1984

Big Brother is watching you
Film review: 1984 (adapted from the novel by George Orwell)

In a totalitarian society governed by the voices behind “Big Brother”, Winston Smith found his secret escape in the form of keeping a journal. In a life so contrived and regimented, where men and women were forced to rewrite history in order to obey their oppressors, Winston Smith dared to fall in love. In a soul-destroying landscape of rotting children and burning debris, where his every move was accounted for by the giant glaring eyes of Big Brother, Winston Smith faced an ultimatum in a torture cell numbered 101.

1984 is a tale of the time – a horrific dystopia envisioned in George Orwell’s 1948 novel of the same name. Whether this film aims to reflect a fictional time or one that could easily be recognised in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, it warns the audience of the possible deterioration of society. In it, Director Michael Radford effectively displays key themes of Orwell’s story, such as propaganda, media manipulation, and the power of language in shaping human thought.

First impressions count, and this is certainly true of this film. The opening sequence is harrowing, and enough to induce nightmares. Hundreds of citizens of Airstrip One, enslaved, indoctrinated and mesmerised by the Party are seen shouting “Traitor!” at a screen presenting the face of the ‘enemy’. They are taught to believe wholeheartedly in the propaganda that shapes their lives. Their minds are manipulated in such a way that the most positive report of all is the fact that their chocolate rations – yes, poverty has struck – have risen by twenty five grammes. The citizens are brainwashed in every aspect of their lives; children are taught to monitor their parents for thought crimes so that they can report disloyal behaviour to the Thought Police; they are forced to wear dreary, boy-scout-style uniforms to make them feel united in a youth group, mirroring those of the Hitler Youth that existed in Nazi Germany. People are trained to be suspicious of each other from a very early age, and are encouraged to report acts of defiance against the Party.

Winston works in a corporation with a name as ironic as the Ministry of Truth, in order to eradicate the past and re-write history as the Party wants it to be told. Winston claims that “Freedom is the freedom to think that two plus two equals four,” but in the extreme case of his torture in Room 101, he must undergo the process of brainwashing until he believes that two plus two may not equal four, but five. If the Party tells him it is five, then the answer is and will only ever be five (or at least, until they update the last edition of the Newspeak dictionary).

As part of the Party’s agenda, publicity is essential in promoting the values of their ideal society. There may be a war going on outside, but it is designed to be a constant, continuous struggle, and not to be won, in order to bring Society together for one cause. Publicity of the Party means that Big Brother’s unforgiving face is on posters plastered everywhere, to remind people that they are forever being watched. The blood red colour in the background of the posters is another stark contrast to the otherwise bleak landscape of Airstrip One, and it acts as a warning to the citizens who cannot escape their lives governed by this figure. Furthermore, a distinct female voice constantly recites statistics through speakers, supposedly to encourage people that the situation is improving. The effect in reality is the opposite. The voice is a reminder of the eternal struggle of the people under the Party’s regime, and the depressing world in which they live.

The lack of freedom is expressed throughout the film, either through the almost monochromatic visual tones, or the destructive imagery of inconceivable living conditions (such as Winston’s room), created to shock the viewer. Colour is used sparingly in the film, so that when an extreme close up of Julia’s red lips or a wide shot of the lush green hills of Winston’s dreamscape appears, the viewer is left with an uncomfortable sense of danger.

Despite the wealth of the Party, the population is left to believe that they are no less worse off, and left to suffer with limited rations of food, as well as dormitories resembling prison cells, and tentative relationships. No one is ever allowed privacy, as helicopters hover endlessly around the dilapidated landscape, as a constant reminder that “Big Brother” is watching them, like their conscience. Most iconically, George Orwell created the term “Newspeak” for 1984: an abbreviated language used to make communication more precise and less liberating. Parsons, Winston’s neighbour, is the character who engages the most significantly with this, and often uses the term “doubleplusgood” to express satisfaction. As well as spoken language, there is no freedom in thought, as they are taught that individuality leads to rebellion and disobedience.

Can you imagine your work colleagues spying on you, or your own children reporting you to the police for illegal, illicit thought patterns? Perhaps not. But how about interactive flat screens fixed to walls, or cameras following you on the streets? How is it possible that in 1948, when flatscreen televisions and closed-circuit television cameras were not yet invented, Orwell could conjure up such ideas? To what extent have we somehow fulfilled Orwell’s prophecy in our times, and how can we ensure that we do not create a reality for his most unbearable dystopic dreams? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Advertisements

2014 Book Wrap-Up (Part 2/4)

(11) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

if

Series: If I Stay (book 1)

My rating: **

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: a girl who has a tragic accident followed by an out-of-body experience, where she must decide whether she wants to die or wake up to a world where her family are dead.

