What if the simple act of reading this DVD review could land you in prison? Would you keep reading? What if the text were something of greater import; the Bible, maybe, or the collected works of Shakespeare? Would you risk everything for a chance to peruse the written word
Such is the world of Montag, portrayed by Oskar Werner in the Francois Truffaut classic, “Fahrenheit 451,” based upon Ray Bradbury’s seminal novel of the same name.
Truffaut creates a sinister, dystopian future in which firemen, such as Montag, do not put out fires, but rather burn books, as well as the homes and property of those who dare read them.
Montag is mostly happy in his work and goes about the job of burning books and incarcerating offenders without giving the job — or anything else — much thought. Then he meets Clarisse (Julie Christie), an intriguing young girl who introduces herself by saying, “I’m 17 and I’m crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say 17 and insane.”
After a life of tedious, altogether accepted oppression, Clarisse is for Montag a ray of autumn sunshine breaking through Stygian skies. It isn’t long before Montag realizes Clarisse’s spark is kindled by a lifetime of reading “forbidden” books. His own interest in the written word is piqued and soon the fireman becomes an avid reader in his own right.
When Montag shares some of the new ideas he has been encountering with his wife (also played by Christie), she turns him in to the authorities and Montag must go on the lam, using the knowledge gained from a lifetime spent on the other side of law enforcement.
Though some parts of this 1966 film seem dated, Truffaut’s intentionally plodding pace and monochromatic cinematography lend the tale a timeless quality. Bradbury’s visionary storyline seems in many ways to mirror modern society, where mindless pabulum rules the airwaves and the reading habits of many are restricted to the 140 characters of a text message.
The DVD version is available from Image Entertainment and is rendered in a surprisingly crisp, scratch-free format for a movie of this age.
“Fahrenheit 451” is a true gem of a movie and a must-see for anyone serious about classic literature and film-making.