Breaking the Shackles

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“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”

So begins the satirical science fiction short story classic by Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron,” published in 1961. This story has gained almost cult- like admiration, and is freely available online.

This great little story has been made into a superb film short – called “2081” – by Chandler Tuttle, who wrote the screenplay and directed the flick (Moving Picture Institute, 2009, 25 minutes). The story concerns an act of rebellion by Harrison Bergeron (Armie Hammer). In a society where the strong are forced to wear weights, the beautiful to wear masks, and the bright to wear headsets that emit noises to disrupt their thoughts, Bergeron – with his great strength, handsomeness, and intellect – is forced to wear all three. He escapes from prison and takes over a concert hall, disrupting a televised ballet performance in which the dancers are weighed down by chains to equalize them with the masses. Bergeron breaks off his handicaps and convinces one of the ballerinas to discard hers as well. He then performs a dance of exquisite beauty. While this is going on, the Handicap General’s stormtroopers frantically try to close in.

We see all this mainly through the eyes of Bergeron’s parents, Hazel and George. They are watching it on TV, but how much do they – and the audience – really comprehend? It’s a question that means a lot for lovers of liberty.

The film is excellently narrated by Patricia Clarkson. Julie Hagerty (of ”Airplane!” fame) gives a great performance as the mother of limited intelligence (no noise-emitting earpiece necessary for her). And James Cosmo is also good as the world-weary father. Armie Hammer (who has done considerable TV work) is quite interest- ing as the rebel Harrison. And there is a nice cameo by political commentator and talk show host Tammy Bruce, who plays the implacable Handicapper General, Diana Moon-Glampers.

“2081” is now available through Amazon and can be bought for a modest price. It’s a fascinating little gem. The Motion Picture Institute deserves great praise for producing it.

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