Pros: the narration flips between the past and present to create variation; the family of the protagonist is described in a lot of detail; one of the key themes is music and the conflict between genres, which is something different and interesting.

Cons: it is not the most exciting plot and the ending does not evoke any particular emotions; it does not live up to the expectations.

Would recommend to: fans of The Fault In Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why

(12) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fan

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: *****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: a first-year college student who writes fanfic for a series similar to Harry Potter, and has a twin sister who could not be more different.

Pros: it’s so relatable! So many feels! Rainbow Rowell is an incredible writer!

Cons: nothing – this book is perfect.

Would recommend to: All teenage fangirls

(13) Horde by Ann Aguirre

hor

Series: the Razorland trilogy (book 3)

My rating: ****

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A group of hunters trying to kill the remaining horde of zombie-like creatures in different settlements, in order to create peace.

Pros: It follows on from Outpost really well; there are so many action scenes; I like that Deuce finally figures out that she can be a Huntress and a girl at the same time; this book has the best epilogue I have ever read -it’s adorable and makes you feel very satisfied.

Cons: The narrative spans over a long period of time, so it cuts out days or weeks, which ruins the flow at times; I was a bit disappointed that the Freaks could speak and communicate in the end; it was very long and some of the battles could have been cut out?

Would recommend to: Someone who likes a lot of action

(14) Promised by Caragh O’Briencar

Series: Birthmarked trilogy (book 3)

My rating: ***

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A young woman leading a group of nomads to a walled city for refuge, who faces imprisonment and DNA experimentation against her will as a sacrifice.

Pros: as Gaia brings the group back to where she grew up, it links all three books of the trilogy together nicely.

Cons: the start feels a bit disjointed from the end of Prized; the relationship between the protagonists doen’t seem as swoonworthy as in other YA novels – even though Gaia accepted the proposal, I wasn’t convinced that she was truly in love (and with the right character!) and I ended up not caring too much.

Would recommend to: Someone who wants to finish the Birthmarked trilogy (just for a sense of peace)!

(15) Every Day by David Levithan

evrSeries: Stand-alone

My rating: ****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: A genderless presence waking up every day inside a different person’s body, who falls in love and tries to have a relationship in their many states of being.

Pros: it’s such an original idea, and it manages to answer all your questions and doubts about the process by the end; there are so many interesting characters’ lives we get a glimpse of throughout the book; there are lots of profound statements and messages in the writing.

Would recommend to: Younger teens with a sense of adventure

(16) Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

cam

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: ****

Genre: Non-fiction

What it’s about: A true story of the only prisoner to have escaped a camp in North Korea, and how he lived before and after his incredible escape.

Pros: this is a brilliant insight into the totalitariansim of North Korea; the story is gripping and harrowing.

Would recommend to: Someone who likes inspiring stories from other cultures.

(17) The Death Of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell bee

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: ***

Genre: Mystery

What it’s about: Two sisters living home alone who, having buried their parents in the garden, are faced with demands from a man owed money from their parents, and a kind neighbour who tries to protect and raise them.

Pros: it’s a heart-warming story with narration shared between two very different personalities; the general idea is completely unique; the inclusion of setting and context is consistent.

Cons: the subject matter is sometimes too graphic; some passages are a little boring.

Would recommend to: Someone looking for something completely different.

(18) The One by Kiera Cassone

Series: The Selection (book 3)

My rating: ****

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A girl in the running to become the next princess, who must decide whether her heart belongs to the prince, or to a boy she has always loved.

Pros: this book is so much better than The Elite and was a really nice ending to America’s Selection story; look at the cover – it’s stunning; America finally makes her mind up about who she wants to be with.

Cons: the sub-plot about the rebels is irritating and is never explored deeply enough; the protagonist makes friends with the enemy but then something bad happens to the ex-enemy…

Would recommend to: Someone who likes modern-day princesses

(19) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart lie

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: *****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: A wealthy family who own a private island and holiday there together every year, even though the tension rises as each sister demands to be left with the most riches in their father’s will.

