Fahrenheit 451: Reflections on Ray Bradbury’s Seminal Work

HBOWatch is testing out a new writer and this is his third & final test post. So give due attention to the words of Travlis Eric Hallingquest.

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Several works of cautionary literature have been ironically banned or censored, during their respective publication runs. Throughout its publication history, Fahrenheit 451 has been either banned or legally challenged, as subversive or ideologically corrupting, like Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World (1932), We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell, and Kallocain (1940) by Karin Boye. Therefore, it is fitting that HBO, a programmer that inoculates its collaborators against censorship, bring forth a 21st Century adaptation of the 1954 novel.  

How well does a novel written 64 years ago, stand the test of time? Consider the following quote from a character who knows that her life is empty, but the temperament of society forces her to appear happy.  “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?’”  This snippet from 451 is a dire warning against government overreach, and even a polarized contemporary American society can agree on this notion.  

The gist of any analysis or review of 451 will hit the following key points:Bradbury_Fahrenheit451

  • “Firemen”, who are the inverse of what actual firefighters, burn outlawed books.
  • The protagonist Guy Montag is initially content with his thought suppression centered job. However, as the time progresses he begins to question the very nature of his reality.
  • There is a secret sect of society that preserves literature, with the hope of lifting the curtains on what the principalities have established.

The most noticeable element in the story is fire.  This is seemingly a no-brainer, yet fire is a physical and metaphorical element, that can either cause harm or be a life support.  Fire represents the concept of knowledge, as it can spread across whatever it contacts.   For the totalitarian government in 451, unfettered knowledge creates a wildfire that burns into the psyche, causing individualism.  Individualism that creates bias.   For Montag and other free will advocates, that very subjectivity is what raises questions to be answered that will improve society.   Ultimately, Ray Bradbury advocates for CHOICE.  Whether or not individual or collective choices will be detrimental or progressive is irrelevant.  The argument is for the right to have the ability to select between different courses of action unimpeded.

Critical analysis of Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, has improved over the past few decades.   But unlike other more effective 1960s films, I personally find Truffaut’s take to be timid, dull, and perfunctorily in nature.   Yes, the 1966 film followed the narrative of the book, yet nothing from the largely competent Truffaut, exemplified the horrific nature of barring society from acquiring and sharing unregulated knowledge.  The trailers and behind-the-scenes footage, suggests HBO’s collaboration with the talented cast and director Ramin Bahrani will undoubtedly showcase the horrors of truncated learning, with sharp writing, witty direction, and feature-length film quality production.  

The dichotomy of staying true to source material, appeasing aficionados of the original text, and breaking new ground for a contemporary audience will be a formidable obstacle for HBO.  

 We eagerly await HBO Films: Fahrenheit 451 which debuts SATURDAY, MAY  19 at 8:00pm.


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