Comparison between Orwell’s 1984 and the film V for Vendetta: the power of fear
Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 is a milestone in modern political literature everlasting. The novel, published in 1948, the start of the Cold War, is regarded worldwide as the “greatest expose of the horrors of Stalinism” (Gleason, 5). Directly responding to Orwell, Alan Moore released a graphic novel series V for Vendetta in 1988, offering a hopeful ending rather than the chilling one in 1984 under a similarly dystopian background. Almost twenty years later in 2006, V for Vendetta came to the world as a great hit in the film industry. Although overall faithful to the original graphic novel, a few film adaptions have been made to reflect the contemporary social issue. With Moore’s comic book acting as a median in between, the comparison between 1984 and the film that borrowed major plots from Moore’s version, becomes especially intriguing. In George Orwell’s ideology, as he demonstrated through his dystopian fictional novel, fear is the indicator of government control and is an essentially impenetrable force. However, the dystopian film V for Vendetta believes that fear, while agreeing on its political repressive nature, is surmountable by liberty, courage, and justice.
In 1984, Orwell sets the story in London, now Airstrip One, in the nation of Oceania. Ruled by the Big Brother, the leader of the inner Party, people in Oceania live under the totalitarian guardian of the Party. Since the fact that human nature fights totalitarian, a dominant force to suppress this portion of rebellious nature is desperately in need. As Ingle addresses such force in her book, “the governing principle of the relationship, as it was with the empire, was not love or even respect but, as Orwell portrayed it, fear” (39), the Party constantly exerts tension on its citizens in favor of maintaining a orderly society. Such tension is classified in to two major categories in 1984: the external fear of the outside settings and the internal fear of the Party.
The Party inclines to draw an illusion of warfare and class fight in favor of creating mass fear. People are exposed to the messages that Oceania is at ceaseless wars with Eurasia then later Eastasia. The threat of war is kept at the forefront of people’s mind by the rocket bombs constantly falling on their land. Moreover, in Two Minutes Hate, the Party presents Goldstein who is the leader of Brotherhood, as the traitor to Big Brother, the enemy of people and the object of hatred. Facing this hostile figure, Winston Smith, Orwell’s protagonist, feels that “the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically” (Orwell, 13). The Party spreads out the intimidation from outside world with hope to break down a stable and peaceful image in the masses’ mind. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (image attached to Notes page), safety that might include the security of physical body, health, resources and property, sits at the second to the bottom of needs. If this particular need is not satisfied, people could barely concern themselves with esteem and self-actualization, which possibly leads to up-rising intentions or even action. What people would instinctively do is to seek shelter, under either a government or a leading power, for security. Geoffrey R. Skoll comes to a supporting analysis when he justifies the close connections between fear and authoritarian control. He writes,
nothing motivates like fear, and gratitude is accorded to those who promises protection. Authoritarian regimes reply on this simple psychology. They point to enemies who would terrorize without the state’s protection. Enemies are always defined as part of a network of terror (Skoll, 58).
The external terror in Oceania functions in a similar way. The image of external threats to their society’s existence such as wars and crisis is exploited to incite fear and hatred to the population. Taking advantages of this panic, the Party is able to drag down people’s basic need to merely the second to the bottom level of the hierarchy since the Party’s ideal plan is to keep the need beneath love and belonging that indicates the rise of individuality and humanity. In this way, the Party successfully establishes its control and “keeps the structure of society intact” (Orwell 164)
When it comes to internal control, Orwell particularly highlights the scrutiny and torture as ploys for the Party itself to extend fear among the masses. The first two parts of the novel present the readers with an intense feeling of insecurity, by displaying detailed reactions and inner thoughts of Winston Smith. In such a depressing dystopia society filled by fear, Winston, as well as every other citizen, lives a helpless life with no privacy. The Party sets up a structured monitoring system of Telescreen to keep track of people’s physical behaviors. In the fear of the insecurity that “every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized” (Orwell, 3), Winston puts great efforts controlling his actions, his words, and facial expressions from revealing symptoms of disloyalty against the Party. Drawing on the concept mentioned in the book the rape of mind, “in the panic caused by totalitarian terror, men feel separated from one another as by an impassable vaccum, and each man becomes a lonely frightened soul” (Meerloo, 126), the spying construction reduce the possibility of a united alliance by splitting the citizens into sole existence distrust anyone else. To a startling degree, intension to rebel is no longer private belongs that could be concealed forever from the Thought Police. This fear of getting caught disciplines people to retain pure loyalty towards the Party, and works effectively for most people in Oceania, but not perfectly well for Winston so far.
