Vonnegut's cynical, engrossing story is hopeful and upbeat in the end. Akin to "Slaughterhouse 5," "Harrison Bergeron" is the author's vision of well-intentioned fascism set in 2053. The regime prevents human cruelty by imposing widespread handicaps upon its citizenry, and keeping everyone "average." Plummer portrays the evil title charachter through a mask of "true belief" in the system; he is undone by a boy's challenge. Instead of reply, Bergeron shows the youth gruesome Holocaust footage to illustrate human inhumanity. The all-too-familiar reel is more unwatchable than ever, now hitting home by almost persuading the viewer that any system able to stops atrocity can be justified. And Bergeron, even more than we, struggles to embrace that idea.
Physical impediments -- Vonnegut's metaphor for total oppression -- are shown in only one scene, when a televised dancer's a sandbag accidentally falls off, allowing the beautiful, wild dance of an unfettered soul. In contrast, mental handicaps everywhere cement a wretched "equality" that ironically becomes Bergeron's own trap. He can't dim his own sharp mind. Recruited into the upper, oppressing ranks of his society, he's exposed to brilliant comedy, good music, great movies, fine drama, and sees how abject the world is, having lost its culrural riches. He can only yearn to share them.
Finally, he commits the high treason of usurping all the nation's television stations, and broadcasting great films and comedies (including Buster Keaon's slapstick), playing jazz recordings, and even reading poetry aloud. His spiritual and politcal revolt is soon halted, although two teenage boys' discussing it afterward reveal the film's faint but profound vision. Its message os subtle, sweet, poignant, and hopeful.
Several comedians from SCTV, including Andrea Martin, Howie Mandel, and John Astin, are brilliant in secondary roles. The funniest moment, when the younger Astin, a la Buck Henry, plays a TV executive with just the right pedantic self-righteousness -- underscores Vonnegut's distrust of manipulative bureaucrats, while offering comedic relief.
Intelligence, personal freedoms, and cultural differences are unstoppable, although many regimes, including the Nazis, have tried to end them. But Vonnegut offers us hope in the face of all oppression.
Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur Crimm
Christopher Plummer, Sean Astin, Miranda de Pencier, Buck Henry
Vonnegut, Big Brother, year 2053
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