The Party and Power 1984
William Gaddis once said, “power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power”; a truth that perfectly articulates the relationship between man and power. George Orwell’s prose novel, 1984, and James McTeigue’s theatrical film, V for Vendetta, are such quintessences of power abused by those in pursuit of reaching authoritative domination. They differ in textual form and perspectives however at their core, both texts are works of dystopian fiction and juvenalian satire against authoritarian style leaderships, depicting their respective protagonists as victims of repressed societies. The commentary at play by both creators on the attributes that arise as a result of abuse of power are contrived through the themes of cult of personality, cultural hegemony, culture of fear, doubt as the downfall of an idea and rebellion where they are emanated through the characterisation, orientation, conflict and climax of their stories. The themes of both texts essentially reflect the apprehensions of both creators, communicating their ideas on how power can be corrupted. Orwell submits that an autocratic society, after taking the necessary measures, can transcend obstruction whilst McTeigue suggests that when given hope, abusers of power can be overthrown.
Both Orwell and McTeigue establish a cult of personality for their antagonists, presented through characterisation, to demonstrate it as an innate element of abuse of power. Orwell’s antagonist, Big Brother is the face of The Party who advocates their political agendas through mass media. During the ‘Two Minutes Hate’, citizens “[break] into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of ‘B-B! . . . B-B! . . . B-B!’—over and over again”, a ritual of devotion acting as a testament to the loyalty held for Big Brother. Winston describes him as “a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome feature”, a figurative allusion to Joseph Stalin who was known for his cult of personality. His name itself is a play on verbal irony, a travesty of a brother figure which heightens the satire of the novel. Similarly, in scenes showing the public, McTeigue places paintings of the Chancellor in the frames to establish the Chancellors presence as dominate.
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McTeigue also uses a pessimistic, colourless tone just as Orwell’s dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone to add to Winstons discourse. To further forge their antagonist’s cult of personality, both creators present them as god-like, inserting many religious connotations in their characterisation. Big Brothers presence is very much ostensible. Although McTeigue takes a more tangible role with Chancellor Adam, allowing the audience to visually associate an image to his name. To add to Big Brothers ubiquitous image, Orwell uses the motif of Big Brothers face where “the black-moustachio’d face gazed down from every commanding corner”.
At the heart of their oligarchical societies lies cultural hegemony which both creators explore through the orientation of the narrative. Orwell and McTeigue depict a society conformed to the values of their government, achieved primarily by using the red herring of an enemy to detract attention from the real enemy, that is, themselves. Orwell implements the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ as an instrument of uniformity, where they indoctrinate hate, through manipulation, to hate Goldstein. Likewise, in V for Vendetta¸ “immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, [and] terrorists” are broadcasted as “disease-ridden degenerates” by Lewis Prothero which McTeigue emphasizes through the heightened intensity of the non-diegetic sound in the scene and the increased zooming in of Prothero. To further the effect of the Norsefire governments influence on the populace, McTeigue uses desaturated colours in the setting of the film whereby only the posters which read the governments slogan, “strength through unity, unity through faith” are illuminating. This is coupled with ‘Newspeak’ where they conspire to corrupt their reason and rob them of common sense through limiting their ability for expression. Orwell illustrates the effect of it through the juxtaposition of limited-omniscient third-person narration with the internal monologue of Winston when writing in his book. Orwell uses the rhetoric, “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four?”
The culture of fear as a driver of conformity in repressive societies are explored by both creators through their distinctive protagonists. Using limited omniscient, third-person point-of-view narration, Orwell divulges the readers to the embedded fear in Oceania where, “There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment”. The simile, “In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle,” likening the Thought Police to bluebottle jellyfish to illustrate the state of fear Oceanians live with.
