Coming out only 4 years after George Orwell’s more famous “1984” was published, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” isn’t given nearly as much credit as it deserves for predicting the future. Although a debate has raged about whether Huxley’s “Brave New World” or Orwell’s “1984” is the more prescient work, I actually think “Farenheit” deserves to be (at least) in the conversation as well.
Bradburry predicted large flat-screen televisions the size of a wall, ear-bud transmitters, 24 hour banking machines (ATMs), a drugged-out populace addicted to watching other people’s lives, the rise of other media to suppress books, and societies that heavily censor reading material under the guise of protecting minority opinions (you need only look at how Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Miller, and Mark Twain are treated by today’s hyper-sensitive). Even something not literally true–like “The Hound,” an eight-legged robot dog that tracks your every move–can be seen in the rise of the surveillance state.
And his vision of an illiterate, over-entertained, disconnected populace is only more true in our opiod epidemic, social media addicted, Trump age. [It’s widely rumored Trump himself is only semi-literate, and has said his favorite book is “The Art of the Deal,” his own book that he dictated to someone else to write. He doesn’t even pretend to read other books, and seems mostly obsessed with TV media’s portrayal of him.] One group that controls all the reading material might as well be called “Amazon,” and Jeff Bezos the public face of an empire that wants to control what you read (with a slight tweak of Amazon’s algorithms, your books don’t exist). Plus, we’re not even getting into China and their extraordinarily tight censorship on reading materials. A quick look at the “best-seller” list at a Chinese airport looks more like propaganda pamphlets.
So why does the TV Movie not entirely work? Partly because it’s not even remotely faithful to the book. The characters of Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) and Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) are well-acted but have little in common with their book counter-parts, not to mention totally different arcs and outcomes. And that’s just what’s in the movie.
Aside from the fireman lead character Montag (played by Michael B. Jordan in the film), the book’s second most important character is probably Montag’s wife “Millie,” a Stepford Wife gone to seed who spends unreal amounts of time watching TV, taking drugs, making shallow talk with her friends, and shunning all human connection or mention of books. According to all sources, Laura Harrier was cast in this part for the film, but she’s nowhere to be seen in the actual movie. Did she shoot her part and they edited it out? Why did they do so? Her character is actually very important to the story, as it shows the ignorant population that is happy to let books burn because they have no real interest in reading.
Without this, the film looks more like some “Hunger Games” freedom fighter movie where almost every character who’s not a fireman or an unctuous TV “journalist” (played by YouTube star Lilly Singh) is an avid reader fighting for the right to read…classic literature? Does that sound like the society we’re in today? In that way, “Fahrenheit 451” the 2018 movie is in some ways more dated than the 1953 novel. Although people should watch the movie only because it’s more relevant than most things in theaters, I sincerely hope they seek out the book afterwards or–preferably–before hand. It really does combine the most realistic aspects of “A Brave New World” (media-addicted, over-entertained populace) with “1984” to create a world where, yes, things are censored, but people are too lazy to care. Grade for the movie: C+…Grade for the Book: A+