Pros: the writing style is at times poetic, and always engaging; having family politics as the subtext makes for a more intriguing plot.

Cons: the author sneakily creates a huge plot twist at the end which messes with your mind!

(20) Looking For Alaska by John Green

lfaSeries: Stand-alone

My rating: ***

Genre: just YA

What it’s about: a group of unlikely friends at a mixed boarding school, who enjoy pulling large-scale pranks, and end up trying to solve a mystery about the death of their close companion.

Pros: all the characters are quirky in their own way; there are lots of passages that made me laugh out loud – I’ve never laughed so much whilst reading a book (John Green is quite the story-teller); the book is extremely quotable!

Cons: it reveals bad habits to younger readers.

Would recommend to: Someone who likes mysteries, and possibly someone who’s been to a boarding school because they could relate.

My rating system:

* means it’s really bad ** means it’s not that great *** means it’s mediocre **** means it’s really good ***** means it’s amazing

Note: let’s be honest, I have no idea what a ‘Contemporary’ novel even is…

The Maze Runner

Film review: The Maze Runner

WARNING: There will, as usual, be spoilers involved.

My peak cinema season kicked off with a trip to see The Maze Runner, which I had much anticipated (especially as the release date had been postponed from Valentine’s Day ’14). Don’t judge me, but I actually took a notebook and pen with me to the cinema, so that I could record my reactions there and then, as the story unfolded and Dylan O’Brien’s charm radiated from the screen. Although it was (obviously) dark, and I couldn’t see what I was writing, I found it to be a useful experience, and I think I’ll do it in the future.

Let me first talk about the opening scene. For the first few seconds, we are left in darkness, and the black screen allows for sound alone to set the scene. You can hear all these clanging, mechanical noises, and then suddenly, Thomas, our protagonist, comes into view. As the lift rattles and rises in the shaft, the tempo increases, and you can actually feel his fear of the unknown. Even in those first few seconds, we get a sense of danger, and the not-too-subtle ‘WCKD’ stamp on a crate hints at what is yet to be discovered about Thomas’ situation.

Characters

  • Thomas was by far the most interesting character to observe. I liked his reaction of pure bewilderment as he first entered the Glade, how he questioned the rules, and how he let his moral judgment override the expectations set in place for him. I believed in Thomas – he gave us all hope – and he just so happened to be played by a gorgeous actor who nailed the role.
  • Minho (pronounced ‘Meen-ho’ in the film – don’t you hate it when names sound different in your head?!) wasn’t introduced near the beginning, even though he is a key character in the story. In the scene where Gally challenges Thomas to a fight, you can see Minho’s face burning with silent rage – the intensity in his eyes. It becomes obvious that he is a deep thinker and uses his experience in the Glade/maze to make wise decisions. Also, he is well respected among the Gladers, and doesn’t appreciate Thomas’ risky behaviour – “You don’t get it: we’re already dead.”
  • Gally was perfectly portrayed as the stocky, brutish bully by Will Poulter. What struck me was the way he was obsessed with keeping to the rules and his refusal to accept change. As soon as Thomas stepped on the scene, he knew things would be different, and I believe that he feared losing the attention and power he had earned from the Gladers. His strength and commitment to the community’s wellbeing was admirable, but his need to belong became increasingly more desperate throughout the film, creating tension in the Glade.
  • Newt was a cool character to see presented on film. He could be seen nonchalantly leaning against wooden posts or casually explaining the ground rules to Thomas. He was the kind of guy I would have wanted to become friends with – friendly but edgy and shrewd. Thomas Brodie-Sangster was the actor: lanky, dirty blonde hair, and smug smile to complete the look.
  • Alby didn’t do much for me. Although it became clear that he was the most respected Glader who led the community, he wasn’t the strongest character, or one that made an impact on me; I didn’t feel particularly sad when he died, and I felt that life in the Glade could continue without him.
  • Chuck was absolutely adorable! I just wanted to pinch his chubby cheeks and give him a huge hug! He was very well cast, and really brought out the true essence of the character.
  • Winston was a character that I could not remember from the book. Therefore, I was surprised by the amount of dialogue he was given, despite not being a main character.
  • One character I do remember from the book is Frypan, but I don’t recall his appearance the film. His name was etched into the wall with the rest of the Gladers’, but his name was never used in dialogue, and I was a bit upset that he wasn’t part of the main cast.
  • Onto the women… Teresa was simply awful. Kaya Scodelario’s performance ruined the film for me, in a way. I know that a few other cast members were British, but her American accent was the least consistent and the least convincing. Teresa is supposed to be special, but she ended up blending in with the rest of the Gladers almost immediately, and accepting her situation without much debate. Overall, I was not impressed, and expected more from the character.
  • Ava Paige wasn’t bad… I just wanted to say that she looked and acted exactly like Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews in Divergent, and Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder in The Giver. The hair and white dress, as well as posture and speech control was mostly the same, so she didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
  • The Grievers weren’t what I expected at all. Everyone’s interpretations are different, but somehow I expected a slug-like beast with mechanical saws, spears and pincers poking out of its body. Instead, we saw giant robotic spiders with gooey heads and a claw at the end of a scorpion-style tail. For me, what ruined the effect was their movement. They scuttled along too fast, as if they weren’t even touching the ground, so they looked a bit ridiculous in places. I know it’s fictional anyway, so that shouldn’t matter, but to me, aesthetics always matter!
  • In general, the characters were convincing Gladers who seemed to know their place. Sometimes their actions (particularly those who had no dialogue) seemed contrived, but mostly you could tell they had Glader instincts; eg. at one point in the maze, Winston is afraid the trapped Griever will suddenly lash out, so his hand instinctively goes to his knife in his belt.

