My Thoughts on Fahrenheit 451

“I wonder what temperature it takes to burn movies.”

The latest endeavour for my book club was the classic novel Fahrenheit 451, and unlike the last classic novel that we read I actually enjoyed Fahrenheit 451 for the most part. Fahrenheit 451 is a book about a future where the government has outlawed books, and has created teams of ‘firemen’ to burn them whenever any are found. What’s interesting to me is that Fahrenheit 451 is often cited as proof of why censorship is bad, but while the book is a commentary I find that people misconstrue it to be a commentary on the government when in reality it is a commentary on society. Anyway you kind of know the drill with these posts, I read the book and watch the movie and then compare and contrast.

Fahrenheit 451 is a pretty easy read. I sat down at about 10:30 pm and finished up by 1:00 am. It’s a short jaunt down a pretty fucking grim path considering that the book starts with an overdose. Unfortunately Fahrenheit 451 starts off stronger than it ends.

Fahrenheit 451 has a lot of messages within its 158 pages. Messages about the importance of knowledge and humility, criticisms of society and where it may lead if not corrected among other things, but I found that for the most part Fahrenheit 451 did a good job of not getting to preachy with these cautions. That is until the end of the book.

The beginning of Fahrenheit 451 is full of intense moments and amazing world-building with a hint of warning sprinkled throughout, but as the novel progresses I found it get more and more preachy which is ironically one of the things that the book warned against. I found that the struggles of our main character grew less and less relatable as the story continued leading to me eventually just getting bored with what I was reading. I mean the ending of the book is kind of cool I guess, but it’s also very out of place with the rest of the story. It’s like it has no purpose. You just kind of read it and go “Okay, but why?”.

I will say that Fahrenheit 451 is well written (at least in the beginning), and it is quite a fun read if you have a few hours to kill. In terms of “books that you might have to read in high school”, Fahrenheit 451 places near the top.

But Fahrenheit 451 also has a few movie adaptations, the first of which was made in 1966 by filmmaker François Truffaut. I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that this adaption fucking sucked. I mean it didn’t suck so much as an adaptation, but as a movie it was so boring. Truffaut decided that Fahrenheit 451 as it stood wouldn’t make a good movie, so he stretched out parts of the story; my issues are with what he decided to stretch. He cut out main parts of the story in favour of weird love triangles and equally convoluted messages.

Another thing about this adaption is that it’s very much a product of its time. Movies in the 60’s were generally very ‘bright’ in tone and appearance; and Fahrenheit 451 follows suit. It’s kind of like if The Partridge Family had a dystopian episode. It was weird to see the juxtaposition, and it made no sense in the context of the story either. Everyone in Fahrenheit 451 is unhappy. There are countless suicide attempts every single day, and yet everything is happy and fun? That bothered me becasue it felt like Truffaut didn’t really read the book in the first place.

Also, the performances in this movie were fucking terrible. Everyone was so wooden and felt forced into every scenario they were a part of. The story didn’t flow becasue everything felt manufactured. And it certainly didn’t help that most of the lines had to be dubbed over in post, which is painfully noticeable by the way. It’s just another disappointing thing to add to this adaptation.

But one thing the 1966 Fahrenheit 451 movie did right was the direction. You can say whatever you want about François Truffaut, but the man knows how to direct a camera. The shots were creative and immersive, and there were a lot of nods to other directors of the time like Hitchcock. I also really appreciated the set and costume design in the movie. Despite it not being exactly what I had pictured, they did all play nice together and create a world that was coherent enough to be believable.

But as I said there was another adaption of Fahrenheit 451, one that came out only a few months ago. That’s right the HBO distributed, Michael B. Jordan-led production which was— well, it was even worse. How was it worse? For starters it was nothing like the book. Like I mean nothing like the book. There is one scene which was ripped directly from the last movie, which is similar to the book, but other than that it is nothing like the book. How different from the book was it? Imagine a ten year old read Fahrenheit 451 after watching all of Black Mirror, and then had a fever dream that combined the two. It was that different from the book.

The one thing that bothered me most about this Fahrenheit 451 adaptation was the very obvious reliance on 1984. Fahrenheit 451 can stand on its own without needing to bring in this “Big Brother is watching” bullshit. It was very obviously a ploy to get more people interested in the movie, but it backfires by muddling the point of the book. The government isn’t the bad guy in Fahrenheit 451, it’s society. There is literally an entire passage (which is also included in the movie, coincidentally) that outlines this, and yet it was still thought appropriate to combine Fahrenheit 451 with 1984? It doesn’t make sense to me.

The weird technology focus the movie has is what made me make the Black Mirror connection, and it is fucking weird to watch. There are terrorists who upload art to the internet (that’s right, all art is banned in this version), weird DNA experiments, and cameras literally everywhere. It’s so unlike the book I find it hard to even draw comparisons. It’s like Children of Men level in terms of differences between the source and the adaptation.

This adaption only had two things going fo it: It looked really pretty, and Michael Shannon was in it. I will stand by my statement that any Michael Shannon movie is worth a watch just for Michael Shannon. He makes shitty movies tolerable, and good movies great. Michael B. Jordan was there too. And I also really liked the look of the universe that was created for the movie. It was dark, gritty, a little technology-heavy for my tastes but I still enjoyed it. This adaptation had such good legs, they just took the movie in a shitty direction.

Overall Fahrenheit 451 seems to be one of those books that just can’t be adapted into a suitable movie. The book was fine, the amazing parts being held back by the bad parts, but the movie adaptations were far from fine. They changed plot points, story focus, even entire messages present in the book were completely missing.

I wonder what temperature it takes to burn movies.

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