Fahrenheit 451

1966 UK
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 as 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 when books were banned and burned. But, in this case, I presume that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 tranquil 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 that 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 that 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 that even modern life which 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 that 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 it 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 that 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 some authoritative apparatus. 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 that 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 (or revelation).
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, the opposite characteristics such as versatility, 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 that, without any writing activity, it would be impossible to maintain various tasks needed for retaining society, it's also absolutely true that management of society could be made possible only after the ability to retain homogeneity and repeatability had been acquired, and, for this matter, mass production of printed books certainly enabled to actualize it.
In this movie, there are many scenes where we can feel
audile-tactile senses.
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 ways. 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 resisting authorities to articulate our cry for freedom, as well as authorities themselves, by enabling us to utilize our own free will. The second answer is that 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 arrival of mass production age. 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 efficiently evoking affectionate feelings toward books in the audience's mind.

All articles are written by Kaminarikozou