The movie Fahrenheit 451 was released in 1967 to mixed
reviews. Director Francois Truffaut did not speak English, and it was his first
color film, so some critics felt that he was out of his element. Time has
passed, though, and this movie seems more and more insightful about human
nature, and filmmakers now feel that it was greatly underrated. Truffaut visualized a future in which the
government–here called “The Family”–banned books because it was felt that ideas
are confusing and create discontent. Books were rooted out and burned by
“firemen,” who no longer put out fires, only set them. Instead of reading,
citizens pop pills–there are red, green, and gold ones–and watch vacuous
“reality” television programs. Montag, a fireman, is married to Mildred, played
by Julie Christie. Christie also plays a neighbor who draws Montag into
dangerous conversations about books. Montag’s curiosity about books, and his
doubts about The Family set him on a collision course with the status quo.
One of the odd charms of this movie is that it is the future
as imagined from the vantage point of the 1960s, before computers, the
Internet, microwaves, women’s lib, and cell phones–a strange, “retro,” future.
Phones are ornate and clunky, Mildred’s stove is a big, turquoise cast iron
monster, and Montag commutes to work on a monorail, a form of transportation
that never caught on. So technologically, Truffaut was off target, but in a fun
Many of his predictions about society, though, have come
true, and the staying power of this movie derives from this. The reality
programs, the ubiquity of drugs to solve every problem, the “dumbing down” of
culture, the short attention span of the public, and the corruption of the
media are all portrayed here with discomfiting accuracy.
The movie is based on the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, who was
once asked where he got the idea for the book burnings:
Well, Hitler of course.
When I was fifteen, he burnt the books in the streets of Berlin. Then along the
way I learned about the libraries in Alexandria burning five thousand years
ago. That grieved my soul. Since I’m self-educated, that means my educators–the
libraries–are in danger. And if it could happen in Alexandria, if it could
happen in Berlin, maybe it could happen somewhere up ahead, and my heroes would