Yes, they actually made a movie of 1984 in 1984. (In fact, it was shot during the very months of April through June, in London, that mark the setting of George Orwell’s novel.) Michael Radford’s adaptation stars John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton as Winston and Julia, deemed rebels against the state for their selfish pursuit of pleasures of the flesh. ((The ever-pallid Hurt, who has always looked one hot meal away from death, proves ideal as the barely-alive Winston. Years later, he’d get a measure of revenge by playing a Big Brother-like leader of a totalitarian Britain in V for Vendetta.) Richard Burton, underplaying for once, uses his mellifluous voice to chilling effect as interrogator O’Brien.
Roger Deakins (the great cinematographer of most of the Coen brothers’ movies) captures a gray, desolate landscape of perpetually war-ravaged Oceania. The technology is as Orwell might have imagined it – not the futuristic, gleaming sci-fi gadgets that were already present in the real-life 1984, but the rotary telephones and pneumatic tubes that were already long obsolete. The result is a sense of a world where innovation has stopped because imagination and initiative are forbidden. In such a world, it’s not necessary for Big Brother to watch you all the time, only to make you feel like you’re being watched all the time.