I was pretty damn excited when I originally saw that HBO was making a movie based on the classic Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451. Unlike what seems to be every other person in the United States of America, I was not assigned to read the book in high school or college. So when I saw the movie was coming out, I quickly read my boyfriend’s copy on our home bookshelf. I was ready; I was so excited to see Michael Shannon do his Michael Shannon badass thing as Captain Beatty. I had seen Black Panther and was hyped up on Michael B. Jordan, although I already loved him as little Wallace on The Wire. I know that I definitely still need to see Fruitvale Station and Creed. I will get to them eventually.
For the other 13 people in the world who hadn’t read the book already, the premise is that in the not so distant future, the United States and basically the whole world had turned into a post-apocalyptic police state that outlawed books. Entertainment consisted of interactive programming, which was shown on “parlor walls”. Everyone had an obsession with violence, and must like our reality, no one seemed to remember what happened in the past on a worldwide scale. Books were banned and burned in an attempt to erase the memories permanently. Firemen in this dystopia burned books and sometimes book-owners instead of putting fires out. Guy Montag is the central fireman who eventually comes to question his reality and seeks to escape the mold that has been cast before him. Chaos ensues.
It might be a shock to some of you that I have never seen the original film version of Fahrenheit 451 by world-renowned director Francois Truffaut. I am planning on watching it as soon as possible and here’s why… I really (really, really) did not like this new version of it. I feel like MAYBE if I had seen the film without having read the book first, I would enjoy it simply because the source material seems to be a mere footnote in the actual telling of this version of the story. I feel as though writer/director Ramin Bahrani had a certain agenda when adapting Ray Bradbury’s work, which would have been fulfilled more artfully in an original film. I can understand that when adapting a book that is almost 70 years old, particularly in a work of dystopian fiction, you might have to make some changes to fit the preset day. This was achieved by creating an all-seeing, all-knowing “new” Internet known as “The 9”.
“The 9” is like an amalgam of Alexa, Facebook, and YouTube on a crack/steroids cocktail. It watches everything you do, shows everyone else what you’re doing, and reminds you to take your “drops” which are eye drops that erase the memories of a past that wasn’t quite so fascist. Although the idea itself is interesting, the director is very heavy-handed and not so subtle in his critique of modern technology, which would have made a great episode of “Black Mirror”, but seems a little pedantic in this film. Also, there is a line said a couple of times by both Beatty and Montag “Burn for America, again”. I’m sure it doesn’t take much guessing to figure out what that is a critique of, and don’t get me wrong, I think this administration is a giant fucking disgrace, but I honestly groaned when I heard them say this in the movie.
I am also pissed off that they completely erased Montag’s wife from the film adaptation and turned Clarisse, who is originally a young girl in the book, into Montag’s love interest. There is also the whole finale of the film which is partially in the book and partially just completely absurd. Basically a bird saves the planet. Or we’re lead to believe that hopefully it will.
I can say that even though the character of Beatty is written a little differently for this version of the film, I do appreciate Michael Shannon’s portrayal of him. As to where in Shape of Water, Michael Shannon seems to have no real goodness at his core, in this film where he plays a very similar character, you can see his own conflict with the job he has. There’s also another added storyline about the basis of Montag’s and Beatty’s relationship that gives his character more dimension and also makes him comparable to Thanos in Infinity War, but again I’m still annoyed with that choice.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance is a little wooden. I am not sure if he did this on purpose or not. The firemen of the original novel were supposed to have a certain lack of emotion, but Montag’s journey in the book was to escape this. Michael B. plays Montag kind of robotically through most of the film, with a few exceptions. I hate to say this because I loved him so much as Kilmonger, but it is what it is.
I think if you are interested in seeing this, you should. Maybe you will enjoy it and be able to separate it from the book, or maybe you’ll be just as irritated by it as I was. As for me, I’m about to sit down with some Truffaut and hopefully not get as pissed off while watching that film as I did with this one.