A cold, foreboding sense of anti-humanism envelops our predicted future society in the film adaption of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451. We often critique our present society and the traditional ideas of humanity as a whole. We believe that if we, at the very least, acknowledge society’s inherent problems, the future must be brighter. However, humanity will inevitably sit idly by while its candy-coated surface rots underneath until the entirety of society eventually crumbles from the inside out. At least, that is what this film quite poignantly suggests through its dreary atmosphere, dispassionate characters, and staccato plot and dialogue.
Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard’s 1966 film adaption of the (ironically) banned book begins with a series of narrated open credits, assimilating the reader into a time where the human race is illiterate. Shots of cables for the ever-present wall-sets are paired with striking colors not seen in the drab film. This is only the entrance into a time when the planet Earth is ruled by a totalitarian government where books are forbidden and firemen create, rather than put out, fires. The main character and protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman who has never questioned nor broken the rules of the government. It is only after Montag meets his strange, curious neighbor, Clarisse, and his wife overdoses on sleeping pills (and later brought back to life) does he being to question what books have to offer. Eventually, Montag starts to collect books from different “crime scenes,” hoarding them in his ventilation shaft and reading at night, secretly. However, Montag’s wife, Linda, finally informs on him to the firemen, his own team, and Montag must run away to join a colony of others just like him who commit one book to memory and become a living library. This ultimately prevents society from destroying literature altogether, inevitably keeping the history of mankind alive.
The film itself does a brilliant job bringing the viewer into the melancholy, lifeless world of Montag without losing their attention. The dialogue and the actions of the characters are so well thought out and choreographed, minimalistic if you will, so that the story can be told with as few words as possible. In the scene where Montag bursts in on Linda and her friends and reads to them a piece from one of his hoarded books, the surmounting tension is so thick that it could be cut with a knife. A stream of words come pouring out, filling the silence that has been so prevalent throughout the film.
The aesthetics of the film are very calculating as well. The architecture of this “utopian” society is so very geometric and gray, which is contrasted so vibrantly by the personal library of an older woman who chose to burn with her books and lit the flame herself. One of the best scenes in the film is when Montag steps into her library, which is filled with books of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. They are tangible objects of the life Montag is missing, and longing for, and you can see the painful longing in his eyes.
But perhaps my favorite scene in the film is when Montag arrives at the camp of the “Book-people.” He is welcomed with open arms, and open minds. I believe the most important part this film has to offer is the idea that these “Book-people” would, without a doubt, choose to give up their entire lives, families, and history, to completely take on the persona of a piece of literature. It is the same reason why cultures live and empires fall: books are knowledge, and knowledge is power.