Cinematography

  • Light: When Thomas was in the lift, it was dark, but when he was let out, the brightness was overwhelming – his escape brought relief and a sense of safety. However, when the Gladers were dragged out of the WICKED building, the natural light of the scorched desert landscape caused something like the opposite of hope – the fear of reality. I thought that these examples of contrast in light helped to intensify the characters’ emotions and circumstances. The use of fire in the evening was a simple yet effective way of creating atmosphere in the Glade. Candle lighting cast a mysterious, warm glow onto the faces of the Gladers, whereas the bonfire sparked a dynamic energy among them.
  • Colour: I loved the warm, earthy tones of the images in the film. The brown, beige, cream and pale blue clothing worn by the Gladers blended in well with their environment, and the brown hues added to the raw, almost rustic feel of that setting. The maze itself had a different feel altogether, with its silvery grey walls, dark green ivy and red stencilled numbers. The cold colours here made the space seem more confined, and presented a dark, damp, metallic labyrinth. Another other complete contrast was the desert outside the maze, which was a bright, golden colour. I thought that this over-baked panorama perfectly represented the ruined land caused by the Flare.
  • Shots: Overall, the film was visually stunning. Yet instead of making it look too Hollywood-esque (like in The Book Thief, where you wouldn’t believe there was actually a war going on) the filmmakers managed to keep an authentic feel to the settings, whilst using impressive shots to tell the story from a futuristic point of view. I liked the way the focus would shift from background to foreground, often to sharpen the image quality for a character’s emotion in a close-up and to blur the candlelit backdrop. The focus shifting also lent itself to switching between dialogue between two characters standing near each other. Whilst in the maze, the camera would sometimes show the open sky, then pan down to the claustrophobic space between the walls, and down to the Runners. This smooth action gave us a sense of location and time of day whilst the Runners were below, before we saw them in action, and it was very effective, in my opinion. One other aspect that I liked was the hand-held camera work as the Gladers were running through the crop fields. There was just enough shaky footage to get a sense of urgency and panic, without over-doing it to the point of making you feel uneasy (like in The Hunger Games, for example).

Sound

Sound is definitely not my forte, but I shall attempt to describe my thoughts… Firstly, Alby’s voice was unclear, and often I could just hear a faint whispering coming from the general direction of where he stood. Strangely enough, the voices of other characters seemed to be projected behind us in the audience, no matter where they were on screen. The sound effects were good because they set the scene of a tropical jungle landscape for the Glade, and the mechanical noises complemented the metallic maze. Perhaps the stereotypical tribal noises were a bit over-the-top, though. I also felt that the musical score itself didn’t go very well with the on-screen action. It seemed like a very generic action movie soundtrack, as if anyone could have bought it from a loyalty-free website to layer behind a home-made video for YouTube. In terms of tempo, the music’s increased with the pace of the visuals, but it was nothing that enhanced the experience, and sometimes the sound seemed to clash with the images because attention to detail was overlooked. To put it more simply: it wasn’t exactly Pirates of the Caribbean.

