Film

No, Kristen Stewart In A Romantic Version Of 1984 Wouldn’t Destroy The World

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When the news broke that Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men First Class) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Adventureland) would be starring in a romance-focused update of George Orwell’s 1984, almost every single publication that covered it fell into the same routine: jokes about Kristen Stewart, disparaging offhanded remarks about YA dystopian literature, outrage that somebody would dare try to adapt a classic in an unconventional way. While many have called this film “dumbing down”, I can’t help but see these reactions as gross intellectual snobbery.

Of note: Attached director Drake Doremus has stated on Twitter that the film is not related to 1984, and that Kristen Stewart’s comparison of the film (currently titled Equals) to Orwell’s novel has been misquoted by many outlets.

As for a work of Western dystopian fiction being based on or inspired by 1984 in some way, well duh. It’s one of the three or four Urtexts for the Western dystopian fiction genre. The other issues of contention are the casting of Kristen Stewart and the baffling notion that emphasizing the already existent and important romantic portions of the original text would somehow be in-and-of-itself terrible.

First, the fact that anybody is still making “Kristen Stewart is a terrible actress” jokes is worthy of eye-rolling, and it’s well past time that it stopped. I understand riffing on her terrible performance in the Twilight films, but everybody was terrible in the Twilight films. Robert Pattinson, just as terrible in those films, was good in other films and made a number of comments about how much he hated Twilight. He gets to come out of it all with a devoted fanbase. Yet Kristen Stewart, who was also a good actress in other films and also made remarks about Twilight that were just as vicious, is still a walking punchline? I’m not saying it’s the big S word at work, but if looks like the big S and sounds like the big S…

As for focusing on the romantic aspects of 1984 as the central, driving force? That’s actually a really good idea. We don’t need another faithful adaptation of 1984. We already have a really good one starring John Hurt. If there’s going to be any version of 1984, it should take a different approach.

The original book is very much the story of Winston Smith and his small, personal rebellion against The Party. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the year is (probably) 1984 and a totalitarian government known simply as “The Party”, ostensibly led by “Big Brother”, have established complete dominance over England. Among other things, they rewrite history daily so The Party was never wrong, and are editing the English Language in such a way that it will be impossible to form an anti-Party thought.

In the book’s first act, Winston works up the courage to perform small acts of rebellion, while most of the second act is about his secret love affair with fellow Thoughtcriminal Julia, before the book spends its third act focusing on Winston’s brutal interrogation by a Party member. The final straw of this interrogation is to get Winston into such a state of abject terror that he begs his tormentors to subject Julia to it instead.

Basically, the romance is super fucking important.

1984

Let’s suppose such a film would have focused on Kristen Stewart as Julia. On the outside, she is a loyal Party member. But Julia is secretly in revolt, and after recognising Winston as another thoughtcriminal she propositions him with the offer of a secret romance. The two of them rent a room above a shop where they have sex, share meals, read anti-Party literature and generally try to live out a crude facsimile of what we’d call “normal life” as best and often as they can.

While Winston has vaguely political motivations, Julia doesn’t. She just wants to have sex and engage in normal human conversation. In other words, she wants bodily autonomy and recognition of herself as a person rather than a biological cog in the machine that is The Party.

The past few years have seen a huge upsurge in the visibility of feminist issues being talked about in all manner of venues, from comics books and video games all the way to high-profile political stories like Sandra Fluke. Along with that, recent box office hits like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity and Frozen have shown that female leads and “girl films” can make huge amounts of money. Perhaps then it’s time to try an overtly political “girl film”.

There’s nothing wrong with an against-impossible-odds romance story, but that would be wasting some of the potential. Flipping the perspective of 1984 from Winston to Julia lets you tell a fundamentally different story, most of which is uncharted. Julia was part of a violently pro-abstinence group within The Party despite starring in several government sanctioned pornographic films (made for the non-Party members, known as “Proles”, in order to help keep them happy and docile). There’s an interesting mix of sexual dynamics that have influenced Julia’s life there.

Juxtaposing the almost religious anti-sex parts of her life with the sleazy, objectifying parts and trying to puzzle out why Julia ended up the way she did in the book is fertile enough ground for an entire film, let alone just a first act. Given that Nicholas Hoult is drastically younger than the middle-aged Winston of the book, it would make sense to paint him as more of a generally revolutionary figure. The handsome young firebrand who sounds like they’re fighting your corner can be very attractive.

Then again, maybe he’ll be the meek and largely passive Winston of the book. That way, their involvement still gets to happen as part of Julia’s personal agency. Asking why Julia would drag what is effectively a bystander into her self-destructive adventure would be a far more interesting personal voyage for the character, in my opinion.

