“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship” (‘1984’).
In a society where citizens are stripped of their right to form an individual thought, forced into their line of work and have every action watched by their government, a dystopian society is formed. Leaders of these toxic bubbles strip their citizens bare of basic human rights and actions in order to obtain complete power. Through the exploration of the lack of individual freedom that the main characters in ‘1984’ and ‘Blade Runner’ face, we can clearly see the impending state of oppression that will befall our humanity if those in power continue to suppress our basic human rights. In our ever-advancing contemporary world, the ability to separate ourselves from our modern ‘Big Brother’, which is a combination of technological developments and our all-knowing government is vital in order to prolong our individual freedom.
Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984’ are famous examples of dystopian societies, exposing ruling bodies chipping away at a person’s individual freedom. ‘Blade Runner’ was produced in 1982, a time when technology was beginning to gain traction in society, and ‘1984’ was published in 1948 following World War II. The texts were written as a reflection to the events of the time and to alert audiences of the dangers of officious governments and invasion of privacy. They warn about their role as an all-knowing Big Brother through to the progression of artificial intelligence and technology. They address the oppression subjected upon citizens through this power, thus completely removing the idea that one can achieve individual freedom. With comparable imposing features of our modern society, it is important that contemporary audiences absorb the messages offered in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘1984’ in order to maintain awareness regarding our current state of freedom and ability to remain unique.
The overwhelming presence of surveillance in both ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘1984’ aids the ruling parties to achieve ‘pure power’ and infringe upon the basic rights of freedom that citizens, in a contemporary sense, feel entitled to. In ‘Blade Runner’, surveillance is a role seen filled predominately by humans. Gaff, the LAPD officer who arrested Deckard, always lurks in the shadows to show that someone is always watching. His actions instill insight to the extent of surveillance that the police have over the people of disgruntled LA. This is exemplified in Deckard’s opening scene. Mise-en-scene introduces Gaff through a cloud of smoke, sporting film noir qualities with his trench coat and hat. He knew who Deckard was though they had never met and he knew where to pin point the ex-cop without question of identity. Such use of mise-en-scene in combination with gloomy lighting creates a sense of mystery and suspicion as to how extensive the tabs are of the citizens in dystopian LA. In addition, Gaff demonstrates a skill in the art of origami. After appearing suddenly following the death of Roy Batty, Gaff speaks to Deckard and is later seen to have left a symbolic unicorn on the floor of Deckard’s apartment, thus reinstating his all-knowing role. Moreover, the presence of the robotic police is prominent during the film. Mid shots frequently capture the flying patrol cars scoping out various areas of LA, once seen questioning Deckard, reaffirming the constant surveillance presence monitoring all areas of LA. Furthermore, Eldon Tyrell is portrayed to be the most all-knowing character in the film. This is symbolized through his residence on the top floor of the Tyrell Corporation, suggesting a dominance in the city. The building is a beacon of surveillance, especially with the addition of the droning light, which eliminates privacy in every section of futuristic LA. The clear vision Tyrell has to the streets of LA from his office, shows us the potential capabilities those in power have which can suppress basic human rights such as privacy.
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In ‘1984’, surveillance closely monitors the actions of Party members to ensure no one rebels against Big Brother. Orwell creates new language and terminology to categorize and alienate crime. A prevalent concern for the Party is thoughtcrime, the act of any ‘erroneous thought’ against their totalitarian rule. Such vocabulary is used to dehumanize the act of having an individual thought, particularly a critical one. Punishment is enforced by the Thought Police, an ominous body of enforcement whose aim is to track down and eliminate any threats to their Party, thus making it impossible to achieve individual freedom as someone’s own thoughts can sentence them to death. In addition, telescreens are the eyes of the party, as the propaganda posters bark, ‘Big Brother is watching you’. With the descriptions of bodies such as the ominous Thought Police and telescreens that make it impossible for individuals to act and think without being seen, we see basic rights of freedom stripped so that the ever-present Big Brother can retain complete control over the order of Oceania. With comparable surveilling features to our modern world, this serves as a warning as to what could be an imminent state of a lack of basic human rights.
There are similar invasions of privacy occurring in the contemporary world. With advancements in smart home devices such as Google Home, it is impossible to have complete freedom and privacy in our own homes. On record, 6.8 million Google Home devices have been sold (Hartmans, 2018), while Amazon have sold 100 million of their similar Alexa home devices (Bohn, 2019). These devices are designed to process and understand voice commands, thus making our lives easier. This is why we have blindly accepted artificial intelligence into our lives, because they can change our music, turn off the lights and read aloud a recipe. However, our ignorance to the dangers of such devices is ending the idea of privacy. Who knows where this information is stored and who has access to it? Who knows when the device is actually listening? Who knows the capability of our other smart devices like phones?
In both works, the main characters feel oppressed due to those who hold higher positions and power. In ‘Blade Runner’, the replicants are resentful for many things. They have been forced into their jobs; working off world completing jobs deemed too dangerous for humans, and most prominently are resentful of their short life spans. Posed as the antagonists until Batty’s redeeming monologue before his death, the replicants are on a mission to extent their lives beyond 4 years. However, it is through their similar human qualities such as appearance, social interactions and emotional development that a warning is projected. As Tyrell says that the replicants are “more human than human”, and hence we should heed warning about trusting them. They do not deserve individual freedom because they are not individuals, they are artificial intelligence. ‘Blade Runner’ is a warning not to trust AI. This is exemplified in Roy and Pris’s interactions with the lonely J.F. Sebastian. The act of J.F. Sebastian surrendering his trust and letting down his guard to the replicant pair led to the violent death of Eldon Tyrell.
Winston is an oppressed character in ‘1984’. Oppressed by the Inner Party, Winston, and all Outer Party members for this sake, are forced to wear blue overalls and work an unwanted job. Such mundane assertions drain the enjoyment of life away from citizens, stripping them of the freedom to have unique, individual qualities. This is because the Party is “not interested in the good of others; [they] are interested solely in power” (‘1984’, pg.265). The example of Winston’s life shows contemporary audiences how important it is to maintain our hobbies and exercise our voices when the government oversteps, particularly in regards to developments in artificial intelligence and technology. Our individual freedom is worth fighting for so that we don’t become slaves to our ruling governments.
Through the demonstration of dystopian societies that Scott and Orwell have created, it is clear that totalitarian leaders’ sole purposes are to obtain complete power through the tabs kept on citizens. They achieve this through the dehumanization of their citizens, completely removing their rights to individual freedom so that they cannot act or think in a way contradictory to those in power. ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘1984’ present clear warnings as to the dangers of surveillance, artificial intelligence and oppression from leaders, still relevant to contemporary audiences today.