Comparing the film to the book

Although I must have read the book at least 4 years ago, there are still parts that have stuck with me over time. I can’t think of many obvious details that were missed out about the world of the Gladers (except for Thomas and Teresa’s telepathy and the WICKED beetles with cameras), which is a good sign. There was the same idea that you were learning about Thomas’ situation as he was, because his memory had been erased. Everyone starts off from the same point, without prior knowledge, so the storytelling is very important in the film. I’m pleased that the Gladers’ vocabulary was kept in the dialogue. I remember hearing ‘shank’, ‘greenie’, ‘klunked’ and ‘shuck’ (although I wish ‘shuck-faced shank’ could have been used too). I thought that Chuck died before the Gladers broke through to the WICKED HQ, so I was so happy that he lived through that episode. However, I was utterly mortified when he was killed later on. This had a bigger impact on me because I wasn’t expecting his death at that point (my memory must have been wrong, or they could have changed the ending). It was emotional for the audience as well as the characters who had grown so attached to Chuck. In the book series, ‘bergs’ – flying ships – were described as the transportation used, yet in the film, somehow all of the surviving Gladers could squeeze into a small helicopter. Will bergs be used in The Scorch Trials or will helicopters be the standard mode throughout the series of films? Finally, I think that the ending was altered in the film. I recall that in the book, the Gladers just about broke into the HQ, were met by some staff, and the rest was left ambiguous so that questions could be answered in The Scorch Trials. I personally think that the film could have ended with a shot of the white light at the end of the tunnel, rather than spending a few extra precious minutes explaining the Trials and taking the characters out of the HQ. I can see why it ended the way it did, but my idea could have been equally as effective, in my opinion. To conclude, the themes of the book (for example, team building, determination and a sense of community) were illustrated very well in the film, and I doubt that James Dashner could have been disappointed with the way in which his imagination was transformed into another medium of reality.

Questions left unanswered in the film

  • Who were the men clad in black at the end, ushering the Gladers out of the HQ? What was their role and who did they work for?
  • Who was the man in the helicopter?
  • How did the Gladers conceptualise time? One character said, “Meet me in the woods in half an hour,” but none of them wore watches, so how would they have a clue about time?
  • How could the Gladers leave with no food or supplies? The maze was huge and they didn’t know how long they’d be in there for. What if they needed medical equipment etc? Were they so confident that they could find a way out so quickly?
  • Why did Ava Paige feign her death? 

Question for my readers: Have you seen The Maze Runner? If so, do you agree with my ideas and interpretations, or did you have a completely different experience at the cinema? Let me know in the comments below!

Aside

Writing101 Day#2: A Room With A View

June

22ND SEPTEMBER 2132.
15.5 HOURS SINCE I LAST SAW DAY.
LEVEL INFINITY HOTEL LANDING PAD, ROSS CITY.

 

I step out of the plane and take in the gleaming whiteness of my surroundings. We have landed magnetically inside a glowing red ring atop a skyscraper, where the air is pure and refreshing. I’d imagined Antarctica, of all places, to greet me with a frosty rush of wind or a blinding glare from the sun reflected on a snowy landscape. But apparently, Ross City is not that place. Instead, I stand amid an urban jungle of glossy structures that stretch into the clouds, all interconnected by wide bridges that overlook the metropolitan buzz some 300 storeys below. Peering over the edge of the platform, I realise how nauseatingly high we are, and take a step backwards to steady myself. However, looking upwards is just as dizzying, as the city seems to be vertically infinite.

Before I can get lost in my thoughts of wonder, a pair of glasses is pressed into my palm, and I am told to wear them for the duration of the visit. They are slim and the frames are made from a lightweight metal; when I place them on my face, they feel almost invisible. I open my eyes to find a brighter, more vivid cityscape around me – but that is not the only difference. Every person in my periphery has their name and a numerical status floating above their head, like a simulation in a video game. I imagine what the numbers could represent and why they are needed here. Anden walks over and flashes me one of his effortless smiles, whilst asking me to rejoin the group: his number increases from zero to one. A smile = a point? Fascinating.

Lady Medina leads us along an extravagant ivory bridge, into the Level Infinity Hotel. With each step I take, rainbow-infused swirls formulate on the plush carpet under my feet. The hotel’s foyer is lined with projections of live footage from various parts of Ross City. One screen, showing young boys racing through a street on hoverboards, catches my attention. This right here is the future. No wonder the Republic needs their help.