To paraphrase Kristen Stewart – and I never thought I’d say that – I can’t believe anyone agreed to do it. 1984, probably the most definitive piece of writing on dystopia and authoritarianism, a triumph of fear, manipulation and control, is being remade for cinematic audiences. As a romantic story. With the young Stewart and Nicholas Hoult in the leads. Excuse me while I gag.
Still here? Alright then, here is why I think the proposed project, dubbed Equals, is such a bad idea. 1984 is a strong political piece that takes a long hard look at the dangers of oppression, constructed mythologies and warped emotions. It has already been adapted on screen, but I would actually have liked to have seen a serious take on the book for a contemporary audience. I think its themes are increasingly relevant and, with the right cast and crew, it would be a brilliant addition to the litany of adaptations hitting our screens lately. Not to mention the fact that technology has advanced to the point that seeing a fully realised Airstrip One would have been an exciting prospect.
Unfortunately, based on the information available, admittedly little as it is, it does not look like that is about to happen. For starters, to simplify such a devastating and complex piece into what reads like a reductive and predictable love story – boy meets girl, both try to overcome hardships, more hardships ensue – is disrespectful and, frankly, criminal. In an age where Hollywood seems to be losing its grip on nuance and depth in screenplays, the decision to strip one of the greatest and arguably most cinematic books of its multiple layers is an absolute shame. Even if Equals chose to focus on the romantic element of 1984, it seems to be missing the whole point of it being subverted and manipulated in favour of a more traditional and bland plot.
It feels like a cheap ploy to get young girls to flock to the cinema rather than a genuine attempt at casting the right actor.
Then there is the casting. Stewart has come under fire and understandably so. While I actually think she is a very shrewd businesswoman, being able to earn millions out of one blank facial expression, I have no illusions regarding her ability to act in that I do not think she has said ability. Even the good reviews she received for Camp X-Ray in Sundance point out her very quiet affectation on screen. I sincerely doubt she has the range to show the fiery passion of Julia and I am already cringing at the thought of her butchering one of literature’s most interesting female characters. It does not help that she described the concept of the film as being “very basic” – either a gross misunderstanding of the source material or a worrying verdict on its adaptation.
Nicholas Hoult might have more potential, but his casting does not fill me with much confidence either. Winston Smith is not the most attractive of men and while that might be compensated with make-up, I doubt Hoult can convincingly pull off the age and gravitas of his character. It feels like a cheap ploy to get young girls to flock to the cinema rather than a genuine attempt at casting the right actor. Then again, the casting directors might not really know what they are doing, considering the fact that they thought Stewart has more chemistry with Hoult than his real-life girlfriend, Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence.
Director Drake Doremus has mentioned on Twitter that Equals has nothing to do with 1984, which would have been a lot more believable had the press releases regarding the casting did not explicitly point out what the inspiration was. While there is a part of me that wants my very early assessment to be wrong, I cannot help but feel a sense of utter despair and loathing at what will happen to George Orwell’s masterpiece.