Sunday, January 3, 2010

Turn the page: Fahrenheit 451(1966)

Since first accessing the internet about four years ago I have found myself spending more time in front of my computer and less time doing what I used to do quite a bit in my free time: reading. There are books I've bought, and as recent as late 2009, that sit on my den bookshelves unread and gathering dust. I have seen some articles on the internet that touch on the decline in the number of active libraries. Some media experts have even gone so far as to suggest that there may come a day, in our future of ever changing, and constantly improving technology, when books may become obsolete and nothing more than nostalgic collector items, perhaps like the VHS tape, 8-track tape or VCR and audio cassette. Speaking for myself, I hope that day doesn't arrive in my lifetime. I cannot imagine a world without books. Author Ray Bradbury did. He wrote a book about it, published in 1951 and called "Fahrenheit 451". In this book Bradbury wrote of a dystopian society where books are banned. Those books discovered on a person, any person, are immediately burned. The "451" is a reference to the Fahrenheit temperature at which (book) paper ignites.

An interesting and thought provoking movie was eventually made, released theatrically in 1966. The film is called Fahrenheit 451, directed by French director Francois Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie and Anton Diffring.

In this film we meet Guy Montag(Oskar Werner), a fireman living in a sterilized society in which all books have been banned, books deemed by government to be a source of corrupting influence on society. Citizens are encouraged to be compliant and without emotion. The fire department is also tasked with searching out any persons in illegal possession of books: when these books are discovered by Montag and his fellow firefighters they are quickly and unceremoniously destroyed, incinerated by flame thrower. Montag is symbolic of the times: a deliberate, methodical and emotionally muted man who goes about his job without any ambition or afterthought...until he meets Clarisse(Julie Christie). Clarisse convinces Montag to actually read a book. He does and begins to question why books are banned. Problems arise for Montag when it is discovered he has been hiding books in his residence, which forces him to choose between his career as a fireman or a life with Clarisse and her underground group of friends who have defied the government's ban on books...(no other spoilers)

Fahrenheit 451 is an interesting study in contrasting characters: the stoic, methodical and compliant Guy Montag and his neighbor, the affable and extroverted Clarisse. Julie Christie actually plays both Montag's wife "Linda" and "Clarisse"(she wears her hair completely different for the respective roles). I also think this movie is effective at showing how and why people change, once they're presented with something that truly gives them pause.

There are two DVD releases of this film(Region 1), one release in 1998 and a second one in 2003. To see the 2003 DVD release for sale at Amazon click the DVD cover art image above or click on the title of this blog entry.

The trailer for Fahrenheit 451(1966):