Aldous Huxley gave the world a chilling picture of genetic controls and behaviour conditioning in his 1932 novel Brave New World. It was a world in which pregnancy was outlawed, and citizens were required to engage in loveless sex, with narcotics used to ensure happiness in the population.
His concept of the way life might be horrified and amused his readers.
The same sentiments were no doubt stirred by this MCA low-budget made-for-television movie which was loosely based on the novel, although Huxley purists would have probably loathed the 1980 interpretation where modern terminology and ideas were fused to the Huxley original.
The production still adhered to Huxley’s caste system: There were the Alphas and the Betas; the Gammas (“not too stupid and not too bright”) came in pairs and looked alike; the Deltas also looked the same – and the lowest on the genetic scale were the mindless drugged Epsilons.
Henry Ford was the god of this society, his Model T Ford the holy symbol.
Pompous and tedious Thomas “Tomakin” Grambell (Keir Dullea, with the perfect face for science fiction) is the Assistant Director of the central hatchery. He travels on holiday to the savage reservation with Linda Lysenko (Julie Cobb), one of his favourites. But Linda is not very smart with the Malthusian belt which prevents conception and Thomas abandons her in the wilderness near the savage camp where she is cared for until her child is born.
Linda’s morality is at odds with that of her new society. Her child, John (Kristoffer Tabori) is excluded from the activities of his peers because he is tall, blonde, handsome and an outsider. The child finds solace in an old volume of Shakespeare, learning a quote for every occasion (this tendency grows very boring later in John’s life when he counters every situation with a quote from the Bard).
Meanwhile, back at the baby farm, life goes on. Thomas is promoted but one day makes a mistake with the ingredients fed to the Alpha embryo labelled Marx, who receives too much alcohol.
His Fordship, the ultimate controller, nevertheless passes little Bernard Marx (Bud Cort) as fit, regarding him as a sort of experiment in genetic variations. Bernard grows to manhood with all sorts of strange quirks. He does not like erotic training as a child and favours a relationship with one woman.
Bernard – who is shaping up as a genetic failure – is about to be consigned to Iceland when he goes on holiday to the savage reserve with his girlfriend Lenina Disney (Marcia Strassman). There he meets John and Linda and brings them back to society.
John – who has been taught to regard the civilisation his mother lost as a paradise – is looked upon as a savage.
Bernard and John become friends but the ideas that John brings with him are outside the understanding of people in the secure world where everyone has what they want and wants what they have.
Bernard gains more respect in the community, gradually conforming more and more, while John decides that he likes the system less and less. He falls in love with Lenina, who cannot understand the emotion and becomes confused by it.
Still spouting Shakespeare he chooses to be alone like a hermit, manning a lighthouse and occasionally whipping himself like some crazed monk and habitually wearing a hair-shirt.
There is a very Romeo-and-Juliet ending to the miniseries in which all the radical thinkers – those tainted with ideas – are removed. But the ideas never die and his Fordship – one of the few entrusted with the Antique Library – starts to have a few disturbing thoughts of his own.
Originally four hours long but cut down to three hours for television, this is not a faithful representation of Huxley’s vision. Rather it is a sort of interpretation of it by the scriptwriters. And although the writers may sometimes use too much Huxley while rendering him a little bland, they dress up his story with witty quips, jingles and one-liners.
Much of the allegory remains, along with much of the pathos and much of the drama. What has been added is a very slick style of American humour, and although the original story may perhaps be swamped, the result is still diverting.
Brave New World was screened in the UK and Australia as a miniseries of 2 x120 minute episodes, with the original hour of footage, which was cut for the NBC telemovie version in the US, restored.
John the Savage
Dick Anthony Williams
Thomas “Tomakin” Grambell
Beta lighthouse guard
John as a child
Chief Warden Stelina Shell
J. Edgar Millhouse