Later on the novel, his love with Julia and enrollment in the Brotherhood are the embodiments of his rebellion against the Party. However, his disloyalty against the party unfortunately fails to eschew the eye of Telescreen. The Party arrests him and punishes him by severely inhuman tortures and interrogations. Then his worst fear is realized when he is finally sent to Room 101—the darkest and scariest hell in Oceania—after his constant resistance to follow the Party. In Room 101, O’Brien, one of the leaders of the Party mercilessly says to him,
pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain…But for everyone there is something unendurable—something that cannot be contemplated. It is merely an instinct which cannot be disobeyed. It’s the same with rats. For you, they are endurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wish to (Orwell, 284).
When Winston is forced to face a full cage of rats running to his head, which symbolizes his greatest fear as indicated in the book, he hysterically begs “Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! Not me!”(Orwell, 286) It is precisely at this moment that Winston’s individualities as a human beings collapse. His vicious betrayal marks the victory for the Party and the extinction of his humanities: his courage, love, faith, loyalty, and integrity no longer exist in the face of this terrible fear. It overrides his preceding moralities and individualities and therefor turns him into an emotionless pawn of the Party.
James Sage affirms the point made in this paper about Orwellian ideas when he claims, “in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, we see Big Brother and The INGSOC Party using fear as a ruling principle. Fear is the source of hopelessness and misinformation; it is fear that leads to a loss of freedom and individuality; and fear serves as the basis of social control.” Winston is the only one in the book who stands up to the fight of individualism and freedom in the face of the Party’s oppression. Nevertheless, the novel finishes with Winston’s struggle succumbing to his great fear as he is brainwashed to love the Big Brother. Orwell, by ending up the novel in this respect, conveys a message that fear stands at the top of human emotions, and once utilized by totalitarians, could not be overcome. In other words, since fear is an embodiment of the totalitarian control, its unbreakable nature, according to Orwell, leads directly to the ultimate triumph of the totalitarian governing.
Instead of a chilling ending in 1984, the triumphant ending of the film V for Vendetta, conveys a different message argued in Orwell’s novel. The setting of the story is a futuristic dystopian society in London, ruled by a totalitarian political party, the Norsefire Party. In an amazingly similar style of the Party in 1984, the Norsefire regime asserts considerable force on its citizens with the assistance of its well-established key branches of the government, including but not limited by The Eye, The Ear and The Finger. It’s not hard to guess from what they are called, The Eye and The Ear are responsible for monitoring individuals of rebellious actions. The Finger’s obligation is to deal with problematic people, torture and execute them. Adding on that, London in the film happens to be a place full of “virus outbreaks, crops failure, and numerous wars”(Sage 8). In such a depressing dystopia comes a fearless man, V. He, described by film critic David Edelstein, is a masked man who “takes vengeance on repressive totalitarian state”. When he blows up the Old Bailey, a symbol of Norsefire regime, he sends message to the world,
fear got the best of you. And in your panic you turned to the now High Chancellor Adam Sutler. He promised you order and he promised you peace. And all he demanded in return was your silent obedient consent. Last night I started to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey to remind this country what it has forgotten (James McTeigue, 2006).
