Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 is a not a perfect film, but it's imperfections can be overlooked simply because it is so interesting, visually and philosophically. I haven't read the book in years, so I can't be sure how much of this to contribute to Ray Bradbury, and how to much to Truffaut. I do think Truffaut added quite a bit of his own ideas to this film. As a result, it comes across as experimental and playful. Certainly, it is an interesting experiment on how to thoughtfully criticize the media of which you are a part. The film ends up being a small statement on the nature of postmodern art. Art, no matter what kind, is volatile and dangerous as well as completely necessary.

Given the subject matter of the story, it is fascinating subject matter to take on, particularly in Truffaut's able hands. The drone-like, fascistic world where books are illegal is punctuated instead by mass communication, creating sort of a postmodern milieu. In every room of the house in which protagonist Montag (Oskar Werner) lives with his wife, Linda (Julie Christie) there is a different television screen. Montag's wife is a superficial and somewhat aloof drug-addict (which does not seem to be abnormal in this society). She is hardly seen apart from the television set to which she clings, hanging on the various programs. In one of these, the characters feign interaction with the home audience by pausing and waiting for them to respond to the images. In this program, the characters speak Linda's name and stare into the camera, as if looking at her directly. As Montag notes, they are talking to anyone who happens to be named Linda. Thus, the television reduces society into one entity, erasing the individual from its all-encompassing design.

In this film about images have usurped the written word. As such, it is interesting that the two opposing female roles are both played by Julie Christie. Their nearly identical appearances hide two extremes. In an interesting parallel, books are hidden, lurking in the houses, unseen. In an environment where images have proliferated to the point that they have taken over, essentially erasing any depth from the world; intellectualism and individuality are muted. Books represent the emotional depth and variety of humanity, as well as its ability to question the state of things--all of which are waning in the present society. In one scene, Montag reads aloud to Jane's clone-esque friends. In the beginning of the scene, they are shot from a distance, disallowing the engagement of the viewer. Montag's reading incites an emotional response from all of them, and the camera moves in closer. Throughout the film, there are many shots in which people caress themselves, almost as if to make sure they are alive amid the flux of static imagery.

Montag is eventually able to escape when the news fakes his death, which essentially becomes real, since it was on television. There are some interesting little Easter eggs that Truffaut leaves in the book-piles, such as a copy of the Cahiers du Cinema, and a copy of Lolita that bears an image from the Kubrick film on the front. Even while the subject matter reviles the censorship and burning of the novels, the camera lovingly rests on the fire and the curling pages of the books as they are consumed.

Truffaut uses the abilities of the camera to meditate on the ills of a society with only thoughtless media like television. I still find this an interesting story to tell through the medium of film, but it works. Truffaut seems to be making the case that film is art, as long as it maintains the individuality and philosophical self-criticism of true authorship.

1 comment:

  1. my favorite opening paragraph of any of your reviews. totally encompassing.