In the modern day of constant vitreal on both social and political issues with terms such as “fake news” being spewed out at those who either share a different point of belief or a point of belief with no factual evidence to support their side of the table. With all of that continually dividing us as Americans, “Fahrenheit 451” seems like a timely adaptation that highlights the dangers of censorship and the possible dangers we head towards as a country that doesn’t appreciate individuality as much as it does group mentality. What ‘Fahrenheit 451” turns out to be is a small minded view of the worst possible repercussions of political correctness.
The idea of books being burned to make sure everyone agrees with the feminist and minority ideologies to make a better America sounds like something an old white conservative would spew out at your family dinner. This time around though, Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo” & “Man Push Cart”), one of Ebert’s favorites, adapts Ray Bradbury’s most famous novel well enough (as far as I know) but struggles to convey the purpose of the story we’re following. It’s a narrative that follows Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan), a young firefighter in line to secede his captain, Cpt. Beatty (Michael Shannon). He’s been raised by the crazed man for sixteen years now, but his memories of his birth father feel distant, almost forgotten.
In this post-apocalyptic technological world, we all live on the nine. An engulfed digital reality that connects all of our social media to limitless possibilities of invasion, to such a point that we seek out VR (virtual reality) technology to communicate with humans. Instead of lap dances, it’s VR headsets in which the most beautiful of people have chosen us from the crowd. It’s a world in which our entire reality is what we want it to be, and it makes us feel special while sidestepping everyone else. In this world, books are seen as the enemy of the past in which the world has rewritten itself.
Closing in on a universal language in which there used to be over 6000 languages spoken, and now only 16 remain. The differing ideologies of the past that creatively challenged the norms and beliefs of the past are seen as incentives to insanity. They are there to give birth to an argument, division, and constant violence with each other. To the point in which this world has seen two more civil wars occur over differing beliefs, but these hushed ideas intrigue our protagonist, Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan).
He meets a fellow devotee of the cause in Yuxie (Cindy Katz), who helps him read his first book and understand the metaphors and allegories referenced through mere words that speak beyond any broad stroke of ideologies we could ever begin to stroke, as his heart becomes focused on spreading books instead of burning them. Captain Betty (Michael Shannon) and his misinformed brothers stand in our heroes way through, but his newfound passions remind him what it is to be human as he fights for what feels right instead of what he was told is right.
”Fahrenheit 451” paints books and creative thought as the essential key to human evolution that it remains to be, but this whole journey of a sinful man changing his ways to become a worthy activist is mistimed and mishandled. It lacks consistent authenticity as well, forcing me to question as to when this story takes place. Is it thirty years from now? Is it fifty year from now? What about a hundred years from now? If any of those questions remain true, why is everything the same? Why does Guy (Michael B. Jordan) drive a 2017 Dodge Challenger? Why does none of this take me into a new world? It’s this consistent lack of believability that holds me back from jumping into the story that “Fahrenheit 451” fabricates. It’s meant to evoke deep thought, consequential meaning, and profound reflection upon our current socio-political climate and our individual beliefs.
Yet, it all feels so emotionless and unempathetic as if all of this allegorical storytelling lacks meaning. Its messages are essential though, messages that discuss the dangers of erasing differing ideologies, the challenges that the current American socio-political climate possesses, or the constant fret of Americans fleeing from the backward moving country to northern neighboring or ocean dividing countries to experience visible and tactile progressive change. These are all themes worthy of filmatic observation, but none of them hit as they should and part of that is the believability, but it's also the lack of emotion in the screenplay.
Written by Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi (“99 Homes” & “The Winner”), “Fahrenheit 451” suffers from its lack of focus. Every great story is about something, and “Fahrenheit 451” is one that is attempting to have a message about a lot of things, but not one of those things stand out. There is no permanence; there is no focused arrow, there is no focal point for the narrative to analyze and carry this plot. None of it lands because none of it is given enough attention to feel like it should end. The story focuses more on the personal dilemmas of our protagonist and the memories he’s suppressed and the role they play in his current life, but none of them tread the same amount of water as the themes I listed above. They attempt to narrow the field instead of expanding it and going for the brass ring.
“Fahrenheit 451” settles for the bronze medal, and Shannon and Jordan aren’t to blame for that. These great actors have shown their immense capabilities before, but they are stifled as much as we are when this story is presented. It’s a narrative needing to be spewed onto its audience in a grand and precise manner, but it's narrowed and attempted to be brought down to earth instead of rising above it.
It fails to follow the creativity of the authors it burns by never using its own creative thought process to make big thoughts feel comprehensible; it focuses on things that don’t carry it's broader strokes; it fizzles out like a fart at the dinner table. One that is embarrassing as well as humorous as “Fahrenheit 451” never amounts to much more than a failed attempt at speaking universal thoughts to a specific set of people, being hushed by its own creative stifles.