He unfolds the fact that people are suppressed through terror and intimidation, which they assume it to be reasonable. Seeing the hope that fear inside everyone’s heart could be eventually overcome, He promotes the public to stand up for freedom, liberty, and civil rights, in promising to carry out a sparkling revolution to destroy Norsefire’s dictatorship.
The film introduces V as someone endowed with intrepid nature. Some may argue that no one in the reality is able to be utterly immune to fear. However, the story of V would be more logical if viewed from V’s symbolization. Throughout the story he is represented by his strong idea and courage under the white Guy Fawkes mask, rather than his physical being. As V himself says right before his ultimate death, “beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof” (James McTeigue, 2006), the whole idea about V concerns merely his mind: his pursuit of freedom, his hatred to the Norsefire regimes, and his hope of a better world that would never come to an end. The film, in shaping such a fear-resisted character, suggests the fact that the ideas and faiths could somehow immune to the plague of fear.
Evey, another protagonist, is a constantly scared woman in most part of the movie. She is afraid that the Fingermen would arrest her for her rebellious activities involved with V. Terrified of what V has done and well aware of the risk to be with V, she takes every possible way to escape from him. After she successfully runs away from Shadow Gallery (V’s house), her panic and insecurity drive her to turns to Gordon for protections. However her peace does not stay for long. Fear again takes over Evey after she finds out the fact that Gordon has boldly humiliated the Norsefire on his TV show. Evey’s whole body is violently trembling and her eyes are filled with tears when she witnesses how the Fingermen beat Gordon down and bring him away. Evey herself also get caught when she attempts to escape from the house and put in prison. Here comes her greatest fear. In jail, she suffers from inhuman tortures and interrogations. Fear pours out from her dramatically wild-open eyes, disordered breath, and her hysterical scream. This is the moment when, as V said, “fear [gets] the best of [her]”. However, everything starts to change after Evey finds Valeria’s letter. At the end Valeria says,
I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must NEVER let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns, and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you (James McTeigue, 2006).
In Valeria’s story Evey sees her own identity. In Valeria’s hope, peace and love, Evey finds her own. When her eyes are no longer filled with horror, but with courage and determination, her fear comes to an end. Even threatened with death, Evey keeps V’s information from the interrogator to ensure his safety. Death is Evey’s greatest fear that she has been running from through her past life, but now she is afraid of it no more. As the interrogator says, “then you have no fear anymore…you are completely free” (James McTeigue, 2006), she has broken down the wall that for so long had kept her in a terrifying life, which had stopped her from speaking up for what she knows is the right thing. V inspires her to be aware of and to face her fear, and finally, Valeria helps to overcome her fear and let out an empowered Evey. She found something matters more than her life—love, courage, and justice. She is reborn in the falls of rain, she looks up and whispers, “God is in the rain” (James McTeigue, 2006). In the film scene of Evey’s reborn, “V’s baptism of fire is paralleled with Evey’s baptism of water,” she has freed herself from the miserable life in fear and in respect of her identity is now V’s successor. She later pulls the lever to destruct the House of Parliament, and becomes the one who complete V’s fight of subversion. She inherits V’s legacy—his idea of anti-oppression and freedom—and carries the fire of liberty.
Just like Evey, citizens of London are kept in a state of fear and obedience. Terror silences their voice of freedom and justice. The citizens’ authentic laughter when they watch Gordon’s satire show which humiliates the Norsefire regime actually reflects their hiding hatred to the government. However, under its fascist control, few of them are sufficiently brave to stand out. V again changes the whole story. After his promotion of a violent revolution, he sends out to every citizen a white Guy Fawkes mask and black robes. Putting on V’s suit, everyone wears not merely V’s clothes, but his identity, his idea and his faith. People’s fear has no reason to stay any longer for they are V now; beneath the masks are more than the face of individuals but V’s fearless spirit.
