Cinematic Dystopia

I’ve been a big fan of the writings of George Orwell ever since I lived in London in the fall of 2008. I remember checking out his most famous fiction pieces, Animal Farm and 1984, from the Kensington Central Library. Perusing the works at Victoria Station, on the train to Surrey, on any double-decker bus I took, I explored Orwell’s indignant cry against social injustice and flagrant fascism in his fiction, as well as in the essays I read in my British history class.

I was fascinated. Orwell was unapologetic as he portrayed, in vastly creative ways, how society could be manipulated until long-extolled virtues such as truth and justice were twisted into sham ideologies which benefited the cunning and exploited the passionate yet uneducated and often voiceless populace.

This evening, I watched a film-version of Orwell’s dystopian novella Animal Farm.

It was an interesting piece. The dialogue is halting in its outdatedness (and in its antiquated English accents, and trust me, I’ve seen my share of British-voiced cinema), and it’s easy to assume Orwell’s socialistic message is lost midst the cartoonish representation of the famed dystopia’s political propaganda and subsequent repression of the masses.

At first I couldn’t imagine a film (however proudly lauded as a Technicolor production) could elicit a more emotional reaction from me than Orwell’s original work. But as the animated film portrayed (to name just one, powerful example) Benjamin the Donkey’s mournful brays as he desperately chases after the Wilbur Glue Factory’s cart, crying out heart-breakingly against the injustice that Animal Farm’s most devoted servant Boxer has found as his just reward being slaughtered for profit, I knew there was some great value in this animated poindexter. The work is brought to life again: the point is that while autocratic control is wrong, smoothed-tongued opportunists can wring all life and light from revolutionary zeal just as well as outright dictatorship can. It’s all about how aware we are of who exactly is spouting said zeal to us, and how it benefits them.

I must suppose, however, that the filmmakers could not cope with the despair brought about by the novel’s end. Instead of a cowed (no pun intended) populace, horrified but paralyzed against current leaders who seem identical to the leaders they sought to overthrow, in the film, the animals end by marching on Napoleon, come what may, to seek what freedom can be wrenched away from such grotesque usurpers of power. A bit too idealistic: but, to be honest, maybe we need this lump of sugar to help the medicine of sober political reality to go down.

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