Note: This review is part of my reviews which I publish directly onto my Facebook Page, and are intended to be quick-fire projects.
A few years back I went through a phase of reading through all the classic dystopian stories: Nineteen Eighty-Four, We, The Handmaid's Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, The Iron Heel, A Clockwork Orange, and so on. This probably explains why I’m such a miserable bastard, who can’t function in the morning without his daily gruel and electroshock therapy.
Fahrenheit 451 (1953), by Ray Bradbury, was one of my favourites. The reason why was simply because it was a dystopia brought about by the average Joe nob end. A nightmarish society in which books and high culture have been suppressed and destroyed due to the whims of the Luddite masses; replaced by a steady diet of hollow TV culture. That, to me, seemed the most likely option. Well, HBO made a TV film adaptation recently. Somewhat ironic if you think about it.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani and starring Michael B. Jordan as Guy Montag – a fireman, who in this dark future, actually burn things – opposite Michael Shannon as Guy’s boss Beatty, this new Fahrenheit 451 updates the story for the modern day. Inevitably, this means there’s a shit ton of emojis bandied about; including that weird double underlined ‘100’ one (what does it even mean? God I’m old).
The story’s mostly the same. After a second civil war, American has become a fascist state dedicated to rooting out mental illness, unhappiness, and conflicting thought. And oh boy, let's not touch that topic with a barge pole. As a result, all meaningful culture and literature is destroyed. Burned in angry flames. It’s like the Deep South, but with polished glass and neon lights everywhere. Guy Montag is one of ‘The Ministry’s’ top firemen – he’s basically a celebrity and lives in a nice house. He seemingly enjoys his job, or rather he does until a job gone wrong. Then he enters the complicated world of the revolution, enticed by Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) a book reading outcast, and spurred on by his own desire to read. It’s Dead Poets Society with flamethrowers.
I thought this was a decent adaptation. Not great, but serviceable nonetheless. It’s baby’s first dystopia: it has the dark glass buildings, neon lights, leather suited enforcers, meaningless slogans, ubiquitous Alexa-style assistants/spies, and burnt Harry Potter book covers (with affecting music to boot) - gasp, kiddiewinks. A film tonally closer to cyberpunk than the diselpunk original (complete with robotic murder-dogs). In trying to stuff every contemporary issue into a short film, it loses the nuance of the source novel. The main issue, and I suppose this is a biggie for an adaptation, is that Bradbury’s story is reduced to surface level.
The world doesn't seem that bad, compared to say Nineteen Eighty-Four. Montag actually enjoys his life for the most part – he doesn’t have his novel counterpart’s depressed and drugged-up wife to deal with. And Jordan himself has that Will Smith brand of ‘aw hell naw’ attitude, which is good for when he’s playing the cocky celebrity, but not so much when he’s trying to come across as the intellectually-deprived wanderer searching for meaning. It doesn’t help that the film is only an hour and 40 minutes, so all character and plot developments are played out quicker than a mayfly mating ritual.
Obviously the world has changed tremendously since the 1950’s/60’s (much to the disappointment of Mad Men fans), so in this adaptation TV is no longer ‘the devil’. Now, it’s the internet and tech companies. Books in this Fahrenheit aren't just physically destroyed - they are transformed on the internet into a short emoji summary. Their entire essence is annihilated. The people are no longer depressed telly addicts, but mindless drones constantly stimulated by a violent junk culture of memes and social media. Which makes sense. Hardly a day goes by without a tech corporation being in the news for pulling off some shady shit. Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ motto is little more than the supervillain wearing a fake moustache to hide his evil identity.
Most people already spend their lives glued to their phones (how I wrote this review, actually); gormlessly browsing social media, or watching fucking shows like Love Island. So it’s not hard to imagine a world run by tech corporations, where all knowledge is reduced to emojis. A world where your most meaningful interaction of the day is posting ‘U ok Hun?’.