Either in the film V for Vendetta or in the novel 1984, fear explicitly emerges as a main ploy to manipulate citizens in a totalitarian respect. In terms of Winston in 1984 and either V or Evey in V for Vendetta, free spirits fighting against the repressive regulation are acknowledged to emerge in dystopian society. Revolt, regardless of which point from intension to action it stays at, takes place wherever government manipulation robs freedom, justice, and individuality. This physiological notion interestingly resembles Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although not always necessarily comes with an equal force, people’s rebellion against government oppression is, by its essence, originates from the very same thing. Although they share the same idea that inherent human nature resists external suppression, Orwell and McTeigue hold contradictory understandings on the impact of such spirits and nature. In 1984, the only subversive element against the Party’s uniformity is the rebellion of Winston and his lover Julia. Nevertheless, the intensive fear the Party exerts on both of them eventually leads to their mutual betrayal and surrender to the Big Brother. Since the success of fear symbolizes the ultimate victory of totalitarianism, Orwell stresses the impossibility of the survival of rebellions, which kills the hope of breaking down the dictatorship once it is given the chance to establish. However, in V for Vendetta, hope to overturn a fascist system does exist. After Evey’s reborn, V’s fearless faith empowers her and guides her to uproot her deep fear. As previously justified, V is a representation of an idea that opposes government suppression. The ending implies McTeigue’s idea that fear, as a tool of control, is vulnerable in the face of faith. Since the film is considerably based on a graphic that is directly response to Orwell’s 1984, a question rises: why would McTeigue argue against this specific Orwellian theory?
To decode the contradicting ideology between Orwell and McTeigue, historical contexts of both eras when they created the works are the prior concerning matters. For 1984, the fact that the book 1984 actually first met with its readers in the year 1948 implies the prophetic feature of this publication. After watching the rise of dictatorship, such as “the Russian Communists” and “the German Nazis” (Orwell, 263), as an anti-Stalinism political writer, he foresees the risk of such increasing tendency in modern society. By displaying the live of his protagonist Winston under the Party’s absolute control, Orwell puts the reader into an image of how liberty would come to an end after communism’s dominance of the world to strike an alarm to the dander of totalitarianism. Abbott Gleason notes such intention when examining George Orwell’s ideology during the Cold War,
Orwell’s era may be said to have be gun with the outbreak of World War I, took on more coherent shape with the Russian Revolution and culminated in the long years of the Cold War. It could be called the “era of totalitarianism,” or as the historian Elie Halevy called it, the “era of tyrannies.” Underlying many of the political horrors of this period was a growing skepticism about the centuries…Nineteen eighty-Four reflects his own loss of confidence, and he fear that the age of totalitarianism meant that liberty would come to an end “world wide”. Orwell’s deepening despair, however, seems also to have had to do with something more personal: not only with gloom about the potential totalitarianization of the world, but also with an increasingly vivid realization that the autonomous individual with a morally based personal agency was unsustainable fiction. This conclusion, emphasized by Alan Sandison, seems evident in Winston’s total submission to O’Brien at the end of Nineteen Eight-Four. (74-78)
In other words, Orwellian ideology suggests that liberal individualism is profoundly periled by the totalitarianism. At the end of the story, Winston’s struggle of freedom and justice and every piece of his humanities surrenders to the great fear that the Party exerts on him. The way Orwell ends the novel 1984 with the ultimate victory of totalitarianism cannot be view independently of his despair to future communist construction: no hope of the success of liberty and individualism lies in the totalitarian. He dramatizes this extreme version of the totalitarian state regulating the life of it subject, for not necessarily the single mission but certainly the most conceiving one—to warn people of the coming perilous communisms.
Nearly 20 years after the issue of the comic book, the film with the identical name V for Vendetta was on its show in cinemas worldwide in 2006. The film is largely base on the original Moore’s comic book in 1988 expect for a few adaptions made to drive audience’s attention to contemporary concerns instead of obsolete ones at the end of Cold War demonstrated by Moore. The original graphic novel reveals a conflict between fascism and anarchy; while the V for Vendetta film stresses the theme of left wing ideals versus conservatism. The graphic novel is a reaction against the era of late Cold War during the mid-1980s, whereas the film tends to respond to the Bush Administration in 2006. (Ott, 5) Even Moore himself describes the film to be “a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values against a state run by neo-conservatives” (The Last Angry Man, 2007).
