Dir: Francois Truffaut
Str: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack
Is it possible to exist such kind of society actually all writing
activities are prohibited? Please don't ask. After all, Fahrenheit
451 is a SF movie.
Fahrenheit 451 depicts the future world where the possession of
books is strictly prohibited. Even all the written characters seem to have been banned from this hypothetical world.
Astonishingly, there is even such a scene the protagonist of this movie (played by Oskar Werner) is reading a cartoon
magazine instead of a newspaper. As you probably know well, in historical China, actually there was such a period
books were banned and burned. But, in this case, I presume writing activity itself was not the direct target of
the prohibition, but rather, the particular background thoughts described in books must have been the actual target.
On the other hand, in this movie's case, as there seems to appear no written text message at all anywhere in it,
I cannot help assuming writing activity itself is supposed to be prohibited in this future world. Is it possible
such kind of society exists? Probably, this is not the question we should ask as to this movie. After all, it is
a science fiction.
This movie's crisp and abstract images are quite excellent. Thanks
to the photographer Nicolas Roeg.
Fahrenheit 451 is based upon the same name novel written by the famous
SF writer Ray Bradbury. As I have never read this novel, I don't know whether or not the movie is an accurate rendition
of this novel. But, I can surely say the atmosphere is quite marvelous. As the movie was directed by the hand of
the famous French director Francois Truffaut, it has quite a different flavor than usual Hollywood SF movies. Especially
crisp and almost abstract images shot by the photographer Nicolas Roeg who himself becomes a famous director in
due time is quite appealing to the eyes of having been bored of the overly SFXed, unabashedly exaggerated recent
movies. Furthermore, all the events take place in very limited range (all events occur in a small village) despite
the subject. Therefore, overall feeling is rather still and poetic. Had this movie been made by some Hollywood
megalomaniac director, it would have certainly been an extremely flamboyant extravaganza, for the story has every
element of being likely to become so. I heard the movie will be remade by Australian actor/director Mel Gibson.
I hope he won't change this stunning movie into a tremendously huge but extremely hollow crap movie.
Fahrenheit 451 affectionately shows us how novels and poems are
precious for one's inner lives.
Anyway, as I mentioned before, this movie's strength resides in its poetic
aspect. Especially, the last scene where many exiled people are citing famous novels and poems by heart in falling
snow is astonishingly impressive. Watching this scene, I am reminded of the fact the life of any person has two
sides; that is, one is external and related to an actual life that makes him/her physically alive and therefore
many concessions to authorities are absolutely necessary, and the other is rather inner and spiritual one by which
one can find the meaning of his life. I think even modern life that seems to have emancipated human beings from
miserable lives of medieval age (I avoid arguing about whether actually the life of medieval age was miserable
or not here) seems to place much stress upon the former aspect. Nevertheless, it goes without saying novels and
poems are one method according to which man can literally reconstruct own life by retracing the inner states of
the persons who wrote them. Fahrenheit 451 is affectionately showing this precious value of books in constrast
to the uniformity of highly controlled society.
All the SF movies depicting future world seem to be always
concentrating on darker aspects. Is that possible, a happy
futuristic SF movie?
But, it is also true that such kind of latent power that might eventually cause
social upheaval sometimes becomes a serious matter for the authorities that always want to keep the current state
of society unchanged, and, moreover, such conservative mind set easily permeates even among those who are governed
by authorities. In this movie, Oskar Werner cites some kind of poem in front of four women. But, except one woman,
they can't accept the value of the poem or rather refuse to accept it without knowing they are always forcing themselves
into the mental state where a certain censor mechanism is always filtering out the elements that have been considered
to be inappropriate to current condition. And this scheme is so effective that they don't even notice they themselves
have long been one of those authorities. In this regard, there is no doubt in that Fahrenheit 451 is handling
an anti-authoritative aspect by depicting the future world that is totally controlled by authorities. I am always
wondering why almost all SF movies depicting the future world have this anti-authoritative element, and are willing
to show the darker aspects of the future world. There seems to be no such SF movies that are illustrating the bright
side of the future world; i.e. happy futuristic SF movies. Judging by those dreary SF novels and movies like 1984
or Brazil , for us, human beings, future society seems to be always considered to be suppressed by authoritative
structure. But, in this aspect, compared to those movies that have no salvation streak
in the story at all, Fahrenheit 451 has one great advantage over them in suggesting any situation would
be changeable by altering own inner state, even if outer condition has never changed. Through the gradual alteration
of Oskar Werner's mind state, you will be able to easily grasp the potentiality of this power; i.e. mental liberation
But, I think the technology of mass production of printed books
made the advent of highly controlled society possible.
