Ray Bradbury's best-selling science fiction masterpiece about a future without books takes on a chillingly realistic dimension in this film classic directed by one of the most important screen innovators of all time, the l... more »ate Francois Truffaut.« less
Resistance to conformity and control of individuals via technology and mass media - these are the two quintessent themes explored in Ray Bradbury's preventor (and predictor) of futures. It is a story of the destruction of affinity betwixt all the individuals in a dystopian destiny. People have become self-indulgent and distant from the actual life they are existing in. There is a developed informant culture on display, and firefighters have transformed, not to those who quench fires, but those who stoke it. And the conflagrant incandescence of their torches sets alight all identified instances of the written word, namely books and the brave souls who horde them.
Truffaut's film was not well received at the time of release and has since achieved cult status. This is one of the most atmospheric and cogitative scifi flicks you'll find, and contains some scenes which will be burned into your brain for some time. I find I must revisit this film every few years, as I really do enjoy it. And I do miss Bradbury's distinct voice in this world.
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BURN, BABY, BURN...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 01/16/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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.
How to Burn Down Your Life
Steve Bruce | Round Lake Park, IL United States | 02/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Truffaut's film and the novel from which it is adapted have both been misunderstood for too long. To start with, you have to understand that Bradbury's novels, plays, and story are almost always allegorical - so you have to look for meanings on more than one level. Truffaut's film of Fahrenheit 451 captures all of the allegorical levels of the novel. To explain: One of the many reasons human beings read and write books is because we have a deep need to know if our inner experiences are shared by others - this need can only be answered within the context of an intimate relationship, either with another human being or with a book, which allows us to reveal or to be revealed as we are. The more the State controls the use of language, the more we are controlled. In Bradbury's novel the State effectively limits intimacy by forbidding books; and since the only reference to reality is dictated by the State, what can Montag or his wife know of love? How intimate can their relationship be? Fahrenheit 451 is a story about a man who has conformed completely to external reality; or has he? Can anyone really sell their soul to the State? Truffaut's film beautifully articulates the story, atmosphere, and themes of Bradbury's novel, as Montag unconsciously - as if sleepwalking - begins to stack the kindling, dry wood, and fuel of his dehumanized existence for the moment when his creative energy can no longer be contained and his life bursts into flames. Notice, also, how Bernard Herrman's score evokes these images of somnambulism, fire building, and spontaneous combustion. The rest, of course, is a story of rebirth, of the phoenix rising from the ashes - the victory of creative passion over State control. To summarize, 451 synergizes the story of a man's mid-life crisis with the crisis of repression of human values represented by McCarthyism. Note well: you have to give yourself over to this film in order to really appreciate it - the film requires a meditative state of mind and empathic response. Montag finds that he can no longer simply function as a cog in a machine - he needs to be loved for himself. Clearly, the literal or analytically minded will not "get" this film; neither will the romantically inclined. It's a film about wholeness, about not allowing yourself to be fragmented, or having parts of yourself chopped off by external forces. You have to bring your total self to it. It's a film about actually living through your worst life crisises, learning from them, and determining your own way of life, instead of doping and drugging yourself with memory killers devised by the State. In short, watch the film and form your own opinion - you dont need the concensus or false reassurance of a film critic or other idiot in order to live your own life."
An underrated Truffaut delight
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 05/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are many who haven't cared for this movie since it first came out in the mid-Sixties, and they're right to say that it's not very much like the Bradbury novel it's based on, the special effects are largely terrible (the wires helping to levitate the police jetpacks are comically evident), and Oskar Werner seems surprisingly stiff in the lead role of Montag (as Truffaut himself admitted, Werner lost all the spontaeity he showed in JULES ET JIM and seems to be working at his acting very painfully).All that being said, this film is nevertheless a minor classic. It is one of the most thoughtful and atmospheric science fiction films ever made, and has an absolutely thrilling Bernard Herrmann score to compliment the gorgeous Nicholas Roeg photography. The closeups of the books burning are in particular quite stunning and oddly poignant--one book burns only one page at a time, as each subsequent sheet of paper curls up and vanishes--so that they seem like little murders. The film also features one of Julie Christie's greatest performances as the emotionally anesthetized and intellectually infantile housewife Linda (oddly, she was originally only cast in the more typical role for her of the rebel Clarice, but when Truffaut was left at the last minute without a Linda he asked her to double roles--much to the film's enrichment). The closing sequence of the book reciting their novels in the light snow is justly famous, but there are few truffaut films with so many "classic sequences": the old woman burning herself down atop her pile of confiscated books as a political protest; Linda's near-fatal (and immediately forgotten) drug overdose, and her subsequent recovery; the idiotic audience-participation show she and Montag watch on the wallscreen; and the great montage sequence showing the people on Montag's monorail tram fondling themselves and kissing their reflections, underscoring both the loneliness and narcissism of this society.A special note to first-time (or multiple) viewers: pay close attention to the words the "Cousin" announcer says on Linda's wallscreen.. they're actually incredibly funny..."
Fahrenheit 451: Fire As Metaphor
Martin Asiner | jersey city, nj United States | 04/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."