In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Bush Administration wields power in the style of the Norsefire regime’s dictatorship in multiple observational features of its political decisions and their implicit purposes. Jonathan Schell addresses his concern about the same issue. He writes,
there is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceive its citizens, violates their rights, abuse power and break the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners an acts in secret. It’s dictatorship. The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 with the loss of over three thousand innocent life, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States has abolished civil liberties, which the Founding Fathers established this nation to fight for. He opposed the illegalizing homosexual marriage, and manipulates media, such as New York Times and CBS New into tools of propaganda that offer little dissent or criticism of the government. In addition, the sudden realization of the terrorist thread excited great fear in United States and shifted the major focus of Bush to anti-terrorism campaigns. In the following years, thousands of American soldiers have been killed in the war with Afghanistan and Iraq, which President Bush waged as part of the “War on Terror”—an international military campaign against terrorism. Despite its official mission to eliminate terrorist organization, the documentary video “Bush Administration and 911” unfolds the considerable yet untold benefits Bush acquired from these “anti-terrorism” wars, including substantial National Defense funds and Western-Asian oil profits. In addition, according to John Yoo, a former lawyer in the United States Department of Justice during Bush’s ear, among approximately 125 military conflicts Bush Administration involved with, Congress has declared the war only five times. The book, Liberty Under Attack: Reclaiming Our Freedoms in an Age of Terror, notes,
Yoo had a hand in virtually every major legal decision involving the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11, and at every point, as far as we know, his advice was virtually always the same—the president can do whatever the president wants. (Cole, 51)
Bush Administration’s abuse of power undermines the liberty that supposes to be carried forward on the land of America. In 206, James McTeigue directed V for Vendetta in response to the apparent corruption in Bush Administration. An CNN(Cable News Network) journalist Tim Graham regards McTeigue’s film as “a movie that has chilling allusions to everything from September 11 to government spying to terror bombings to the war in Iraq”. He indicates that in V for Vendetta, the conflicts between V and the Norsefire regime in London in fact refers to the war between freedom and oppression in the United States. In the end of the film, Evey transcends the fear of the Norse regime and inherits V’s idea—“freedom forever”(James McTeigue, 2006). Blowing up Parliament is a symbol of hope for a triumph. The film “puts faith in our ability to resist the machinations that would use fear to control us”. (Schopp, 268) McTeigue argues the government that ignores the voice of people and violates liberty and justice, for example Bush Administration, cannot forever hold its ongoing stability.
In sum, Orwell’s 1984 offers a clear and threatening image of a futurist totalitarian society facing the rising of communalism at the beginning of Cold War. The fact that in the story, fear, as a government manipulation technique, transcends any humanities, such as love, liberty, and individuality, is the loss of hope for the existence of real people with free mind under the absolute control of the dictator. Therefore, he doesn’t offer solutions to fight against the system, yet puts focus on vividly revealing the exaggerated thread as a warning of a possible future dominant of such power. However, the film V for Vendetta (McTeigue, 2006) is created in response to corrupted Bush Administration in United State, which is said to be a land where freedom and liberty prevails. In the film, V, Evey, and citizens successfully overcome the resistant of fear and rise up in rebellion. McTeigue, on the contrary to Orwell, puts hope in uprising against totalitarian control. Facing the increasing vulnerable liberty in U.S, McTeigue sees the enormous power of people and voices them to stand up and fight. It take the historical contract into consideration, McTeigue is not arguing against the issue of right or wrong, nevertheless, dedicating to a theme adjustment to reflect the changes in the world that have been made in this nearly sixty year after 1984.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
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