Freedom is arbitrary and the definition is blurred, its meaning differs from person to person whether it be in mind or body. While most texts represent freedom as some magical key that leads to happiness for their protagonist, freedom doesn’t necessarily make one content but in fact, is a burden that alienates people, especially in a society bound by rules. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick and the novel by George Orwell, 1984, both embody this idea and contort the concept of freedom from something that brings happiness to something more sinister. Each text utilized intelligence and a quest to give their protagonist freedom that their peers didn’t possess which ultimately led them to be alienated.
To begin, the definition of free will must first be explored, in particular the freedom of the mind and the unattainable goal of achieving it. The general definition of freedom is ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants’ yet this definition sets a standard that will be unachievable for most because if anyone thinks they are free, they are mistaken. Freedom doesn’t come from a lack of purpose because all that would mean is that people would end up living an unsatisfactory life where they watch the wheel of time go on as they fade away into the abyss, achieving nothing of significance. Freedom isn’t this. Freedom stems from understanding and the ability to have the mental capabilities to set a goal and make whatever sacrifices to achieve it. While this idea itself is a living contradiction as in order for people to be free they must have a chosen purpose, both texts are embodiments of this idea.
Why the notion of freedom is such an important aspect, specifically in the novel 1984, is the time period in which it was written. It was published in 1949, 4 years after WW2, when a great power attempted to seize the world and enforce its own ideologies. This fear gripped the hearts of the public and Orwell was no exception resulting in the conception of this novel where he expressed his concern for the loss of freedom that these political ideas like fascism, communism, and totalitarianism represented. That is why the protagonist is granted their own type of free will, to demonstrate the danger it has in not only a rule-bound society but also the alienation that is attached to freedom in general.
The great Ernest Hemingway once said,” The Happiest in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” and this is especially true for the protagonists of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the novel. Both characters either gain or immediately start with a higher understanding of the circumstances they were trapped in and this awareness led to a freedom their peers didn’t possess.
In 1984, Winston Smith is a unique character among his associates due to his ability to analyze and comprehend the tactics of The Party however this conscious thinking led him down a lonely path as The Party has nearly eliminated all free thinking. This resulted in him being alienated psychologically for the majority of his life as the people surrounding him were content with the injustices and atrocities forced upon them however the rebellious thoughts only grew in Winston’s mind as others became more accepting. In this case, the term developed by The Party ‘Ignorance is strength’ is quite correct as only the truly ignorant are safe from the thought police prosecution. In contrast, rare people like Winston with understanding have to constantly keep their thoughts secure effectively subjecting their minds to isolation and overall alienation from the world around them.
In the end, the two connections Winston ended up forming were with a girl named Julia and an inner party member called O’Brien. In the end, Julia claimed to be against The Party but acted more like a rebellious teenager throwing a temper tantrum and the Inner Party member ended up betraying him. This attempt to connect with others who supposedly possess the same mindset as Winston led him to feel even more alienated and broken. So much so that when he was captured he attempted to forcefully mold his brain to believe whatever The Party told him, an example being them telling him 2+2=5. Eventually, he realized that this conscious thinking that gave him some free will in a totalitarian society only left him feeling more alienated.
The movie 2001: Space Odyssey presents a similar thinking if not simpler to understand while at the same time representing it intricately compared to that of 1984. Instead of beginning with the knowledge of the circumstances, the film's protagonist Dave Bowman slowly gains an understanding of the mission which eventually results in him seemingly acquiring an even higher understanding the audience can’t comprehend. After defeating Hal, the artificial intelligence on board, Dave continued on his mission to Jupiter to find what he would later know as the monolith, a pillar that seems to give those who touch it some sort of higher understanding or intelligence as demonstrated with the monkeys in the opening scene.
This is the case for Dave as after what the audience can guess is him touching the monolith, a sequence of a psychedelic trip takes place leading him to watch himself slowly die of old age. After this it cuts to a long shot of him being reborn as something referred to as the Star Child; an unidentified creature that looks down upon Earth. While the representation of the idea itself is unusual, the meaning is genius as Dave, the Star Child has what can be assumed as superior intelligence of the universe yet he is the only one with this understanding, similar to that of Winston, as the imagery shows he is completely alone and alienated as he gazes down upon the earth.
For years Winston witnessed as his friends and even his mother were taken by The Party causing a deeply rooted fear of his own rebellious thoughts being exposed leaving him docile and submissive for many years but everything eventually breaks with enough pressure. For the majority of his life, Winston obeyed The Party without question despite actively knowing the damage they were doing and his hand in the whitewashing of history, extending their reign of terror. His sudden change of heart was due to him not being able to ignore the atrocity being committed by the party any longer, Winston finally understood the statement that all it takes for evil to triumph is that good people stand idle.
While he didn’t necessarily rid himself of his fear, by saying “he had recognize himself as a dead man,” (p.33) this metaphor shows how he had truly become free as he was able to dedicate himself to his solo crusade, the downfall of Big Brother. However, making this choice with the freedom he possessed led him down a road filled with betrayal and sorrow; this was the cost and result of his freedom as by the end of the book he is even more alienated from society.
Dave experienced something comparable to Winston as he too, had a single mindset in the completion of his own mission and while it wasn’t as personal as Winston, it didn’t diminish his determination to complete it. Being trapped in a spaceship with nowhere to go presented Dave with no physical freedom, however, his almost obsession with completing the mission gave him purpose and a free mind. This is evident through the scenes in the movie where Dave is forced to exercise in a confined area, in particular the mise-en-scene of it, and how it was intentionally shown that Dave was alone in the majority of the shots displaying the physical alienation of it all.
When Hal took over the ship causing everyone but him to be effectively eliminated, it was Dave’s resolve to complete the mission that enabled him to rationalize the situation and consider all options. This meant even leaving his friend’s dead body to wander space to let himself back in so casually or completing the mission which meant 13 more months of alienation as he wanders through space to his objective. Even when he was together with his crew, there was very little social interaction between them, the only conservations being mission-related. Dave even displayed detachment when he was listening to his family's message. This freedom or dedication to the mission ultimately led to him being not only detached and alienated from his crew and family but ultimately humanity itself.