Unlike those who read ‘Animal Farm’ in secondary school, I only had the opportunity to read it a week ago for my satire course at university. The year before I finally finished ‘1984’ and surprisingly I much preferred the recent Orwellian novel I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It may be short but it is mighty and overall incredibly depressing for all the right reasons, it is a simplistic take on the reality of power through history and how those high up in society abuse the system for their own end, usually at the expensive of the lower class. However, what stood out to me was the poignant and bleak ending of the novel and how the 1999 film adaption avoids it in favour of a second rebellion. Whilst the image of men and pigs being indistinguishable is haunting, I found something equally as disturbing when the forced happy ending rolled along with the credits and I was left wondering why you would throw away the message of a film just for the sake of satisfying audience members of a sensitive and happy disposition. If ‘Animal Farm’ is making a social political point with hints of religious symbolism then the reality is that these forces and hierarchies are still very much present without our own time, and unfortunately shall be for what we can assume to be the whole of human existence. The truth is that life doesn’t give you a happy ending simply because history repeats itself, a Napoleon is born every day and so are loyal blind Boxers and those who behave like sheep, following any message that suits their agenda and screeching it on repeat. So why take this reality and change it to what most would consider to be a fairy-tale ending. The evil is defeated, justice triumphs. Of course, this isn’t the first time that a film has changed its ending to suit a narrative and whilst many hate a cliffhanger, I for one dislike fake positive messages used to water-down reality. This isn’t to say that life can’t have its moment, of course! But the reality is that ‘Animal Farm’ radiates a darkness that we need to look in the eye rather than seemingly overcome in the nick of time.
The intention behind the change was to potentially give hope, which in itself is fine but it does detract from the source material, Orwell wanted you to be frightened. When Winston loves Big Brother at the end of ‘1984’ you are supposed to feel gutted, it is supposed to infuriate you and that passion that resonates will drive you on to reject these systems he is satirising. If anyone has read ‘Battle Royale’ by Koushun Takami(and of course you should) the ending is the perfect example of how to end a book with a dark message while still giving it a ‘happy ending.’ I shall not spoil it but it really lights a fire in you and it hints at a glimmer for the future rather than handing it to you as a consolation prize for having gotten through the novel.
The problem is that it takes a lot to end a film without a neat conclusion because directors’ sometimes fear this is the equivalent of giving a middle finger to those who just paid to watch a conclusive story. The narrative must circle back so the person watching feels as though the story is resolved with a nice bow, all neat, and they don’t really have to ponder what happened next. I wish more films did exactly this! Unfortunately, the films who do leave you guessing, do so to create hyper around a potential sequel half the time, but I shall complain about those another day. I have wondered what would have happened if the film had ending with Napoleon in his suit, proud and powerful, the sheep bleated “Four legs good, two legs BETTER!” with the black and white propaganda video slowly fading to black. It would have hit close to home but I also think it would have caused a bigger discussion and really driven the message home, ‘BEWARE UNQUESTIONABLE AUTHORITY.’
This all may seem rather cynical and truth be told it is, I love a film that upsets me (and when I am feeling brave scares me), because they stick in my mind. As much as ‘Animal Farm’ is read by GCSE students, I do believe it could be remade and aimed towards kids with the original dark ending and they would still enjoy it, however, I do doubt that many companies would want the backlash. I do miss the days when ‘The Prince of Egypt,’ with all its blood, sacrifices, death, decay and slavery was aimed towards kids, not because I want them to suffer but because we give children too little credit! That film stuck with me my whole life not because it scared me or because it was edgy, it was truly emotional. I loved the characters, I felt their pain and I didn’t know what happened to them once they left Egypt but I was full of hope and it made me cry with joy and sadness. To explore those emotions can do wonders because it opens your mind up, creates more self-awareness and furthermore empathy. I don’t believe censoring ‘evil’ helps kids learn how to empathise, if anything it doesn’t prepare them for the world, where happy endings are truly a myth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It means something is always around the corner, there are no inevitable end credits to life until it is over, so keep pushing on and try to remain happy whenever you can. Great films aren’t afraid to upset their audiences, in fact, they want to challenge them. I heard that Orwell didn’t mind going against the grain either, and look where that got him.
Side photo credit: Flickr/’cinema’ by Franz Jachim