Brave New World
Leslie Libman and Larry Williams
19 April 1998
Brave New World (1998) is a made-for-T.V. libertarian science ﬁction movie based on a book of the same title by Aldous Huxley. It was directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams, produced by Universal Television Entertainment, and originally broadcast on NBC. Because it departs in a number of ways from the book, various fans of the book have argued that this movie hardly does the book justice, and some even argue that this movie is not even worth watching. I hold the opposite opinion: Despite my agreement that there is much in the movie that departs from Aldous Huxley’s original story, I consider this movie even better than the book. (In any event, fans of the book are more likely to recommend the much cheaper-looking 1980 television rendition, which had also been produced for NBC.)
Video uploaded to the Internet by YouTube user jj1980cn.
This video contains Spanish subtitles not included in the original broadcast.
Brave New World As a Dystopia
The thing that makes Brave New World interesting amongst dystopias is that, at ﬁrst glance, it doesn’t appear to be a dystopia at all. Rather, at ﬁrst glance, it appears to be a utopia. Most people in Brave New World are generally happy. Thanks to new technology, people don’t age. Sex is no longer seen as some sort of taboo thing, nor is promiscuity regarded as “depraved.” There are no prohibitions on recreational drug use. There is no disease, and nobody is in poverty. Living out of wedlock is socially acceptable. There is no war.
This is all great stuff. And, it makes the world of Brave New World rather appealing, actually.
And yet, despite all of these wonderful things, Brave New World still is a dystopia. The characters live under a powerful one-world government, and this government maintains itself primarily through propaganda. While promiscuity is no longer regarded as depraved, monogamy is, and marriage itself has been effectively banned. It is likewise seen as antisocial for one to choose not to use psychoactive drugs. Love is suppressed, and childbearing is strictly forbidden. History, art, religion, philosophy, and science (save for those technological advancements deemed useful to the state) are all banned. And, ﬁnally, the state has erected and imposed a class system upon every individual.
Tim Guinee as John Cooper
From a libertarian point of view, the government in Brave New World is just as despotic as the governments you and I live under. According to the libertarian, you don’t have a right to own other people, nor do other people have a right to own you. This means that you should be free to do what you want so long as you do not initiate force or fraud against the person or the justly-acquired property of others; if you do initiate such force, then you are infringing upon that other person’s right to self-ownership, and if someone initiates such force against you, that person is infringing upon your right to self-ownership. Thus, the libertarian has no ethical problem with voluntary, noncoerced promiscuity, nor with those living out of wedlock; but, likewise, the libertarian has no ethical problem with voluntary, noncoerced monogamy, nor with those living in wedlock. A state that prohibits, regulates, or taxes monogamy or marriage is, therefore, according to the libertarian, just as tyrannical as a state that prohibits, regulates, or taxes promiscuity or sex out of wedlock.
The Social Structure
Natural childbirth through impregnation has been done away with in Brave New World. Of course, there is nothing unethical about cloning or producing children through in vitro fertilisation, but there is something unethical about banning natural childbirth through impregnation. This is because every person, being the natural owner of her or his own body, should be free to commit any nonaggressive act she or he likes with her or his own body, including getting oneself impregnated. Unfortunately, the state ignores the natural rights of its subjects.
Every individual born into society in Brave New World is genetically engineered by the central planners, and conditioned to accept her or his state-created class status without question. There are four classes depicted in the movie: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, and Deltas. The Alphas are designed to be the smartest, while the Deltas are designed to be fairly mindless and robotic. Everyone is conditioned to desire material things, and to lack any deep emotional connections to other speciﬁc individuals.
Unsurprisingly, the state wishes for its subjects to believe that the state’s power to prohibit impregnation is legitimate, and thus it must confuse its subjects into not believing, or not realising, that they each have a natural right to self-ownership. It does this through propaganda.
Governments are typically good at only one thing: propaganda. This is because states have an incentive to be good at propagandising, while they lack any real incentive to be much good at anything else. Governments do not keep our cities safe, they do a poor job educating our children, and they often cannot even deliver the mail on time. Yet, every state has succeeded in convincing the masses that, were it not for strong, centralised governments, we would have chaos. This is the primary reason why states around the world attempt to control the education of their various subjects.
