Throughout the movie's duration, the director presents the viewer with a terrible vision of a world in which human freedom is utterly crushed under the weight of an oppressive government unconcerned with its citizens' welfare and willing to deceive and terrorize them for its own ends. This authoritarian regime brutally stifles all independent thought and demands absolute, mindless loyalty and unquestioning faith in the progress it claims to have brought about. Numerous details, however, as images of filthy, decaying cities filled with dilapidated buildings and the blaring words of propagandistic news reports lauding accomplishments that are, in fact, degenerations, repeatedly remind the viewer of the truthlessness of such claims and show how much material prosperity has deteriorated since Big Brother's acquisition of power. The people of Oceania live in squalid poverty and pitiful deprivation. Their lives are filled with constant fear of arrest by the Thought Police or death by missiles hurled at them from one of the countries with which their own is at war. Barely surviving, they are manipulated by a regime that regularly tells them of their affluence and agitates them into patriotic frenzies to arouse their anger against Big Brother's enemies. The oppressiveness of the society depicted in 1984 elicits such dread in the viewer that watching the film can be an emotionally exhausting experience.
The potency of the feelings evoked by this vision is greatly increased by the skilled performances of all the movie's actors. John Hurt's portrayal of Winston Smith is absolutely brilliant. He shows us a beleaguered man, crushed by a wretched, disheartening existence, but one who still possesses intelligence and integrity. He draws us into Winston's world and makes us feel not only the character's misery and despair, but also the hopeless joy he finds in his relationship with Julia and the bravery of his daring to question Big Brother. Richard Burton's portrayal of O'Brien, a high ranking member of Oceania's ruling party who, apparently, befriends Winston, is likewise masterful. His understated performance gives the character a terrifying authenticity. In fact, not one of the film's players fails to add to its poignancy.
Thanks to such virtues, Radford has managed to stir up in 1984 a deep sense of horror at a vision of humanity crushed under a totalitarian state and has created an effective film as a consequence.
Review by Keith Allen
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