And once you get into the third act, you get to ask the really juicy questions about the character you’ve set up. How do you break Julia, heart, mind and soul? How do you arrive at the point where she sells out Winston and becomes a glad and willing supporter of The Party? We know that Winston is broken with a combination of despair and questioning his concepts of reality, but what about Julia? Is it because they’ve taken the only person she felt like she’s ever had an honest human connection with? Is it because they simply brainwashed her? Is she simply hiding her true, unchanged nature? Whatever it is, I want to see it.

I don’t know about you, but after having thought it through I’m actually kind of disappointed that Equals isn’t an adaptation of 1984. I’ve talked myself into believing it could be really good, given the right script and director. Ultimately, I’m more disappointed at the level of knee-jerk disgust at the idea. At the fact that people are still treating Kristen Stewart as a punchline rather than a thinking, feeling person. That people will claim something is somehow destroying a classic work of thoughtful literature without pausing to give it an actual moment’s thought.

A good chap who frequently gets tea leaves stuck in his eyebrows.

10 Comments

  1. gueest

    January 20, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Wow, awesome article

  2. deb2468

    January 20, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Nicely written

  3. Janie

    January 20, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    Bravo!

  4. Jenny Lonussen

    January 20, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    Wow. What a well thought out, wonderful article. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about why a romantic adaptation could work, I’d also like to say thank you, for being one of the few not going the lazy way and for not simply going with the ridiculous media/tabloid manipulated image (or as you put it punchline).

  5. cocoapurl

    January 20, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    Thanks for not being a part of the pack mentality.

  6. Guest

    January 20, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    Good article. TBH, I don’t recall Kristen Stewart ever saying anything bad about the “Twilight” films. She always seemed to be very supportive of the franchise, and grateful to all the fans of the films.

  7. SMR

    January 21, 2014 at 3:08 AM

    I was very glad to read this article, where the author has had the integrity to form and express his own well-thought opinion about the recent reactions to “Equals” and the media stereotypes about Kristen Stewart.
    The only thing, which I’d like to remark, is that as far as I know, Kristen Stewart has not made negative comments about “Twilight”. “Twilight” made Rob and Kristen super popular, but had a negative impact upon their credit as actors. My impression is that they dealt with this in a different way. Rob was critical in his recent interviews and tried to distance himself, while Kristen didn’t do this. I think in this way she stood behind her work and took responsibility. I hope that someone would write a good article as this one about the stereotypes and misconceptions regarding “Twilight” – both the books and the movies. I think the movies failed mostly because of the condescending, lazy attitude of the studio and the last two directors, who knew that no matter how the movies were made, they would be a box office hit.

    • Seannie5

      January 21, 2014 at 1:15 PM

      “Kristen Stewart has not made negative comments about “Twilight”. “Twilight” made Rob and Kristen super popular, but had a negative impact upon their credit as actors. My impression is that they dealt with this in a different way. Rob was critical in his recent interviews and tried to distance himself, while Kristen didn’t do this. I think in this way she stood behind her work and took responsibility.”

      Totally agree.

  8. ABV

    January 21, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    Thankyou Elijah,firstly for your defence of Kristen Stewart and for seeing through the BS of others and secondly for your breakdown of the 1984 story of which I know nothing.
    I agree with the other commenters about KS,not once has she ever put the Twilight Saga down,she believed in the story as a work of fantasy and fiction of which she loved,she stood behind it,owning it.She played her part as per the directors and script so to me,she did what was asked of her and as for Robert,I’m sure I read that he was grateful for Twilight,it was the vehicle to his popularity of now,its given him the means to pursue his dreams and its brought him in contact with many many more influential people.
    Kristen Stewart is and will always be different and that to me is what I love about her,she walks to the beat of her own drum and I admire and respect her for it,thankgod she doesn’t bow down to the pressures surrounding her,she’s too smart for that.

    • Seannie5

      January 21, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      Pattinson might be grateful but he has been disrespectful to both the writer of Twilight and it’s fans. His fans may not want to admit that, or may be too in love with him to acknowledge that, but it’s true. He even said the fans that spend all their time on their computers talking about Twilight and him were basically pathetic no lives. Yet all the girls just giggle and insist that he cannot be saying it about them, it must be OTHER fans. A lot of them are also incredibly jealous of Stewart. I had one mad b*tch harass me on another site just for saying good things about Stewart.
      I like this article but I don’t know of any time that Stewart insulted Twilight. If anything, she has been it’s steadfast champion when it has been anything but cool or acceptable to be. Whether you like Twilight or not, you have to admire her loyalty to it.
      Twilight is not aimed at my demographic but I did watch the first one and parts of the other films and I cannot for the life of me under stand why it gets such hate. It’s cheesy, with dodgy dialogue and questionable special effects, but it is no worse than a lot of romantic films aimed at young girls.
      I think Kristen is a much better actor than Pattinson, but that’s just me. I think the majority of his fans are fans of his looks rather than his acting talent. Not that they would admit to it …
      Equals sounds like an interesting film.

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