Fahrenheit 451 is novel written by Ray Bradbury about a dystopian near-future where books are banned, and if discovered burned by “Firemen”. Bradbury himself wrote an adaptation for the stage, and Francois Truffaut & Jean-Louis Richard wrote and adaptation for the screen.
I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time in September, 2012 while on vacation. I cannot remember the last time a book so affected me and caused me to think. I vaguely remembered a film was made, and while researching the film I discovered that Bradbury also wrote the play. Soon thereafter I bought the play and ordered the film. What follows is my comparison of the three.
The protagonist is Guy Montag, a “Fireman”. His life is changed after meeting and befriending his young neighbor Clarisse. Slowly waking from the apathy of his life, Montag starts to save and read books. He decides the society that he lives in must be challenged and changed.
The near-future of Fahrenheit 451 is a familiar one. More accessible now than when the book was first published and film released. The world presented is one in which everyone is numb and people only care about their immediate pleasures. No one is really connected with each other, even if they are husband & wife. This is represented most clearly through the character of Montag’s wife, Mildred in the book and Linda in the film. She takes pills to sleep, pills to wake, and spends her days in distraction with her “parlor walls” interactive television–where everyone will get their chance at fifteen minutes of fame. Her friends, actually convenient acquaintances, are equally vapid.
Books became banned not through the act of an over reaching government, but through the growing apathy of the citizenry over decades. As the population grew and the pace of life accelerated people wanted their books to be shorter and easy to read. As time went on and the books were abridged and then reduced to bullet points, people wanted only those that made them happy and did not challenge them to think. And still later with the rise of minorities & special interests and the need not to offend becoming prevalent, the people further abandoned and then banned the books.
Compare this future to our present. This is a time of shrinking newspapers and one page internet articles, a time of the two-minute news piece and fluff entertainment interview, a time of hundreds of celebrity articles/posts to one thought-provoking essay. We live in a time of no talent “celebrities” getting their fifteen minutes of fame. A time where the “parlor walls” of Fahrenheit 451 are the smart phones & tablets of today. How many times have you been to dinner and eyed a family across the way where everyone at the table is obsessed not with the conversation between themselves–because there is none–but what they are doing on their smart phone and/or tablet?
The most interesting character is Captain Beatty. The strength of the book and play, and weakness of the film is him. Beatty is a bizarro surrogate for Bradbury. His monologue of how and why books were banned is Bradbury ranting about things to come. It is implied by the book and made explicit in the play that Beatty is not only well read, but also an owner of books. The book leaves you wanting to learn more about him. Bradbury either knew this or wanted to learn more about Beatty himself, because he delivered in spades with the play. On the opposite side, the film reduces the character and the movie surfers for it.
Another key difference between the book and other adaptations is the fate of Clarisse. Bradbury so liked what Truffaut did with the character he emulated it in the play. Also, whereas the book and play have the hound, the film does not–most likely due to the budget and special effects technology at the time.
Experiencing Fahrenheit 451 across three mediums was interesting and proof positive each one must be treated uniquely. The book came first and is a triumph of literature. The film followed and was flawed. And though it was the weakest interpretation of the story, it still had some good take-aways. Having Julie Christie play both Montag’s wife and Clarisse was an inspired choice, and brought into sharp contrast the rot in Montag’s society. The play was last and focused the story to its key components, while at the same time adding new information about the characters.
Book = A
Play = A
Film = C- (you can read my review here)