Review: ‘Fahrenheit 451’ 2018 (these firemen burn)

Thinking for yourself is dangerous; we’ll take care of that for you.

In a near future, Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) is a fireman… tasked with setting aflame any “graffiti” that poisons the minds of citizens: art, music, and especially books. Montag is the go-to person to replace Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) after his promotion, but Montag has a secret: he is beginning to doubt that what firemen destroy should be destroyed. In a world where people watch “On the 9” to rate and hashtag their pure, untainted thoughts as directed by their government and condemn all those who rail against it, Montag meets Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), an outcast “eel” who traffics in contraband… and discovers he may not be so alone that something is very wrong with the world.

“If you see something, say something.” HBO’s rework of Ray Bradbury’s cautionary tale has incorporated much of modern society’s technological marvels and fears: drugs to make us feel better, social media so we can belong better, and helpful digital assistants (this one called “Yuxie”) that act as our friends and confidants while suggesting we conform… or to report us if we don’t. The parallels mirroring today’s world to an idea conceived 65 years ago are disturbing to say the least, but will viewers realize that they themselves are not only the target audience but its potential victims as well?

For those familiar with the original story, there are changes, particularly to the main characters. Montag is single in the film but has a wife in the book; parts in her life have been split between his adopted father-figure Captain Beatty and outcast Clarisse, making Montag’s decisions more personal since they only affect himself. Gone are the robotic hounds (although DARPA seems pretty close to getting those up and running), using drones in their place but used to a much lesser effect. With mentions of a second Civil War where the victors decided “confusing” and “contradictory” thoughts should be eradicated for happiness sake rather than debated, it isn’t a far stretch to imagine how “now” could in the future become this.

Firemen neither kill nor incarcerate offenders; lawbreakers are removed from society and all government benefits by having their identities revoked, forcing them to live on the fringe for scraps for a number of years. While firemen have flamethrowers that resemble firearms, there is a curious lack of actual firearms and ammunition; people use knives for personal protection as if it was their only choice. Was this a budgetary choice or something more telling?

Some production design elements go overboard, one of which being the prominent “digital” color in scenes and locations. Blue appears to represent conformity while red denotes noncompliance; yellow is tossed in when characters are at a crossroads making a decision. When you don’t notice this, it’s subtle enough, but once you do, it’s feels like being beaten over the head with a hammer. The ending is also different from the book but seems justified as a parallel to earlier events.

Futurists have never stopped warning humanity about mechanized intelligence intended to make decisions easier for us, but when someone uses those machines to push pre-made decisions and our only choice is getting with the program, expect a revolt… or an entire revolution. Also: read more books.

Fahrenheit 451 is rated TV-14 for fire, baby… fire!

Three skull recommendation out of four

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