1984 (2023) poster

1984 (2023)

Rating:


Finland/Russia. 2023.

Crew

Director/Screenplay/Music – Diana Ringo, Based on the Novel 1984 by George Orwell and the Novel We by Evgeniy Zamyatin, Photography – Elena Ringo & Diana Ringo. Production Company – Aelita Productions.

Cast

Aleksandr Obmanov (Mathematician D503), Aleksey Sharanin (Philologist C340), Diana Ringo (Fiction Department Employee I-330), Vladimir Ivaniy (Prisoner E202), Sergey Budanov (Older Doctor), Sergei Khrustalyov (Inner Party Official)


Plot

In the future, society is a dictatorship under the rule of Big Brother where people are surveilled through ever-present tvs. D503 is a mathematician who struggles with the lack of individuality that is required in this world. In secret, he begins to keep a diary. At the same time, I-330, an employee with the fiction department, slips D503 a note to meet her and they begin a forbidden liaison.


1984 was the second film directed Diana Ringo. Ringo comes from Finland where her bio tells us that she is a classically-trained pianist (she also composes the film’s score), an artist and has even modelled for Spanish Playboy. She made her feature-length directorial debut with Quarantine (2021), a work made during the Covid-19 lockdowns that imagines the lockdown extending twenty years into the future.

Here Diana Ringo takes on an adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which had become the classic literary work about a Dystopian future. The film also conducts an adaptation of We (written 1920-1, published in English in 1952 but not in Russia until 1988), an early but less known dystopian work by Russian writer Evgeniy Zamyatin (1884-1937), who became a dissident from the Soviet Union. Ringo shot 1984 in Moscow, although did so without official sanction and in the Russian language, which could well be a provocative symbolic move given how Putin’s Russia is doing its best to become a real-life dystopia. Ringo also names her production company Aelita Productions, namedropping another classic of Soviet utopian propaganda, the early space travel film Aelita (1924).

For George Orwell, 1984 was 1948 with the last two numbers reversed – a mirror inversion of post-War England. Diana Ringo however goes full-on Future Setting. This results in some imaginative cityscapes of towering buildings, sphinx-like architecture, vast wall-sized videoscreens or giant eyeballs atop buildings and the like. Unfortunately, these are considerably undone by shabby digital effects – the exteriors of the city look exactly like computer-generated artwork and not any setting inhabited by human beings. There are also some bizarre set design choices throughout – the secret liaison between D503 and 1-330 takes place at a house that looks like it should be inhabited by the Addams Family with a wildly over-ornamented interior and psychedelic wall projections (in Orwell’s book it is a shabby back flat), while for some reason the interrogation of the protagonist takes place with a giant illuminated pentacle on the wall above.

Aleksandr Obmanov as Mathematician D503 in 1984 (2023)
Aleksandr Obmanov as Mathematician D503 in 1984 (2023)
Diana Ringo as Fiction Department Employee I-330 in 1984 (2023)
Diana Ringo (also the film’s director, writer and musician) in body suit as Fiction Department Employee I-330

Diana Ringo is faithful to Orwell in many respects – there is the equivalent of Winston Smith writing a diary, there is Big Brother, the tv screens, the Two-Minute Hate, the introduction of Newspeak, the covert liaison with a girl from another department. There are a few updates where the Winston equivalent now works as a mathematician rather than for the Ministry of Information (which makes his struggle to remember 1+1=2 more potent). Some changes don’t quite work, like setting the story amidst an equivalent of the contemporary 24 hour tv news cycle, which seems an uneasy fit alongside Orwell’s perpetual surveillance society and the Ministry of Information’s control and editing of the past.

Ringo also incorporates many elements from We, which merge not too badly with 1984 for the most part – the people known only by combinations of letters and numbers; the city surrounded by a wall and the brief suggestion that there is the natural world beyond (the discovery of a leaf); D503’s liaison with 1-330; his troubling dreams; the revolutionaries. Towards the end, the protagonists undergoes the operation to make him normal that we get in We, although this seems far less insidious than O’Brien breaking Winston Smith’s spirit through torture in 1984. The ending also fragments off into the broken protagonist Aleksandr Obmanov sitting monologuing to the camera, alternately crying and laughing.

On the other hand, there are times that the film mangles Orwell. One of these is the incarnation of I-330, the Julia equivalent, who is played by Diana Ringo herself. In Orwell, Winston and Julia had a forbidden love affair that was touching in its banal ordinariness. Here Ringo makes the character into a seductress who wears a black lace bodysuit, fishnets, heels and engages in a seductive dance against psychedelic projections, while plying Winston/D503 with cognac. It is an absurd miscalculation of the character, although does come somewhat closer to the I-330 of We, who was much more sexually open.

Other versions of 1984 include:- as a 60 minute episode of the US tv series Studio One (1948-58) starring Eddie Albert as Winston and Lorne Greene as O’Brien; a live television play Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) for the BBC, scripted by Nigel Kneale and starring Peter Cushing as Winston Smith; the film adaptation 1984 (1956), directed by Michael Anderson and with Edmond O’Brien as Winston; the British tv play The World of George Orwell: 1984 (1965), an episode of Theatre 625 starring David Buck as Winston and Jane Merrow as Julia; and the film Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), generally agreed upon as the most faithful adaptation, featuring John Hurt as Winston Smith, Suzanna Hamilton as Julia and Richard Burton as O’Brien.


Trailer here


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