6079 Smith W., world-weary hero of the new, improved "1984," would be suprised at how happily millions of Americans hop out of bed, turn on their tubes and tune in the exercise shows.
Smith, an Outer Party Worker at the Ministry of Truth, can't turn off the two- way telescreen that fills the wall of his squalid cell in totalitarian Oceania. Despite a persistent cough and a frail physique, he is awakened daily by an aerobics stormtrooper who forces him to touch his toes for the greater good of the Party. Big Brother is watching, so Smith touches his toes.
Magnavox-shaped screens, pneumatic tubes and dial phones are the tools of Orwellian totalitarianism. Orwell's widow, dismayed by the first film version of "1984," asked writer-director Michael Radford to faithfully create her husband's vision down to the technology of the time. Thus Radford's "1984" has the look of Fritz Lang's socialistic nightmare "Metropolis," and not the silicon chic of Ridley Scott's Apple commercial, also inspired by the book.
Scott's vision might have been perfection, but Radford's comes close in its faithfulness to detail; its dismaying, draining recreation of Orwell's dread vision of a world cannibalized by war; its middleclass zombies; its infected proles; its denial of the individual.
John Hurt, gaunt, pale, trembling and stooped, is a perfect, drooping drone. And Suzanna Hamilton, as sensual as Nastassja Kinski, is Julia, the lover who betrays him when their affair is discovered by the Thought Police. Richard Burton, in his last movie role, is the privileged Inner Party leader O'Brien, who not only dupes Hurt but also tortures him into a sadistic father-son relationship. While Burton's last character is not an appealing one, it is certainly a crisply and elegantly acted one. A last bravo.
Enhanced by a spooky Eurythmics score, the picture is gloomy, grey, peeling paint, not brightened but sometimes lightened by treasures from the past -- a piece of coral in a glass ball, the poetry in a child's song. It has the look of wartime newsreels of London during the blitzkrieg or a prison documentary. Ugly and desperately sad.
The war, Hitler and Lenin, the times all spurred Orwell's cautionary novel, an unthinkable future of doublethink and doublespeak. War is Peace. History is forbidden. And so are orgasms.
Every year, any year, is the year to see "1984."
1984 (R) -- At K.B. Cinema.