Down with Big Brother

Imagine a great painting of your grandfather. Because you knew him well, you appreciate how the painting brings out his character. But it might do more than that. It might bring to life a characteristic that you had not previously recognized in your grandfather, but now that you see it in the painting, you realize that he indeed did have that characteristic.  The painting makes you appreciate and understand your grandfather more than you had before.  Of course, a person who didn’t know your grandfather wouldn’t be able to appreciate the painting in the way that you do.

Jared and I watched Nineteen Eighty-Four with John Hurt and Richard Burton a couple of nights ago. The movie is to the book as the painting is to your grandfather. It makes you appreciate the book more.  The characters are immediately familiar to you; there is no adjustment from what you had imagined when you read the book to how the characters look in the movie. And although Winston’s apartment and the surrounding city are more squalid than I’d pictured them in the book, I felt immediately that the movie had it right and I’d had it wrong.  If you’ve read the book, you should see the movie.  If you haven’t read the book, you should read it just so that you can then watch the movie and see how it brings the book to life so incredibly well.

Jared and I have discussed the book at length. It’s certainly a good book, but we are both a little surprised at how high it is on “Best Book” lists.

The book tells the story of a authoritarian regime ruled by a party that doesn’t pretend to have altruistic motives. It uses its power to stay in power, period. The main character, Winston, doesn’t like the party and tries secretly to undermine it.  Spoiler alert: he fails and presumably, the party kills him, but not before torturing him into becoming a true believer. The problem with the book, in my mind, is that a truly practical party would either:

  1. Kill Winston as soon as they realized that he was rebelling.
  2. Keep him alive and make him a leader after he’d been converted. As we know from Wicked, “The Most Celebrated Are The Rehabilitated.”

If they’re just going to kill him off, why would they go through the time and effort of convincing Winston that the party was right and Big Brother was great?  The only answer we could come up with was: to have time to tell the story.  If the party had acted as it would likely have acted, the book would have been called 1964 and, according to Jared, it would have ended after about 10 pages like this:

“Perhaps,” thought Winston, “Big Brother isn’t always right.”

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