1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Farhenheit 451

Universal released a big budget adaptation of Ray Bradury's novel in late 1966. Farhenheit 451 (F451) is a reasonable adaptation of Bradury's 1953 novel. Oskar Werner plays the protagonist, Guy Montag. Julie Christie plays both Clarisse and Linda Montag. Director Fancois Truffaut provides a very visual film with some artistic input of his own into the story.

Quick Plot Synopsis
In an undefined future, Guy Montag goes to work as a fireman. Houses are fireproof. Firemen seek out and burn books, which are illegal. They raid an apartment, find many books and burn them. While riding the monorail home, Montag is approached by a chatty (and pretty) neighbor, Clarisse. She asks him if ever read any of the books he burns. This makes Montag curious. At home, Montag's wife Linda is a listless and shallow woman obsessed with her television shows. At one point, Montag discovers her unconscious on the floor from a drug overdose. Callous paramedics arrive and give her a total blood transfusion. Afterward, she remembers nothing, but is hungry and libidinous. It doesn't last. The next day when Montag returns from work, he secrets in a book. He gets up at night to read it. Clarisee tells him she's been fired from her teaching job. Montag cannot help her. Later, Linda catches Montag reading at night. The next day, the firemen are called to Clarisse's house. Her uncle warns her so she escapes through the roof, but he is caught and the old woman in the house (with a huge library) refuses to leave. Instead, she opts to burn with her books. This upsets Montag even more. He steals another book, but is secretly seen doing so. Linda catches him again and threatens to leave him. She later informs on him. Montag tries to resign but the Captain insists that he complete just one more run. This turns out to be his own home. There, the Captain confronts him as a book criminal. Montag turns the flame thrower on him, killing the Captain. Montag flees, chased as a murderer, Eventually he makes his way to the countryside where the book people camp. There, each person has committed a book to memory so mankind's literature might survive this dark age. Montage meets up with Clarisse again. He is given Edgar Alan Poe to memorize. Literature lives on in people, if not print. Fade to black. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The story is grim, but the acting, directing, cinematography and music make for a rather lush viewing experience. The dualitys (Montag v Captain, Clarisse v Linda, etc.) make for some thoughtful musing afterward. F451 is not a "lite" movie.

Cold War Angle
Most of Bradbury's original impending apocalypse is missing, but the view of an oppressive authoritarian state is clearly stems from the Cold War mood.

Based on the Book -- Much discussion already exists on the internet, comparing what Ray Bradbury had in his 1953 novel and this movie adaptation. Yet, a few points are worth adding. The movie sets more of a 1984 tone of a future world oppressed by some vague authoritarian government. F451 also shares some of Brave New World's prediction of a hedonistic (and vacuous) citizenry. Bradbury said he focusing more on how television drains us into being docile zombies, than he was on authoritarian dystopias. Some of this still comes through in Truffaut's adaptation. The ending lacks Bradbury's hinted apocalyptic flavor. Instead of massive war providing the phoenix its flames, the "Book People" in F451 just wait passively for the end of the dark age.

Iconic Scene -- The scene in which the old woman refuses to leave her books and dies in the flames, is one the movie world's iconic scenes. While low-gore by today's standards, it was nonetheless pretty powerful.

Relevant Message -- While ranting against books, the Captain (Beatty) criticizes books because they offer opposing opinions. A lack of a homogenous message only upsets people. In the bookless, television-dominated world, a single (non-upsetting) world is portrayed. "The only way for everyone to be happy, is for everyone to be made equal." This seems an especially salient message for today -- with the notion of equality being pushed to Asmovian extremes, and whichever political party is in power, seeking to squelch any opposing voices.

She's Not Dead Yet -- A significant change from Bradbury's novel was that Clarisse did not die. In the movie, she and Montag part ways, but meet up again at the "Book People" camp. Bradbury is said to have rather liked that change. Even though unstated, this does fit with fake caught-criminal drama such as Montag's "capture."

Tele-Zombies -- Even though overshadowed by Truffaut's storm-trooper firemen, the notion of a citizenry drained of life (by their drugs and televisions) still comes through. The TV drama which Linda is all excited to participate in, is excruciatingly banal. "But where will Monica sleep? In the blue room?" In life, Linda and her friends are equally as banal. The drugs similarly drain away humanity. Note how, after her transfusion, Linda is ambitious and passionate. The drugs and TV quickly return her to "normal."

Monorail Moment -- Used to good effect, to create a mood of "future", is a SAFEGE-system monorail system built in France in 1959. Envisioned as a commuter line to relieve urban traffic, little more than a 1.4 kilometer test track was built at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. It was operated for several years, but proved to be too expensive. The line was dismantled in the late 60s (1969?), but the car survived in storage (though in poor condition due to vandalism). The stairway, as seen in the movie, was actually an "emergency" stair not intended for regular use. Passengers were got on and off at station platforms at the car's floor level. Monorails had their moment in the 50s and early 60s, had a magical aura as some clean and better (and more "modern") mode of transportation. The oddness of French monorail helps give F451 its other-worldly quality. Viewers will note that few automobiles appear, despite extensive roads.

Bottom line? F451 is a great classic movie. It can be enjoyed by sci-fi fans -- even those jaded by CGI -- as well as those less keen on the typical sci-fi, for its thoughtful plot. Werner, Christie and Cusack all turn in great performances.


Anonymous said...

LOVE your site! I'm looking for the names of two Sci-Fi movies I saw as a kid. One was black and white and the other was in color. The black and white was about a bunch of scientist on on island that develop this thing that looks like a turtle with long neck like a snake that would latch onto you and suck out your bones. They were supposed to cure cancer I think. They split in half every few hours and multiply. The second was some sort of epidemic with a nasty rash that wipes out people and the only scene I can remember is with a guy in a phone booth. I was only around 7 at the time (1972) and it was on a Sat afternoon feature flick. Thanks!

2D23Dconversions said...

I'm pretty sure that the films are Island of Terror (1966) and Night of the Big Heat (1967) both produced by Planet Films and starring Peter Cushing.