Is What It Shows
It is a pet peeve of mine to discover films whose point is undermined by its container. Most of these are the trivial case of movies about taking chances and being unique, but the form of the movie is the complete opposite.
What we have here is similar, but in an interesting way.
The book is a minor work, poorly written with dim vision that would have long ago faded away. It is a morality tale that follows in the tradition of 18th century Christian lesson-stories. But it accidentally fell into a niche that is convenient for the US public school system. That system has to recognize the plain fact that reading is the very first step to a life of the mind.
But education is an industrialized affair, so the core of that truth is bleached down to books that are an easy read, that have no ambiguity or layering, books that have a “message” that can be clearly stated and about which simple questions can be asked. 1984 meets these criteria, so has been elevated to the status of an “important book”. In fact, 1984 has survived that status in the last decade of creating similar “important books” whose “message” isn’t even in the text, rather the fact that they have “diverse” authors.
But the truths in this book aren’t truths at all; they are instead simple slogans.
Now, along comes a credible movie version of the book, which makes teaching even easier. Students can now glue themselves to a screen like scabs, to catch the simple point on which they can be questioned. How is this substantially different than the perfidious conditions depicted?
(There is one difference: the world of the movie is unrelentingly bleak and sexless. The movie is as well, but it has nudity, which — I suppose — makes a statement about freedom of some kind to junior high schoolers.)
“Brazil” was a flawed project, but much richer in exploiting the notion that it was all a reality constructed by the narrator during a session in a related but similarly constructed world. Why not show complex films. There are many with this same notion: freedom in sex as a metaphor for freedom of the mind in a political context. Though that gets pretty tired, there are projects that are at least rich.
… or gasp! Have kids read intelligent, layered books?
As a film, it is all a matter of style, that retrotechno look that begins with familiar Nazi cinema propaganda and extrapolates forward. In this case, the style is copied from Ridley Scott’s “1984” commercial for Apple’s Superbowl introduction of the Macintosh. That little film still reverberates today.
You could, as a viewer, grow this into a film with depth by adding your own backstory to the Hamilton character and imputing her as the writer and collaborator with Goldstein.
Posted in 2003
Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.