A central message of Fahrenheit 451 begins with the opening credits. They are spoken not written. The camera pans focusing on rooftops bedecked with antennas. The prevalence of television is well established, although a television founded on “over the air” broadcasting without cables and satellite dishes. There is no text to the credits, nor any in the movie outside of books, until the very end.
Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman. The opening scenes follow a bright red truck with helmeted men riding which seems familiar, until the viewer discovers that these firemen don’t extinguish fires. They start them . . . to burn books.
In Montag’s world, books, or any non-State controlled communication, is treated as the enemy of established authority. Montag is a primary instrument of that treatment.
The movie stars Oskar Werner as Montag and Julie Christie in a dual role as his wife Linda and his neighbor Clarisse. It also features Cyril Cusack as the captain of firemen. Fahrenheit 451 was the first English movie made by renowned director Francois Truffaut.
Montag, excellently portrayed by Oskar Werner, begins as a somewhat detached and distant character. He becomes more sympathetic as the film progresses. Cusack, as the captain, seems ideally cast and excels with statist villainy, much as he does in the later role of a “thought policeman” in the movie version of 1984.
In her dual role, I believe Julie Christie is a key factor in making this a great movie. Made shortly after Dr. Zhivago, she was perhaps at the height of her beauty and had matured as an actress.
The presentiments in this movie of our current world and its realities are uncanny. The searching of the people in the park by the firemen and the violation of their things is reminiscent of what now occurs daily in US airports.
The portrayal of Montag’s society as a mainly cold and emotionless wasteland in which people betray instead of love each other may be more relevant as each year passes.
Recently a very similar movie was produced. Equilibrium wasn’t a remake, but was very close in many ways. However, Fahrenheit 451 retains its charm and much of its timeless character. It is striking how much closer the lives we lead have come to the style of the lives in the movie as compared to when it premiered. The comments of Linda’s friends after Montag reads to them resonate with today’s politically correct standards.
The movie’s soundtrack is exceptional. Although the movie is not a complete recapitulation of the book, it has its own merits and they are both well worth the time to investigate. With the DVD I particularly enjoyed Julie Christie’s bonus commentary. She supplies a great deal of insight and has many things to say which will ring very true to readers here.
The movie ends on a hopeful note showing a remnant of free people living outside the main body of Fahrenheit 451 society. Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of speculative fiction.