who sees through at least some of it. He meets a young woman who, in her own cynical way, also sees through the propaganda. The two arrange a series of trysts in which they gradually get to know, trust, and love each other. But in this world, love for anything but the state is forbidden, and despite the most minute precautions, one day they are caught. Such are the horrors of torture and mind control that in the end the state succeeds in destroying even their love.
In the background to all this is the full panorama of Orwell’s projected totalitarian world: the control of the individual through control of the language (“newspeak”); endless broadcasts of faked production statistics intended to give the impression of material progress despite obvious widespread poverty; purges and denunciations of supposed traitors; televised executions; 24-hour surveillance via in-home monitors; and so on.
It would be hard to imagine a better dramatization of Orwell’s novel than this film. It does a good job of communicating the novel’s substance and spirit, and it has some compelling performances. In particular, the expressive John Hurt is riveting in the leading role. However, this is such a powerful portrayal that many viewers will find the ultimate defeat of the individual in the hands of the mega-state depressing, and some scenes of torture are graphic. It’s not the most uplifting film, but it’s certainly a very important one.
External Reviews of 1984 (1984)
“What Orwell feared, when he wrote his novel in 1948, was that Hitlerism, Stalinism, centralism, and conformity would catch hold and turn the world into a totalitarian prison camp. It is hard, looking around the globe, to say that he was altogether wrong.”
How to See It
Review of 1984 (1956)
A telling of the George Orwell novel, which depicts a future totalitarian society—bleak in every aspect, thoroughly controlled, and impossible to escape. [Dir: Michael Anderson/ Edmond O’Brien, Michael Redgrave, Jan Sterling/ 90 min/ Drama, SciFi-Fantasy/ Anti-Socialism, Propaganda, Government as Torturer]
How to See It
Review of 1984 (1954)
A BBC telling of the George Orwell novel, which depicts a future totalitarian society—bleak in every aspect, thoroughly controlled, and impossible to escape. [Dir: Rudolph Cartier/ Peter Cushing, André Morell, Yvonne Mitchell/ 120 min/ Drama, SciFi-Fantasy/ Anti-Socialism, Propaganda, Government as Torturer]