Fahrenheit 451: A Trump Era Adaptation

Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan in Fahrenheit 451. Photo credit: Michael Gibson/HBO

Fahrenheit 451 depicts a bleak future in which one can only hope will never come to fruition.  It also feels as if it’s very much made for 2017.

This is only the second-ever feature-length adaptation of the classic novel written by Ray Bradbury.  In his novel, Bradbury presented a future where firemen start fires by burning books rather fighting fires.  Moreover, nobody seems to give a regard for either facts or history.  As for the media, well, they are looked upon as if they were some sort of drug.

Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) is a popular fireman who goes about his day by burning books and altering history, art, photos, and yes, even facts.  Words in this dystopian future get replaced with emojis–that’s how you know that this adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 was made for the current generation.  Nobody could have imagined the 1966 adaptation including emojis!  The people staying at home are referred to as “natives.”  These natives live their lives being dependent on “Yuxie,” an AI that listens to their every sound and watches them at all times of day.  How these people do not become paranoid at this concept is beyond me!

While the burning and altering of history is going on, the Eels–an underground movment–are fighting day in and day out in order to preserve books and history.  If an Eel were to be comment, they get punished by way of burnings that are shown all over the city and banished to Talay City, a slum with little to show for it in way of technology.

Montag takes his orders from Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon).  While Beatty serves as a mentor, he’s training Montag to take his spot as the head of the regional fireman brigade.  What Beatty doesn’t tell people is that he desires knowledge, which means having to read books.  It’s a complicated world to be living in–teaching others to burn the very thing you want in order to live.

Once Montag starts to question what he’s been taught since has long as he can remember, a friction soon develops between him and Beatty.  Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi’s screenplay make some changes from the book in that Montag doesn’t kill Beatty.  As a result of interacting with Montag, Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) is an informant that puts Montag in touch with the Eels’ underground movement led by Toni Morrison (Khandi Alexander).  Montag is soon drawn to this knowledge that was largely forbidden to him.  Put in touch with the Eels, they require Montag to help save OMNIS.  OMNIS was developed to store art, history, and literature within one super-small strand of DNA.

When we reach the point in which Beatty comes to suspect and realize that Montag is no longer working for him, it leads to a series of confrontations, not unlike the Kenobi vs. Vader battle in Revenge of the Sith.  Except for the fact that this battle features a lot of fire rather than lava.

As a way of updating Fahrenheit 451 for a new generation, Raven (Lilly Singh) is now a social media video blogger.  Raven does the fire department a favor by spreading their propaganda. Beatty’s superior is Commissioner Nyari (Martin Donovan).  Finally, Fireman Douglas (Dylan Taylor) is Montag’s rival.

Years after the 1953 publication of Bradbury’s novel, it’s no longer crazy to envision a world in which we burn books or rewrite history itself.  One cannot help but think that this adaptation plays to what is currently happening in America. Hell, we already have a presidential administration that insists on referring to actual news being reported as “fake” just because they disagree with it.  It’s not just that but we’re already living in a world in which we’re so dependent on living life by way of technology.

The performances here are fine but the question that I keep coming back to is whether or not this is the same film that would have been made a decade ago.  I think not.  This isn’t so much a film made for the digital millenials but the Trump era.

DIRECTOR:  Ramin Bahrani
SCREENWRITER:  Ramin Bahrani & Amir Naderi
CAST:  Michael B. Jordan, Michael Shannon, Sofia Boutella, Lilly Singh, Khandi Alexander, Martin Donovan, Dylan Taylor

Premiering out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Fahrenheit 451 will air Saturday, May 19, 2018, on HBO.  The film will be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms shortly thereafter.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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