Propaganda in the movie Brave New World is even more pervasive. Not only does the state control education, it also requires every subject to listen to and watch state-produced messages. This is intended to condition the subject into accepting her or his “place” in the state-organised social structure, and to adopt those norms the state administrators believe will lead the subjects to remain content and submissive.
Examples of state-promoted propaganda appear fairly early in the ﬁlm. For example, a government-employed teacher named Lenina Crowne describes unregulated procreation as “very dangerous.“ Why was it dangerous, according to Crowne? Because when men and women are left free to “match up their own DNA, then anything [can] happen.”
“Each of us is genetically-designed to ﬁt perfectly into our place in society,” says a student named Gabriel, “so everyone is happy.”
Natural childborth is described by the teacher as painful, dangerous, and degrading. “It wasn’t until the world was uniﬁed under a rational, scientiﬁcally-enlightened government that real progress could occur.”
But the real reason the state does not wish to bide impregnation and natural childbirth is that it cannot as easily control the development—physical, intellectual, and otherwise—of individuals in the womb. And, in order to further discourage natural childbirth, love itself is, to the best of the state’s limited ability, suppressed.
Thus, it is popularly regarded as “antisocial” to only have sex with a single person. “Promiscuity is a citizen’s duty,” the state tells us, and “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” Here, we see the state directly attacking the concept of a natural right to self-ownership. You don’t own your own body, the state is saying, everyone else does! Alas, as Voltaire would say, Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.
Not only is self-ownership under attack by the state, but individualism itself is rendered taboo in this brave new world. “When the individual feels, the community reels,” according to one of the state’s messages. “Unorthodoxy threatens society,” according to another. “Happiness is serving others,” according to a third. In other words, the state wants its subjects to avoid independent thought, for it knows that nonregulation of thought would allow people to more easily question, and possibly rebel against, the orthodoxy of the state.
Not surprisingly, various persons in the statist hierarchy are annoyed, to say the least, when John Cooper, a “savage,” shows up, and starts spouting such “antisocial” things as “make your own [destiny]” and “[no one else] can tell you who you are.”
The ﬁlm takes place at some undetermined period in the future, after some wars. As indicated above, the world is ruled by a single, powerful, and authoritarian government. Everyone in “civilised” society is created through genetic engineering, although there are “savage” territories where natural childbirth still occurs.
Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne—played by Peter Gallagher and Rya Kihlstedt respectively—are close. Of course, this makes them suspicious. If promiscuity is a citizen’s duty, then these two individuals are engaging in subversive activity. They should, everyone tells them, at least make an effort to be a bit more promiscuous. After all, everyone belongs to everyone else.
This is important, for it means that, despite the best efforts of the state, it has not succeeded in its goal of abolishing love. At best, it has merely suppressed it.
One day, while ﬂying in a helicopter, Marx and Crowne crash in the “savage reserve,” where they discover John and Linda Cooper. Linda was born in the reserve area, but had been brought into “civilised” society by someone who worked at the border control centre. Once she became pregnant, however, she was dumped back into the reservation. John is the illegitimate child of Linda and some unknown Alpha.
Leonard Nimoy as Mustapha Mond
Marx decides to bring John and Linda Cooper into “civilised” society, primarily in order to study John, a man who has Alpha genetic material but none of the conditioning of the Alpha class. He does this with the permission of the World Controller, Mustapha Mond, played by that sci-ﬁ legend, Leonard Nimoy.
John Cooper is a bibliophile who saved what old books he could ﬁnd, books that few have seen since the wars. When he ﬁrst enters “civilised” society, he is quite enamoured of it; it appears to be a utopia. But Cooper knows not to judge a book by its cover. When Cooper sees that love, freedom, and truth are all suppressed in this brave new world, he quickly rebels against it.
Maybe you won’t like this movie as much as I. It does not, after all, appear to be a very popular rendition. But I like it nonetheless. I ﬁnd it much easier to relate to the characters in this revision than in the original, and the love portrayed appears much more real, much less contrived.
This is a story primarily about two things: individuality, and the freedom to have one’s own emotions. And this movie captures that quite perfectly, in my opinion. Sure, there is a silly subplot added in this movie about a Delta programmed to be an assassin, but other than that, the movie is rather well-written. Maybe you won’t like this movie, but I hope you do.