Monday, May 28, 2018

'Fahrenheit 451' Would Have Been Much Better as a TV Series

Fahrenheit 451 is a film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic 1951 novel.  It’s set in a future America which had undergone a second Civil War in its past.  Diversity of ideas is faulted as what caused the war; thus, in this new dystopian society, books are banned, the pursuit of knowledge is discouraged, and history is rewritten to affirm the status quo.   Meanwhile, the work of firemen is no longer to put out fires, but to burn books and round up the people who read them.  Those who are caught are sentenced to have their identities erased, which basically exile them from this digitalized society.  All of these – the book burning and the sentencing – are live-streamed to an adoring public, as the state has been able to use media as, not only an efficient propaganda tool, but an opiate for its citizens as well.

The focus of the story is on Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan), a zealous fireman who is being groomed by his superior, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon), to be his successor.  However, an interaction with an outcast named Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) starts him on a path of challenging his way of thinking, which ultimately leads him to want reading a book, become disillusioned of his job, and ally with the book-reading resistance.

I haven’t read the original book, so I don’t know how much of this movie is based on it and how much of it is new for the movie, since it has to update the story for a 21st century audience.  However, I have a gist of what happened in the book, for I’ve encountered articles and other properties that referenced it, and I’ve seen the sci-fi action movie Equilibrium, which is loosely based on it.  It’s an incomplete understanding, yes, but based on that, I don’t feel this movie really captured the depth of its source material.
First of all, the novel features Christian themes, which the movie avoids.  In it, the Bible has a prominent presence in the story.  It’s one of the books that Montag saves.  He’s so fervent of reading it that, at one point, his wife asks him if the Bible is more important than her.  He even memorizes the book of Ecclesiastes.  Apart from that, a few other Bible-centric insights are presented, like how the Devil twists Scripture to serve his purpose.  On the other hand, the Bible is only mentioned once in the movie; it’s shown, along with To the Lighthouse and Moby Dick, to have a diluted, state-sponsored, emoji-riddled digital version.

Moreover, I had to groan at its attempt to sneak in some not-so-subtle subtle Trump-bashing.  It’s so forced and stupid.  In the first place, to equate Trump to censorship, weaponizing media to control the narrative, and political correctness doesn’t work when these are practices often conducted by the Left.

I was also weirded out by this once scene (SPOILERS) where Montag finally meets the resistance whose way of preserving important books is by memorizing them.  As the members are introduced, the contribution of the Asian woman among them is revealed to be Mao Tse-tung ’s Little Red Book.  Oh, really?  I don’t mind stereotyping the Asian woman with an Asian book.  But of all of the known Chinese books, why does it have to be something from a mass-murdering, perverted tyrant?  It could have easily been Sun Tzu’s The Art of War or Confucius’ “Five Classics.”  Why did the movie go that route?  Is it trying to say the Little Red Book is – gasp – good literature?
Now, the movie isn’t all negatives.  It has a couple of good things going for it as well.  I especially like the incorporation of social media culture to the story.  I thought it was brilliant.  However, most of its thought-provoking aspects are not given the exploration that they warrant.

I think the main problem is that the movie doesn’t have enough time to really gel.  It surely has intriguing material, and all throughout the move, it constantly shows glimpses of something great.  But it’s simply unable to follow up on them.  If this was an HBO mini-series instead, there’s a great chance its world, themes, and characters would have been superbly fleshed out – making it a profound, worthwhile adaptation.

In the end, Fahrenheit 451 is a decent movie.  Though it’s surely not as smart and impactful as it could have been, there are still some nice takeaways.   But if I have to choose between rewatching this and Equilibrium, I would go with the latter.  That one fell short of being more intellectually stimulating as well, but it at least has gun-kata.

No comments: