Winston Smith is in love. Who new 1984 could uplift in such a manner? John Hurt conveys the contentment to chilling perfection in Michael Radford’s 1984 adaptation of the Orwell masterpiece.
Set against a baron and bare necessitated population on the brink – and under complete submission, Winston doubts his own amorous feelings. So much so, that he thinks, he dreams, he regrets and takes a lover.
Going through the constricting motions designated by INSOC (English Socialism), the film marks the despair with a distinct lack of dialogue. Winston’s jaundiced face succumbing to unending big brotherly directive, while yearning for meaning and bewildered by conformity as his sullen eyes search for a kindred spirit.
In denial, Winston’s mixed feelings are an easy read. Unobtrusively noted in the glancing looks of party member O’Brien, played by Richard Burton, the regime’s unchallenged form of control is blatantly evoked in the faces of the film’s children. Well fed and self-righteously guarding the revolution, their judgmental leers provide a subtle terror among the masses and do justice to the all encompassing presence engendered in the literary version.
That is until the unassuming leadership deems it time to officially intervene. An approach methodical applied, the state ensnares the victim. Here, Richard Burton incrementally draws in Winston as a smooth metamorphosis is made from father figure offering revolutionary hope to that of undertaker. This all occurs from the legendary English actor in his final film with no discernible change in tone or temperament.
But in actuality, for INSOC’s purposes, Burton’s place is as high priest. For those who’ve never read the book, it’s not enough for dissidents to simply die. They must freely come to understand their own failings before demonstrating unconditional love of Big Brother by submitting themselves for confession and ultimately execution.
It follows then that pleading to be killed to end the pain does not serve the state’s needs. The same goes for laying down lies to placate the tormentors. As such, Richard Burton masterfully inflicts pain on a crude rack while carefully nurturing Winston toward the truths the state has declared – War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, 2+2 = 5.
A broken body and Winston not ready to submit, he declares that man will eventually triumph over the organism known as INSOC. To that, Burton stands him up in front of the mirror as “the last man on earth” and even handedly rips a tooth from Winston’s head.
The point well made, Winston is now ready for Room 101 and the final consummation of his love. A different form of terror for each dissenter, O’Brien tells him, Rats are Winston’s Achilles Heel. Leaving this to your imagination, no defense is imaginable for the victim as Winston wishes the nightmare on the human love that led him to his ultimate fate.