The film Fahrenheit 451, directed by Francois Truffaut in 1966, was an adaptation of the novel Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury. The story detailed the world in which the main character, Montag, lived. Montag was a fire fighter in a future dystopia; a future where fire fighters do not stop fires, they start them. The fires started were book burnings. They believed that books led to anti-social behavior, therefore needed to be destroyed. Montag, at the beginning, was a faithful believer in this theory about books.
However, as the story progressed, he began to read, and escaped the rigid, censored city in which he lived and traveled to a happier place in the country, where people memorized entire books so the stories could never be taken away from them. Fahrenheit 451 was a story about censorship, the individual versus society, and knowledge versus ignorance. It reflected the attitudes about censorship in America in the 1950s, and mirrors not only the issue of censorship, but also the issue of the individual versus society in today’s American society.
Book burnings have been a part of world culture for centuries. It is under the umbrella of censorship. For example, in the United States today, fairy tales are being sanitized by mediums such as the Disney films. Parents across the nation support the sanitizing of fairy tales because it rids the stories of the “scary” parts, insuring that their children will not suffer from nightmares due to the stories. However, by ridding fairy tales of the “scary” parts, the stories lose their meaning.
The stories that once taught children about not only changes within their society, but changes within themselves, have now lost all meaning. This is blatant censorship. In essence, the same thing happened in Fahrenheit 451. The city’s authorities, the police and the fire department, wanted to rid the city of books, therefore knowledge. Perhaps they were afraid that the common man would become too intelligent. For example, the fire chief seemed afraid of the woman who chose to be burned along with her books.
Montag wanted to save her; he insisted that they get her out of the house where the books were going to burn. The woman would not go. She insisted that she be burned with her books, the books that “spoke” to her, the books that she learned from and loved so much. The film began with a book burning, then moved into the censorship of television. Linda, Montag’s wife, was watching a television show about self-defense. The self-defense techniques shown, however, had minimal contact, was in slow motion, and took place in a padded room. This was akin to the censorship of television in the 1950s.
On television shows of that era, such as Leave It to Beaver, there was no violence. There were only lessons to be learned. The television show Linda was watching was reminiscent of these earlier programs. Every aspect of the film seemed to show the theme of censorship, from the actions of the characters to the appearance of the sets. For example, the fire station and Montag’s house seem sterile, void of life. These settings are sparsely furnished and have bright, even harsh, colors. The doors in Montag’s house open automatically; neither Montag nor Linda have to touch anything.
The characters seemed detached from their surroundings. The detached feeling gives the viewer a feeling of loss, a feeling that something is missing. This is the main point of censorship, to take away something. Because of the major theme of censorship, Truffaut most likely intended to create a sense of loss. Fire plays a large role in the theme of censorship in Fahrenheit 451. The title of the film itself is significant: 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper catches fire and burns. The very first image the viewer sees is a fire truck.
From the telephone call the man in the first scene received telling him to get out of his apartment immediately, the viewer knew that the fire department was not on its way to put out a fire. The fire department created fires in order to burn books. The public is deprived of literature; the society in which they live is being censored, not only by the fire department, but by the fire itself. Truffaut went so far as to include the credits at the beginning of the film in the theme of censorship. The credits are spoken aloud, a clever echo of the theme of censorship.
In the film, any type of writing was forbidden. Books were burned and newspapers only had pictures. The spoken credits introduce this notion to the viewer immediately. At first, this obvious difference in the credits seemed somewhat odd, however, as the film progressed, the viewer learned why the credits were spoken and not in print. The censorship theme of Fahrenheit 451 was also reminiscent of Communist fears of the 1950s. People feared that Communism would take away certain freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, which includes media such as literature and television.
As depicted in the film, the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s freedom to read. The theme of knowledge versus ignorance could be seen throughout the film. The characters were stereotyped. The people who read books were intelligent, while the people who did not read were depicted as ignorant, therefore inferior. Because the authorities were among the individuals who did not read, and were therefore inferior, they could not allow the public to be more powerful than themselves. This is shown by the multiple book burnings, and the eventual arrest of those who possessed reading material in their homes.