Brave New World

Burt Brinckerhoff

7 March 1980

Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff in 1980, Brave New World is a made-for-T.V. libertarian science fiction movie based on the book by Aldous Huxley.  It takes place in an authoritarian, future world in which society is dominated by a state apparatus so entrenched that it has all but erased any hint of individuality.  Everyone in society is assigned a station from birth and, with the aid of conditioning, cajoled into accepting it happily.  New ideas and independent thought are highly discouraged and, where possible, censored.  The movie originally aired in 1980 on NBC; a year later, it was broadcast on the BBC.

The Point of Existence

What’s the point of existence?  I do not ask this question figuratively.  What, actually, if the point in human existence?  This question often came to me while I watched this movie.

Of course, I do not believe there is an objective “purpose” to existence.  Rather, purpose is an inherently subjective phenomenon.  The purpose of any given thing is defined by its owner.  Thus, tables are neither objectively “for glasses” nor objectively “for asses”; whether a given table ought to be used for sitting upon or for holding glassware is entirely the prerogative of its owner.

This helps us to put our question in a better light.  You, and only you, can define your own purpose in life.  This is because you, and only you, are the legitimate owner of your own body.

But in the movie Brave New World, we see that prerogative being stripped away from the individual by the state apparatus.  People are no longer free to define their own purposes in Brave New World; instead, the state defines for them their purpose, and that purpose is to consume and to produce.  People do this—no longer to fulfill their own subjective desires—but in order simply to give each other a reason to work.  Life and the continuation of the human species, therefore, is, in the 1980 movie Brave New World, truly pointless.

In summation, life can only ever have a point insofar as individualism is not suppressed.

Characters and Individualism

Yet, even in this dystopia where each individual person is disposable, where no one cares about any single human more than any other, hope nevertheless rears its beautiful head.  It does so first in the form of Bernard G. Marx, played by Bud Cort.  Marx—a bright young Alpha who rebels to some limited degree against his conditioning—is the product of a fortunate production mistake.  While Marx’s slight lack of conformity can hardly be described as radical, it is nonetheless regarded as “immoral” by the status quo.  Insofar as Bernard Marx exhibits his mildly independent thought, he can justly be regarded to that extent as the first libertarian hero of the movie.

Unfortunately, even despite his reputation for “deviant perversions,” Marx is ultimately a conformist, and poses no intentional threat to the system.

Then there is John Savage, played by Kristoffer Tabori.  John Savage is a “savage” with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare.  He hales from the savage reservation—a place where children are conceived through sexual intercourse and raised by families.  Savage, upon entering “civilised” society, fails to see the point in conforming to the controlled social expectations, expectations not based on reason but rather contrived to promote the prevailing state.  And, insofar as John Savage refuses to act in the manner irrationally proscribed by his “civilised” brethren, he can thereby be regarded to that extent as the second libertarian hero of the movie.

But Savage, too, is ultimately a conformist.  Instead of conforming to the promiscuous and hedonistic standards of “civilised” society, he conforms instead to the abstemious and ascetic standards of his own “savage” society.  Thus, he irrationally becomes irate at Lenina Disney (played by Marcia Strassman), yelling at her and calling her a “whore” simply because she chose to offer him a sexual encounter.  This is not to say, of course, that Savage is not an interesting character.  He certainly is highly interesting, especially when he defends what he calls the right to be unhappy.  But merely being interesting, and perhaps even a tad thought-provoking, does not change the fact that he is, ultimately, a conformist.  Thus, we can regard John Savage to be a mixed bag as this sort of thing goes.

(As an aside, it is rather interesting that Savage regards those in “civilised” society to be “immoral” for their promiscuity and that those in “civilised” society regard Savage to be “immoral” for his chastity.  Apparently, Huxley feared that the future would offer us only a choice between one insanity or another.)

While Marx and Savage both ultimately fail as libertarian heroes, we do have one man, Helmholz Watson as played by Dick Anthony Williams, who, as I see it, most clearly represents the individualist spirit.  Unfortunately, his character is a tad underdeveloped.  Yet, from what we know about him, he not only likes to philosophise about freedom, he even reinvented poetry.  He conforms neither to the standards of his own society, nor blindly adopts the standards of John Savage.  Rather, he adopts his own standards, using reason alone as his guide post, and revels in his own defiance of irrational overcontrol.  He strongly values freedom of thought and of speech, and is extremely pleased at the end of the movie when he learns that he shall thereafter be free to write and think what he wishes.  He does not shy away from nonconformity like Marx, but rather embraces prohibited emotions and individuality unashamedly.  And, importantly, he aggresses against no one in the process.  Thus, while I probably would not have made all of the same decisions as he does, I nevertheless regard Helmholz Watson to be the most refreshing, inspiring, and interesting character offered in this teleplay.  Watson is, in my opinion, the libertarian hero of this movie.

Questions to Ask Oneself

Brave New World (1980) is three hours long.  Upon watching it, ask yourself, does it end with a positive note, or a negative one?  Should we be happy that, even in a centrally-planned society, the state is not capable of eradicating all individualism?  Should we, instead, be dismayed that the movie ends with the system still intact and in control?  Is there hope?  Or, is the future bleak?  And, perhaps most importantly, what can we learn about our own societies from watching and considering fictional dystopias such as this one?

See Also

See also Brave New World (1998) directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams.