While HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 managed to draw relevant connections between the 1953 classic novel by Ray Bradbury and the modern day, its deviations from the book’s original plot detracted from its ability to create a well-developed story and cast of characters. In the film, released Saturday, Michael B. Jordan stars as Guy Montag, a fireman that lives in a dystopian society in which the firefighters start fires rather than put them out.
When Montag meets Clarisse McClellan (Sofia Boutella), an “eel” who is working as a double agent for the firefighters and the eels—those who want to protect the classic literature and music that the firefighters call “graffiti” and burn—he begins to question his belief in the government that he had placed all of his trust in.
His uncertainty is noticed by his captain, Beatty (Michael Shannon), who molded him into an obedient firefighter after taking him in as a child for reasons revealed through Montag’s flashbacks of his father. While this is a new addition to Montag’s family in the story, absent in the film is Mildred, his wife, likely in order to allow Clarisse to act as a love interest for Montag.
This relationship with Clarisse —from its unnatural tension in the beginning to the too fast progression into a trusting partnership—feels forced the whole way through. Clarisse was originally written in the novel as a younger neighbor, not someone that could possibly be involved romantically with Montag. The decision to rewrite their relationship feels like a cheap way to draw in interest to the film and is a perfect example of the reason why not all movies need a love story. In some cases, like this one, it’s better to focus on the substance of the story, rather than try to force a romance where it doesn’t belong.
Further, the loss of Mildred from the story takes away the insider perspective of the society—her total devotion to technology and ignorance of the changing in the world around her in the novel provided an example of a common person. The film, however, only features characters that identify as firefighters or eels. The result is a movie that falls short of what seems to be its intended goal: to make its viewers think about the way complacency can threaten our safety and freedom—instead, it only offers an opportunity to identify as the perpetrator or the hero, meaning that none of the in-between bystander roles that most people actually fall into are represented.
The movie certainly has a modern political agenda: The firefighters tell civilians “See something, say something” about books on the dark web, as well as reference eels and accuse them of trying to take “our jobs” and steal “our tax money,” and at one point Montag yells “Time to burn for America again.”
One particular topic the film focused on was that of the media and the people’s relationship with it. The Nine, the news channel that reports on the firefighters’ activities, works completely with the government, offering a one-sided and entirely biased account of the encounters between firefighters and eels. This media-government relationship seems to serve as a warning to the current American society that proclaims concepts of “fake news” and politically influenced reporting.
This effort to connect was well-intentioned, but ultimately was not enough. Many of the allusions felt out of line or were left undeveloped, and there was many a missed opportunity to make this movie a catalyst for thought, rather than just a way to pass the time while looking at the CGI fire scenes. This film certainly isn’t bad—it’s fine: It’s entertaining, has decent acting, and is, after all, adapted from one of the best American novels of all time. It just lacks the substance to get anywhere near the success of the book on which it is based.
Featured Image by HBO