Comparably, McTeigue uses the caliginous atmosphere of underexposure throughout the film to symbolise the condition of fear in London. On another note, McTeigue also explores the culture of fear in context of its abolishment as a means of being free through the bildungsroman of protagonist Evey Hammond. Initially, Evey is depicted as a passive citizen succumb to conformity through fear, however, revealing that she “[wishes she] wasn’t afraid all the time, but [she is]”, presented through a close-up shot, was a catalyst to her development. Using cross-cutting, the audience witnesses the baptism of Evey under the rain, paralleled with the scene of V emerging from the Larkhill Resettlement Camp. Both scenes are a catharsis, symbolising their rebirth, where V is surrounded by fire, symbolising the inception of his vengeance agenda while Evey is surrounded by rain which symbolises the washing away of her fear, allowing resilience to takes its place. Both Orwell and McTeigue leave little capacity for happiness in their society however McTeigue, in another context, illustrates the power of the mind in being free.
In the wake of oppression, rebellion is an inevitable consequence, as demonstrated in the climax of 1984 and V for Vendetta. The inception of Winston’s rebellion against The Party came at his “overwhelming desire to possess [a book]”, supplementing this with the metaphor, “Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen”. A point-of-view shot of V placing the mask on his face acts as his inception of rebellion, denying the audience an insight into the emotional or mental perspective of V to add to the notion of V as not a man but an idea of revolt. Winston’s varicose ulcer is also an analogy to his subversive thoughts against The Party that he knew were prejudicial which paralled with knowing scratching his ulcer was detrimental but proceeded to scratch it regardless.
1984’s resolution sees Winston’s complete obedience to Big Brother, alluded through “he loved Big Brother”. The verb ‘love’ is used to add tragedy to the storyline in that readers knew he hated him. Contrastingly, V succeeds in sparking revolution seen in the widespread community support of blowing up the parliament house. It is as the climax of the film where the audience is no longer confined to the boundaries of the frames as McTeigue liberates the eyes of the audience to deep focus wide shots. The dominoes at the end acted as a symbol that to push one domino would have no effect but to push multiple will initiate a surge of movement, communicating that the force of one individual is nothing compared to the force of many which is V’s ultimate goal. Both creators illustrate a distinctive pursuit of rebellion which begun only after doubt was cast on their government regimes.
Orwell and McTeigue illustrate the gravity of doubt as the downfall of an idea, a fatal flaw in one’s pursuit to autocracy, through the conflict of the narratives. Detracting from tradition, the conflict in both 1984 and V for Vendetta arise from the inception of the texts; the external, character versus society conflict of an oppressive government. With conflict comes a drive for dramatic tension and Orwell illustrates this through the metaphor of his vulcose ulcer which he more frequently scratches as his apprehensions of doubt greaten. Likewise, McTeigue elevates the intensity of non-diegetic music as the nation awakens to the truth of the government.
The climax of 1984 sees Winston’s ambitions, fail however as it is realised that to reach a complete state of conformity, The Party manufactures a society immune to destruction from within, using the oxymoron of “ignorance is strength”, to allude that with ignorance, doubt can never formulate. Similarly, Chancellor recognizes the significance of doubt when he says, “to fail is to incite doubt into everything we believe, everything we have fought for. Doubt will plunge this country back into chaos and I will not let that happen.” For V to awaken the nation to the atrocities of their government, he asserts doubt. 1984 shows how suppression of doubt achieves complete conformity while V for Vendetta shows how doubt can lead to the downfall of an idea.
It is clear that Orwell and McTeigue display a conscious attempt to depict the oppressive nature of an oligarchical government, reflecting their attitude towards autocratic societies through the characterisation, setting, conflict and climax of their narratives. Although differing in modal form, they both possess the same illusive idea that with power comes corruption, much less the lengths an oppressor would go to achieve it. Holding power and subjecting it to corruption is a testament to the idea of cause and effect. Ones action of abuse of power through the cult of personality, cultural hegemony and culture of fear can and will result in the reaction of rebellion from a formation of doubt. 1984 and V for Vendetta is a manifestation of Orwell’s apprehensions of the inevitable outcome of any political movement that embracees authoritarianism; a cautionary tale of the consequences of abuse of power.