Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Werner stars as a fireman in charge of burning books in a future where reading is a crime. Christie plays a dual role as his wife and his book-collectThe classic science fiction novel by Ray Bradbury was a curious choice for one of the leading directors of the French New Wave, François Truffaut. But from the opening credits onward (spoken, not written on screen), Truffaut takes Bradbury’s fascinating premise and makes it his own. The futuristic society depicted in Fahrenheit 451 is a culture without books. Firemen still race around in red trucks and wear helmets, but their job is to start fires: they ferret out forbidden stashes of books, douse them with gasoline, and make public bonfires. Oskar Werner, the star of Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, plays a fireman named Montag, whose exposure to David Copperfield wakens an instinct toward reading and individual thought. (That’s why books are banned–they give people too many ideas.) In an intriguing casting flourish, Julie Christie plays two

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3 thoughts on “Fahrenheit 451

  1. Review by Martin Asiner for Fahrenheit 451
    No one ever said that Hollywood was morally required to maintain the vision, the ethos, the scope of the book from which the movie was made. The jump from paper to screen is too vast to permit more than a taste of the original. With Fahrenheit 451, Francois Truffaut capably manages to maintain the balancing act of the increasing inner turmoil of the book burning fireman Guy Montag with a selected few of the mind-rending themes from the novel by Ray Bradbury.
    In his novel, Bradbury had the time and luxury to explore in detail the many themes of his richly textured work, most notably the interacting triangle of technology, education, and human ennui. In the movie version, Truffaut hints at how human society has perverted this triangle to arrive at the social structure that Bradbury thought not too far from his own.
    Oskar Werner plays a deeply troubled Guy Montag whose surface joy at being a fireman is quickly put to the test by a light-headed female neighbor (Clarisse, a double role by Julie Christie, who also plays his wife Linda). One of the minor themes of the book is also present in the film: that the love of books is contagious. Both book and film play up this disease metaphor with fire as the cauterizing agent. Clarisse ‘infects’ Guy early on with an innocuous question–‘Are you happy?’ Guy, of course, thinks that he is, but he soon resorts to stealing the books that he is supposed to burn. The turning point for Guy and the audience is the scene where an old woman chooses to die with her books than to live without them. Just before she self-immolates, she cries out to the firemen (interestingly enough, she looks at Guy as if she senses that he is ripe for infection), “Books are alive; they speak to me!” Later, when Guy is trying to convince Linda, whose brain is surely turned to mush-paste by the enemy of free thought, interactive television, he uses much the same phrasing. Still later, Guy attempts to reach Linda’s female friends by reading to them from a forbidden book. The result in both cases is the same. Both Linda and her friends are ‘immune’ to the infection.
    Cyril Cusack, as fire Chief Beatty, has a much reduced role. In the novel, he provides much needed background so that the mad world of his society has some philosophical underpinning. Truffaut uses Beatty mostly as a flat character who stands in opposition to Montag’s re-humanification. Still, Cusack manages to invest his character with the subtext as one who is driven to suicide to counter the deadening insensitivity of the world that he partly helped to create. Why else would he give a known traitor a flamethrower after telling Guy that he was under arrest?
    The end of the film shows a society in which all surviving book lovers combine to prepare for the day when they will emerge from the shadows of a nuclear war to infect others with the notion that it is not books that are bad, but rather it is the use to which words are put that makes them so. The closing scene of a kindly, dying old man teaching his forbidden knowledge to his youthful successor teaches us too that books are no more than a metaphor for the mind. To destroy the one is to destroy the other.

  2. Review by carol irvin for Fahrenheit 451
    I first saw this film when it was released a few decades ago and loved it. I just watched it again last night and still loved it. As a HUGE book lover, I was absolutely mesmerized by this tale of a society that not only has censored all books, but also has firemen who hunt down culprits who harbor books and then burn them at 451 degrees, the heat needed to burn paper. It is French director Truffaut’s only English language film, which does not hurt it in the least. This is an incredibly dull society of people who don’t do much other than sit in front of tv-like screens watching approved programing put on by the state. Some of them also go to work on public transit although they do nothing that requires reading. There are no road signs, no newspapers, no menus, not a shred of visible written matter anywhere in this society. Children in schoolrooms do solely mass oral memorization. For written matter gives people ideas and this society decides it is better to live without ideas. Why one wants to live without ideas remains an unasked question in this culture. Oskar Werner plays the fireman who gets more and more intrigued by these books he’s burning. Julie Christie plays two roles: a rebel who sides with the book harborers and Werner’s wife, who is a couch potato living in front of the tv-screen most of the day. I was amazed to see that Werner’s clothes and hair looked right up to the minute despite this film’s being several decades old. You would think he was a young actor in 2001. The resolution of this film is absolutely wonderful and thus I won’t say a word about it so as to spoil it for you.

  3. Review by Lawyeraau for Fahrenheit 451
    Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper will burn. It is the basis for the premise of this film, which is based upon the Ray Bradbury’s classic sci-fi novel of the same name. The film takes the viewer to a stark future in which firemen start fires rather than put them out. Their main mission appears to be to root out books, wherever they may be found, and burn them. Those who harbor books in their home are breaking the law and are subject to arrest by the state. The written word is simply forbidden.

    Oskar Werner plays the role of Guy Montag, a fireman who is married to a beautiful air-head named Linda, who spends her days popping pills, while glued to a wall screen TV. Played with appropriate bubble-brained inertia by the talented Julie Christie, this is just one of the dual roles she plays in this film. The other role is that of Clarisse, a would be school teacher and seeming misfit in that society, as she actually likes to talk about ideas, the very reason that books are forbidden. It seems that books are looked upon as giving people ideas, which is viewed by the state as a mechanism for making people unhappy with their lot.

    When Clarisse singles out Montag for conversation, he is intrigued by the fact that she is capable of independent thought. It is not long before he, too, like those whose books he has burned, is also, to his wife’s dismay, hoarding books. She feels that Montag is simply sucking the fun out of her life. Clarisse and Montag form an alliance of sorts, as his world comes tumbling down. Betrayed by his conformist wife Linda, Montag joins the ranks of fugitive book lovers, hunted by the very firemen with whom he served. These fugitives are not known by their names, but rather, by the title of the book to which they have committed to memory, in hopes that one day the world will once again be ready to accept that which they have committed to memory.

    The film has a stark, futuristic quality about it. Symbolism is rampant throughout the film. The homes of those who hoard books are often homes that are cozy and reminiscent of homes of our book loving society today, while those of people who are with the program are stark and cold. The all black uniforms worn by the firemen are reminiscent of those worn by the storm troopers of Nazi Germany. The actions of the firemen, as they search for those who would hoard books, as well as the search for the books themselves, are also reminiscent of the search by the Nazis for those who would harbor those who were deemed undesirable under the Nazi regime, as well as the search for undesirables themselves. Oskar Werner’s German accents underscores this imagery.

    This is Francois Truffaut’s first and only foray into the direction of an English language film. He himself was co-writer of the screenplay, which is perhaps why the imagery seems to supercedes the dialogue. There are many stylistic flourishes throughout the film. Ray Bradbury’s, “The Martian Chronicles”, is one of the books seen to be burning. It is also one of the books that a fugitive has committed to memory. Newspapers in the film consist of pictures only. Even the opening credits of the film are in keeping with the premise of the film that the written word is forbidden. As such, the opening credits are spoken. Moreover, Bernard Herrmann’s edgy score certainly adds to the bleak, futuristic feel of the film. This is a film that those who enjoyed the novel upon which the film is based should see.

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