Written Word vs. Silver Screen: Fahrenheit 451

13 Oct

I never wanted to see the film Fahrenheit 451. The reason for this is threefold.

  1. I thought it went against the core values of the book itself.
  2. I figured Ray Bradbury would hate it.
  3. I generally steer clear of adaptations of novels I’ve long loved and the movie just didn’t interest me.

This past week, however, all of three of these arguments were foiled by one thing or another.

  1. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time since I was fourteen and realized that it isn’t pro-literature in a way that makes it also anti-film. It appreciates all art forms as long as they are Saying Something, “It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books… take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself.”
  2. Sunday I saw Ray Bradbury speak. And while there are many things to be said about that, what is relevant here is that he stated that he likes the film, though it didn’t get everything “quite right.” He even told us of developments of a new screenplay with Mel Gibson, which hasn’t even been announced on IMDB yet. I don’t know what will be worse, Mel Gibson acting in or directing Fahrenheit 451, but if Ray approves, I guess I can’t complain too much. I probably won’t see it. Unless Guy Pierce is cast as Guy Montag, just as I’ve always imagined. (No, not just because they have the same name).
  3. Several people present at Ray Bradbury’s lecture expressed to me a great love the novel and the movie. My own best friend recommended it to me. I began to become interested.

So today I watched it. But before I begin my review let me give an overview to those of you who haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 in a long time. (Those of you who have never read it should stop looking at this review and check out the book at your local library. It’s much more worthy of your time than my complaints). Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to start fires. In the future society in which he lives, books have become outlawed, so he finds and burns them. Having done this for ten years, Guy lives in blissful ignorance until one day he meets a teenage girl, Clarisse McClellan, whose independent thoughts cause him to question his principles and his life. His encounters with Clarisse, the stifling atmosphere at home, and the martyrdom of a woman who chooses to die with her books, inspire Guy to read a book. Soon one book becomes several books and before he knows it, the firemen arrive at his house and tell him to burn it down. He does and then flees to the house of a professor he recently befriended, who sends him on his way to live amongst nomadic, literary rebels.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Because of the loss of descriptions and the means to have insight into a character’s inner turmoil, I honestly don’t think it is necessary to make an adaptation of a book unless the movie can bring something to the table the book could not: whether it can illustrate it better visually or present new philosophies the author’s did not touch on. This movie did neither of those things.

One of the elements from the book I was looking the most forward to seeing on film is the Parlor Room, the room that has three of its walls made up of TV screens, in which Guy’s wife, Mildred (renamed Linda for the film), spends most of her time. In the novel the Parlor Room is described as a room so intense with flashing images and cacophony that Guy comes out of it “sweating and on the point of collapse.” The film, on the other hand, has a “large” TV screen (average by today’s standards) on one wall, playing at a regular volume. The ostentatiousness which could be so well portrayed in movie form, is completely lost. This mistranslation is significant because the Parlor serves as the constant source of noise and distraction that ultimately creates a wall between Guy and his wife.

The "Parlor Room"

The “Parlor Room”

Another problem I have with it, is that Guy’s desire to read is not discernible. He meets Clarisse once, she asks him a couple of questions including “Do you ever read the books you burn?” he laughs it off and, in a very scripted manner, says that of course he hasn’t. About twenty minutes of plot goes by and then, out of nowhere, he is reading a book. The imperceptible Werner brings nothing to Guy’s character to show why he suddenly has such an interest, he’s simply reading. When his wife finds out about his new-found literacy and expresses her surprise, he becomes angry with her and defends the literature, that, until very recently, he himself was burning. In the novel, however, he feels distressed and doubtful of his own book reading, as it has caused him to question everything he has come to know about himself. In addition to the anger in the movie being uncalled for, it is very poorly acted and transitions awkwardly, without provocation, to Guy asking his wife, “Where did we meet?”

And that’s another thing. The wife. Director François Truffaut cast Julie Christie to play both Linda and Clarisse. I can’t find any reason as to why this is. It doesn’t seem symbolic or thought-provoking. There is no distinction between Julie Christie’s acting or mannerisms in her portrayal of the two characters, only a different hair cut and name. Also by making Clarisse older, her childlikeness and uninhibited nature become creepy and manipulative. Her curiosity is completely unbelievable.

One last complaint, I swear: The movie looks as though it takes place in the 1960s, which would be fine if it were meant to be a modern tale, but it’s not. Truffaut seems to have made no attempt at doing anything new or different, as there is nothing in the film, aesthetic or technological, that looks at all futuristic.. Perhaps nothing was done to get rid of any detachment from the plot and our own society (our own society during the 1960s, that is), but, partnered with the poor acting and shoddy script, the nothingness comes across as a product of pure laziness.*

Unlikely to watch it be re-butchered by Mel Gibson,

Meeting Ray (Photo by Carly Cram)

Meeting Ray (Photo by Carly Cram)

*Strike that, there is a scene with jetpacks. But it is so embarrassingly bad and purposeless, considering it is not in the book, I will not claim it as a triumph for Truffaut.


3 Responses to “Written Word vs. Silver Screen: Fahrenheit 451”

  1. iamhrothgar October 14, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    I just want to say that if The Passion of the Christ was the only example of Mel Gibson’s directing I would agree with you. But I, personally, feel that Braveheart and Apocalypto overshadow it. People forget how good they were because of all the hype that went along with The Passion and his personal hijinks. I would watch an adaptation he directed.

  2. Desiree October 26, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    I saw a Fahrenheit 451 at Barnes & Noble that looked kind of awesome. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Ray-Bradburys-Fahrenheit-451/Ray-Bradbury/e/9780809051014/?itm=9&usri=fahrenheit+451

  3. Desiree October 26, 2009 at 12:30 am #

    whoops that was supposed to say a Fahrenheit 451 comic…

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