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Print to Projector: Brave New World

By  · Published on February 19th, 2011

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.

“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.”

I have no idea what a bumblepuppy is, but Neil Postman was right to point out that while Orwell (and especially his “1984”) cautioned against tyrannical thought-police shoving rats in our faces to get us to comply, Aldous Huxley was more concerned with a governmental structure that shoved pleasure and an overload of information and distraction in our faces to get us to comply. Orwell is what happens post-apocalyptically. Huxley is what happens when society prospers beyond our wildest dreams.

It’s unclear why a feature film has never been made of “Brave New World.” It’s baffling actually because the material there is so rich. With the completely average trailer for Atlas Shrugged out this week, it got me thinking about the classic philosophical novel that I identify with the most, what shaped my thinking most when I was younger, and the prospect of that novel becoming a movie.

Here’s how I’d want to see it done, and in the effort to make it as viable as possible, my dreamcasting is all also economically viable for any studio who would take the chance on this brand. In short, for the first time in this column’s history, this movie could actually get made as I present it.

Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.”


“Brave New World” begins with the description of a human factory. It’s not a character that gets the first spotlight or a moment of action. It’s a building. In a way, that building and its neighbors are the most important entities in the entire novel. People have been reduced to zombies in the happiest way possible. You know that monkey that would starve to death if it had an Orgasm Button? That’s humanity now. They’re genetically engineered to fit easily into a caste system without complaint; they’re drugged with a downer called Soma that keeps them blissful; and they have sex just about every night with a rotating cast of partners (less they look queer for focusing too much on one person).

The world is prosperous – to a degree. They are never want for food or shelter or entertainment. The Alphas run society on down to the Epsilons who grunt work and heavily medicate through life. None of them had a choice where they’d end up in life – they were chemically altered (or chemically left alone) to become who they will be forever. They never think about their station in life because everything else is so excellent. It’s tyranny with a clown nose.

Bernard Marx had something go wrong when he was in his test tube, so he’s an Alpha, but he’s kind of malformed. His failure to fit in makes him frustrated and listless. He’s infatuated with Lenina Crowne – a highly sought after Alpha who is the Utopian version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She dated the same man for a few months? Gasp! She’s a being of pure sex that communicates by fornication.

After this world is delivered on a platter, it gets shoved to the ground with the introduction of a Savage named John who was raised outside of the society on a reservation. He causes a stir, like a zoo animal, and disrupts paradise.

Potential Problems

There are copious amounts of information here. It would require the steady hand of a production team that can deliver a science fiction world complete with its rules (and one that looks almost nothing like our culture (even if it feels like it)) without too much exposition or bogging down. It’s the delicate challenge of having the characters simply exist in their own universe while peeling back the curtain for an audience that doesn’t live there.

The Pitch

Directing: For one movie alone, this choice seems obvious. Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is a 1) a novel adaptation 2) a science fiction story revolving around a lack of childbirth and 3) a movie with a lovable anti-hero. It’s also damned good. Cuaron would be the top choice for a project this nuanced, action-based, and representational. In a way, it might act as a spiritual sequel to Children of Men in that it portrays the exact opposite world. Instead of poverty and fear, the populace is submissive because of gluttony and apathy.

Writing: With his first two scripts being for a cold, calculated future for Gattaca and a warm world based on a lie with The Truman Show, Andrew Niccol is uniquely qualified to take on this adaptation. There’s no doubt that Cuaron will add his influence as well, but Niccol could provide an incredible, character-driven base as well as the rich details of the world.


Joaquin Phoenix as Bernard Marx: But he’s crazy now, right? As if that matters. Phoenix is a hell of an actor, immensely dedicated, and he’s got something that no other actor has: attractive imperfection. Bernard is not pristine. He’s slightly shorter and not quite as handsome. Imagine that cleft lip and inferiority complex Phoenix delivered in Gladiator magnified into a challenging role that would demand emotional devastation.

Olivia Wilde as Lenina Crowne: Everyone else is casting her, so why can’t we? She’s stunning, just a bit exotic, and could definitely handle the role which requires her to be just idiosyncratic enough to stand out in a crowd of clones. It would also give her a chance to deepen that acting well with some more serious work.

Michael Fassbender as Helmholtz Watson: In a way, Watson is the most likable of the characters. He’s a better example of Bernard than Bernard is. Where Bernard is bitter and irritating, Watson is listless because he feels his work has no true meaning. Where Bernard whines about petty crap, Watson has greater problems with the fundamental, ethical structure of the world he lives in. He’s an Alpha through and through, but the cracks of the facade have started to wear through for him.

Andrew Garfield as John Savage: It’s a role that demands complete naivete and almost instantaneous worldliness. Mostly, I love the imagery of Garfield playing against Phoenix as John Savage slowly becomes the toast of the town and Bernard starts to feel that his celebrity is being stolen from him by his discovery. Bernard is just as guilty of treating Savage as a thing instead of a person, and watching Garfield charm his way through the role (seasoned by some moments of pure emotional collapse) would be fantastic.

Helena Bonham Carter as Linda: Carter might get a bad rap (at least in my mind) for being in so much of Tim Burton’s uninspired recent work, but she’s a powerful presence and always has been. Plus, she’s nominated for an Oscar this go ‘round, and I’d love to see her strung out and a few yards from the goal line of insanity.

John Hurt as Mustpha Mond: John Hurt as the Resident World Controller of Western Europe? Typecasting? Yes. But I can live with it.

…with Jude Law as Henry Foster: It’s a small role, but it needs a handsome face drooling with smarm to talk about his sexual escapades with Lenina and get Bernard all riled up.

Who Owns It:

It’s unclear, but with the announcement that Ridley Scott would be developing a version with Leonardo DiCaprio starring, it seems likely that Scott Free has the option on it right now. Scott has a lot of other projects on the vine, as does DiCaprio, so there’s little chance that it will actually get made. Which is good. Scott is a fine director and would probably make the hell out of Brave New World, but DiCaprio is a terrible casting choice. He’s a talent of course, but what role would he play? Not Bernard. Maybe Helmholtz? Who knows. He’s just not right for the main roles.

It’s a version that I hope falls apart. Or one where Scott finds another actor to secure his financing.

The Projection:

Most entries in this column are simply books, articles, plays and comic books that I think would make fun, challenging movies. Brave New World is a passion project though, even while I have no power to execute that passion. I can still dream. In the current manifestation of actors and directors and filmmaking talent, these are the people that I would have take on the difficult source material that is Huxley’s iconic novel.

However, I’d rather not see the movie made than to see it go down the path of Atlas Shrugged. With the movie not out yet, it’s impossible to judge it, but the property has fallen so far down the rabbit hole of development Hell that it’s in the hands of amateurs. It deserves better, and so does Brave New World. Making it for the sake of making it is not the point. The point is to make it with all the beauty, heartache, questioning, and triumph that the novel presents. If the right pieces fall into place, it will be a miracle, and the result should be miraculous.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.