On the off chance that you’ve spent the last few days living in a cave on Mars, Equals is a thing that almost defies comprehension. Indeed, it is proof that Hollywood is so starved for original ideas that they will remake anything if there’s even the slightest demonstrable proof that it will pull in the youth demographic.
To quote Equals’ newly announced leading lady, Kristen Stewart, the film is “…a love story of epic, epic, epic proportion.” Which is all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that this love story is a reimagining of George Orwell’s seminal story of totalitarian oppression, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is being rebooted as a sci-fi, drama, love story for the Twilight generation. Even as I read my own words I’m tempted to slip into a Jon Stewart inspired fit of written apoplexy and swearing. The only thing holding me back is a fear that foul language might somehow detract from the absolute seriousness that I am attempting to convey with this piece. So when I say that the very premise of Equals is potentially the worst thing ever, I do so without an ounce of hyperbole.
I suppose something like this was inevitable. We live in a world where kooks, cranks, and the generally ignorant twist Nineteen Eighty-Four into a banner for their lunatic fringe, selectively libertarian, anti-establishment views. It’s de rigueur to see internet arguments devolving into people bickering about Big Brother and the Thought Police without demonstrating a single inch of understanding on what those figures represented. The collective horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four are an amalgam of what Orwell witnessed during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. His final book should be a lesson for the ages; a reminder that civil society and civilisation itself hinges upon the moral courage and collective wisdom of a people to hold their government to account. Oceania, the supra-nation which rules North America and England in the novel, is both dramatic and cautionary in its demonstration of the malleability of public thought. So will somebody please tell me how this lesson in civic virtue is fit for transformation into a love story?
Granted, there are romantic elements to Ninteen Eighty-Four, in so much as Winston and Julia use sex and love as a form of protest against a government that has deemed such things to be the anathema of individual and national good. I quote from the book, “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”
And where love stories generally end with the notion of love conquering all, even in death, Nineteen Eighty-Four shows Winston and Julia betraying each other to the state. The words Winston utters to condemn his lover, and thereby belying their rebellion as helpless in the face of state power, are no mere lie, no falsehood told under the cloak of torture. When O’Brien confronts Winston with his worst fear, a ravenous rat that will chew through his face, Winston wants, with every fiber of his being, for O’Brien to torture Julia instead of him.
“Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”
These are not the trappings of a love story. Winston’s fate, drinking gin in a cafe and watching the news with the fervor of a true believer, is designed to demonstrate the futility of resistance.
It is astonishing to think that Nathan Parker, the screen writer for Moon – arguably one of the best science fiction films of the last twenty years – could embrace the sheer and unadulterated hubris of attempting to “update” Nineteen Eighty-Four. As for the cast, John Hurt was forty-four years old, and a veteran of stage and screen, when he took on the role of Winston Smith. Does Nicholas Hoult, whose acting credits include Robot Chicken, Clash of the Titans, and About a Boy, really think himself capable of doing any justice to this role? And as for Kristen Stweart, I don’t care how many vehicular-based, double dutch handjobs she has given on film, there’s nothing you or anybody else can say that will convince me she is either worthy or capable of reprising a role Suzanna Hamilton made famous.
No good will come from this movie. Out of the gate, its premise is as terrible as the all-white, New York-based remake of Akira that died in development a couple of years ago. Moreover, using Orwell as anything other than a treatment on power and the frailty of man is dangerously irresponsible. It’s the tragic apoapsis of meta writing and the beginning of a true descent into cultural entropy.
The truth was fluid in Orwell’s world, and so too might it become flexible enough in ours that Nineteen Eighty-Four will always have been a novel about star-crossed lovers in a dangerous time.