Monday, January 11, 2021

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

The message of Fahrenheit 451 is that the end of books is the end of philosophy. If this movie is any indication, cinema plays an equal role in dumbing everyone down. Just as characters in the film are manipulated by news broadcasts, reality programs, and sports, the audience is lulled into a sense of mundane, everyday occurrence.

The director was not able to create a feeling of urgency, making totalitarian censorship look like your local trash service. In this way, the film encourages literacy, urging people to read the book rather than watch the mediocre movie adaptation.


The movie (and therefore probably the book) seems to say that deep thought and philosophy have merit, and without profound thinking we will fall into a dark age. Such a dark age may be a police state, and we all know that police are not hired for their intelligence. Unquestioning, unthinking, blind justice gives us book burnings and zealotry that never evolves beyond the basest first principles learned at police school or book-burning school. There are many people with such an overly reductionist thought process. They assign blame, make up their minds, and that’s that.

The film itself probably owes almost all of its philosophy to its source material. I say “probably” because I did not read the book. (There is some irony in a story about literacy offering a shortcut around it.) The film should be judged on the basis of its own craftsmanship, and on that basis, it’s mediocre.

On a technical level, there are some problems. The star is German-British, and his accent coupled with uneven audio volume makes some of his lines unintelligible. The film marks an early use of zoom lenses, and it shows, with the focal length sometimes sticking for a split second, ruining the motion. Almost all of the film takes place in broad daylight, making the experience feel more peaceful than it should. The pacing is bad, with characters standing around at the start of many shots. If this were a student film, it would get a B. It’s not terrible, but it falls short of Hollywood standards.

If you manage to sit through this thing, you may find a few pleasant surprises. The “wall screens” portrayed are basically early plasma TVs. One of the women fondles her breast for a second. One of the “book people” recites something that vaguely resembles Game of Thrones. All other interesting moments are dwelled on and revisited so many times that they become boring.

It would be 17 years before David Cronenberg made a proper techno-thriller and set the genre straight. While Fahrenheit 451 is scientifically grounded, it never takes flight. There is no fantasy, no suspension of disbelief, and no reason to watch.