Does the flame of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 still burn strong today?

Published On March 8, 2018 | By | Arts

Hand holding book up to fire (Matthew Frank)

Matthew Frank

Oh no, not another movie remake.

But Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell says the reboot of Ray Bradbury’s iconic novel, Fahrenheit 451, as it returns to the small screen as an HBO movie in May, is more relevant than ever.

The remake updates the technology used from the original 1966 film, which starred Oskar Werner as book burning firefighter Guy Montag and Julie Christie as his wife Linda and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1966 Venice Film Festival. Then the peak of technology was television. Now it’s social media on hand-held computers that threaten to eliminate old ways of communicating.

“People have been predicting the death of print in a realistic way for the last few years,” Howell said.

“We can actually see a time now where it would be hard to get printed material because of screens,” the Toronto film critic and president of the Toronto Film Association said.

According to a 2017 report from Pew Research, 67 per cent of Americans report they get at least some of their news on social media, a slight increase from the 62 per cent of U.S. adults reported in 2016 they get news from social media.

The numbers are concerning since Facebook had a number of top-performing false election stories during the 2016 U.S. election, according to a study conducted by Buzzfeed.

Just as the firemen search the dark for an elusive book to burn in Bradbury’s tale, people in the current era may be looking to eliminate certain types of information, like fair coverage.

Daniel Levitin, a behavioural neuroscientist and McGill University professor, expresses concern the information age is bad for our brains and making us less efficient.

He tries to make sense of people’s constantly wired minds in his book, The Organized Mind, where he says “e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter checking constitute a neural addiction.”

And addictions may be exactly what they are as people check their phones every five minutes, he says, and that may stop people from fulfilling their primary duties.

The film trailer’s main focus of flame is as eye grabbing as a cell phone screen, and the plot of this adaptation has never seemed more ironic.

As the glamour of the film’s Blade Runneresque dark lighting descends on a group of people wearing VR goggles, one can’t help but imagine if they’re immersed in a reality better than what exists.

Howell thinks there is a valid message in the novel of how concentrating or focusing on something is a worthwhile endeavour.

“Always skimming the surface of something is not as valid,” he said.

But skimming that surface may be exactly what some are doing as people’s average attention span has fallen below that of a goldfish, according to a 2015 report from Microsoft.

That may be the most noticeable from the quick insanity and chaos of the 50-second-long trailer.

University of Toronto professor Bart Testa, who teaches a course called Science Fiction in Film, is not convinced the remake will be anything but an action film about fire.

Ray Bradbury, author of dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 (Open Culture)

“In the period the novel was written and the ‘60s film was made, books mattered and could inspire to revolt, resist. Today, not so much,” Testa said.

“A violent government campaign against [books] will probably seem [too elaborate], and the style of the HBO effort will just augment [that],” he said.

As a new flame burns bright in Raimin Bahrani’s adaptation, some people are wondering if the movie can stay true to the novel.

“Is this based off of the other Fahrenheit 451 one book or what?” a Youtube user asks of the trailer.

If that makes anything obvious, it may be that people do not recognize the adaptation.

In fact, by it’s lack of information, the reworked film may in fact enable dystopia.  In this way, it may even be bringing Bradbury’s message to life: that an absence of literature can ruin a society.

But, the trailer is still a subject of conversation as the last bits of yesterday are extinguished in the trailer’s last seconds before the new Fahrenheit 451 logo burns strong.

Howell finds it interesting that in the original trailer, “you’ll see [the film] in the ‘60s was painted as more of a thriller.”

“The ideas seem more plausible now than they did back then,” he said.

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