But, about this movie, there was one point I couldn't understand. That was,
highly controlled society is rather the result of print-enabled written-material-originated technology, not the
result of the absence of it, nevertheless the movie shows the highly controlled society that bans and burns printed
materials. According to the eminent sociologist Marshall McLuhan, when the age of the mass production of printed
books arrived, the world changed from oral and audile-tactile based society to highly visualized one, which, in
turn, succeeded in producing homogeneity and abstraction. Highly controlled society certainly needs these characteristics
to retain their power. Because versatility and hybridity and concreteness hinder the formation of the strict structure
they need for maintaining the control over people. Books produced these characteristics, not prevented them from
being formed. When I said in the first paragraph "Is it possible such kind of socirty exists?", this
aspect is also on my mind. Besides the obvious fact, without any writing activity, it would be impossible to maintain
various tasks needed for retaining society, it's also absolutely true management of society could be made possible
only after the ability to retain homogeneity and repeatability had been acquired, and mass production of printed
books certainly brought them.
In this movie, there are many scenes where we can feel
Then, why has the movie succeeded in conveying the affectionate feeling toward
books, if producing books is the prerequisite of highly controlled society to which the movie obviously opposes?
I can answer this question with two answers. The first answer is, though this is a quotation from McLuhan's book
The Gutenberg Galaxy, "print created national uniformity and government centralism, but also indivisualism
and opposition to government as such". In short, printed books has influenced upon two sides that are completely
opposite to each other. Also McLuhan says in this book, "If print made the vernaculars into mass media, they
also constituted a means of central government control of society..... But the very nature of print creats two
conflicting interests as between producers and consumers, and between rulers and ruled. For print as a form of
centrally organized mass-production ensures that the problem of freedom will henceforth be paramout in all social
and political discussion." So the reason why now we are capable of talking about "freedom" is because
we could get foothold of discussing it through the prevalence of printed books. Therefore, the scene where all
the exiles from authorities are citing books and poems clealy shows this aspect of printed books; that is, printed
books brings us a method of opposing authorities, as well as authorities themselves, by enabling us to use free
will. The second answer is books depicted in this movie aren't the representation of the books produced by mass
unit, but rather the representation of the books produced before the age of mass production arrived. Before mass
production of printed books started, books were usually replicated by some persons' hand, or read aloud in front
of audience. Therefore, books were also related to audile-tactile senses as well as visual senses at that time.
Likewise, in this movie, there are many scenes where we can feel audile-tactile senses. For example, the aforementioned
last scene shows us many people reciting books audibly. And the scene where Oskar Werner reads books orally with
his fingers touching and tracing the texts on the books he is reading as if caressing his wife (Ironically, he
becomes estranged with his wife because of his possession of books that is, of course, forbidden) , and even the
scene where the pages of burned books are curling up in the flame will surely bring us tactile feeling. Thus, in
this movie, the restoration of audile-tactile senses is suggested through the affectionate handling of reading
books, and, by showing us, as a contrast, highly controlled society that utilizes only visual senses (a large big
display seems to be the main method of communication in this movie), this movie seems to have succeeded in evoking
affectionate feelings toward books in the audience's mind.
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