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Fahrenheit 451: A Review
(Contains Spoilers)
by Sean Gangol
RGangol@sbcglobal.net

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Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

I remember reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury during my junior year in high school. It was one of the few books that I enjoyed on my required reading list in English. I also wrote a report, which included an analysis of the book, as well as how censorship impacts society. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, it centers around Guy Montag, who is part of a fire department that no longer puts out fires, but is instead tasked with burning books. Montag never even pays a second thought to whether he is in the right profession, until he comes across a free-thinking teenager and an old woman who decided that it was better to burn with her books than to watch as they are being taken away. It is then that he commits the unforgiveable sin of reading, which makes him a fugitive from the law. As you probably guessed by now, this book has an anti-censorship and anti-authoritarian theme to it, which is one of the reasons why I still find this book appealing twenty-three years later.

Not too long after reading the book, I rented the 1966 movie of the same title. I was somewhat disappointed with the movie when I first saw it, but in the last few years I have gained a much greater appreciation for it. It’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its flaws. The dialogue seems awkward at times, which many contribute to the director, Francois Truffaut not being able to speak English. Also, I don’t know if Oskar Werner would have been my first choice as Guy Montag and I can definitely say that I wouldn’t have even considered having Julie Christie play the dual roles of Clarisse and Linda Montag. Though my biggest disappointment was that they replaced the book’s climax that showed the city being destroyed by a nuclear attack with a gushy happy ending where you have a colony of people memorizing books, so they can never be taken away. I thought that the destruction of the city drove home the point about what happens when societies dumb-down their citizens with censorship. Now, I look back on Truffaut’s adaptation and while it certainly has its flaws, it is for the most part faithful to Bradbury’s story, which is more than I can say for another adaptation.

I actually remember reading in Cinescape, a defunct movie magazine from the late nineties, about how Mel Gibson once considered directing and even staring in a remake of Fahrenheit 451. I even heard rumors that Ray Bradbury was going to write the screenplay. Sadly, this never came to fruition and what we ultimately ended up with was the travesty created by Ramin Bahrani and HBO films. The movie that aired on HBO back in 2018, shared the same title as Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece and not much else. I would say that the movie was barely a shell of the original novel, but I would probably be giving it too much credit. Back in 2018, the late J. Neil Schulman wrote his own review of the movie, where he expressed his doubts about Bahrani even reading Bradbury’s novel. After seeing this movie, I would have to say that Schulman was right on the mark.

To be fair, I knew that they were going to have to make changes to certain details of the story. Afterall, Ray Bradbury wrote the book back in the 1950’s, which was decades before the internet and e-books were even imagined. However, Bahrani could have worked these minor details into the movie, while still being true to the original story. Now, before anybody accuses me of being a Bradbury purest, I want to point out that there have been certain movie adaptations that have been major departures from their source material, but are still entertaining in their own right. The movies that come to mind are Stanly Kubrick’s version of The Shinning, the 1997 adaptation of Starship Troopers and The Omega Man , which only bares a passing resemblance to Richard Matheson’s I am Legend novel.

I could have had the same regards for this adaptation if Bharani had brought more to the table. He did create a new dynamic between Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordon) and Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon). In this version, Captain Beatty is somewhat of a friend and mentor to Montag, which was established when Guy’s father betrayed his oath as a fireman for daring to pick up a book. If the story had been better written and the characters better developed, this could have created a sense of tragedy when the two became bitter enemies. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Bharani’s version of Fahrenheit 451. I will give him props for coming up with the idea of encoding books through DNA. It does seem like a more effective way of preserving literature than having people walk around memorizing entire books. That was what I thought until they talked about injecting it into animals. What possible good does this do for the cause of preserving literature? Your guess is as good as mine.

I will also give Bharani credit for creating the worst ending of all three incarnations of Fahrenheit 451. In the book, we are given hope that Guy Montag and his band of book-loving intellectuals will create a much better society than the one that was destroyed. In the first movie adaptation, Truffaut excluded the part about the destruction of society, but we are left with the hope that all the great works of literature will be preserved by a colony of rebels who have taken upon themselves to memorize them. In the 2018 version, the group of book-loving rebels making the last-ditch effort to preserve all the great works is on the verge of being crushed and Montag is presumably burned alive by his mentor. The only hope we are given is a bird injected with the DNA strand of books being released out into the wild. Bharani definitely made me more appreciative towards the gushy ending in the 1966 version.

Usually, I don’t bother reviewing movies or books that I don’t like. When I write reviews I usually do it to bring attention to content that isn’t widely known. In this particular case, I wanted to warn those who are fans of Fahrenheit 451 to avoid this sorry excuse for an adaptation. For that matter, anybody who is a fan of good storytelling should avoid it as well. If you are interested introducing Fahrenheit 451 to people who are unfamiliar with Bradbury’s work, give them the book or show them the 1966 movie.

 

Books and films mentioned in this review, to be found at Amazon.com:

Fahrenheit 451 (book)

Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut movie)

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