Brave New World (2011)

Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Ridley Scott

U.S. Opening Date: TBA 2011



In a future society based on pleasure without moral worries, love is prohibited but casual sex, now called “engaging”, is strongly encouraged. Everyone is kept happy with a legal drug, soma. People are hatched and cloned on conveyor belts to meet the requirements of five different social classes, from ruling Alphas to robot-like Epsilons.

Bernard Marx is a different Alpha male with an inclination to thinking. He and a girl called Lenina Disney go visit a reservation of “savages” where they meet a handsome young man named John and bring him back to “civilization”. John turns out to be the son of the director of the cloning authority, which causes a scandal and makes John a celebrity freak. John falls in love with Lenina but his desire is ruined by his antiquated sexual morals derived from reading Shakespeare. John hates the over-social but anti-emotional civilization, asks to be sent to live in isolation, and gets a job as a lighthouse guard. But even there he can't forget Lenina or escape his celebrity status.


It is obvious what the appeal of this 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley would be to Andrew Niccol, the New Zealand-born screenwriter / director who is writing the screenplay for a big screen adaptation. Niccol has previously tapped into similar territory in his 1997 movie Gattaca, an underrated affair about a dystopian future in which genetic engineering determines one’s place in society.

After all, in retrospect Huxley’s novel seems to be to have been more prescient than George Orwell’s vision of the future with 1984. That is if you’re living in the affluent West and not, let’s say, a dictatorship like North Korea at least.

See if you can spot any of these elements from Huxley’s novel in modern consumerist society today (courtesy of Wikipedia):

The novel begins in […] AD 2540. In this world, the vast majority of the population is unified as The World State, an eternally peaceful, stable, plentiful society where everyone believes everyone is happy. In this society, natural reproduction has been done away with and children are born and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres. Society is rigidly divided into five castes, which are carefully engineered by these centres. The castes are: the Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons (with each caste further split into Plus and Minus members). Alphas and Betas are the top level of society: they make decisions, teach, and dictate policy. Each Alpha or Beta is the product of one egg being fertilized and developing into one fetus in artificial wombs located on an assembly line in Hatchery and Conditioning Centres.

Far-fetched yes. About does any of this ring a bell?

All members of society are conditioned with the values that the World State idealizes. Children are trained to identify by their caste, co-operate, copulate, to enjoy anything that is good for Society, and hate anything that is bad for Society. Constant consumption is the bedrock of stability for the World State; one thing everyone is encouraged to consume is the ubiquitous drug, soma. Soma is a mild hallucinogen that makes it possible for everyone to be blissfully oblivious. It has no short-term side effects and induces no hangover; however, long-term abuse leads to death by respiratory failure.

Heterosexual sex is also widely consumed. In The World State, sex is a social activity rather than a means of reproduction and is encouraged from early childhood. Regular reproduction can occur, but is viewed by society as unnatural and repugnant; the few women who could reproduce are conditioned to take birth control. As a result, sexual competition and emotional, romantic relationships are obsolete. Marriage is not only unnecessary; it is considered an antisocial dirty joke because, as the conditioning voice repeats at night, “everyone belongs to everyone else”. In World State society, natural birth or pregnancy is smut of the most vulgar kind. To call someone a mother is the lowest possible insult; calling someone a father is not as bad (it will even produce laughs), but it's little better.

In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death Neil Postman points out the relevancy of Huxley’s book as opposed to Orwell’s vision of the future in 1984. He writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Now understand the relevancy of the novel to modern times and its appeal several decades later?

Anyway, rights issues have been sorted out and Brave New World is in preproduction. Leonardo DiCaprio has expressed interest in playing John, the so-called “savage” and Ridley (Blade Runner, Alien) Scott has expressed a desire to direct it. (Apparently DiCaprio used to play hide-and-seek in the gardens of a Hollywood Hills mansion owned by the family of Huxley by the way.)

“The technology was not there to make it look convincing,” said George DiCaprio (Leo’s dad). “It is a vast futuristic world to put on screen, packed with many ideas which made it tough for some studios to deal with.”

“There is now nothing stopping this film,” Huxley’s granddaughter Tessa said, referring to the legal rights to a movie version.

Update (13/10/2008): Despite director Ridley Scott declaring that an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel will “definitely be what I do next after Nottingham, the Robin Hood film (with Russell Crowe),” it would seem that he is putting off Brave New World in favor of another sci-fi book, namely Joe Haldeman’s celebrated 1974 novel The Forever War


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