This movie was not meant to entertain. This movie was meant to critique society. It is meant to warn us of our future
By Sean David Hartman
Fake news. Political correctness. Outrage culture. Clickbait. The once-classic novel about ignorance has taken a proper 21st Century re-adaptation in HBO’s Fahrenheit 451.
Fahrenheit 451 is their adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury novel, but the movie is virtually unrecognizable from the novel, with entire characters and concepts either taken out or replaced by more contemporary dynamics.
The main criticism presented by Fahrenheit 451 seems to be our love of ignorance for the sake of agony. You can see critiques of both the Left and the Right in this movie. On the Left, a criticism of political correctness, with Beatty bringing up people’s sensitivities as the reason they burn. Many conservatives may take this as a glimpse into a leftist dystopia.
At the same time, there is an attack on the post-truth policies of recent right-wing movements such as the Trump/Pence campaign attacks on journalism and the spreading of information. One can even argue an anti-Net Neutrality theme as well.
But the criticism seems less political and more about our own ignorance. Much like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, it has many overlapping themes which seem to center on one core concept—ignorance is bliss.
The movie, at its core, is an attack on our social media culture. Every event is streamed online, with a simultaneous thread of likes, dislikes, and comments. People are constantly concerned about their followers, vloggers have now become the journalists—with IRL YouTube personality Lilly Singh playing one of these vlogger-journalists. And if you are criminal, your identity, being your digital footprint, is “deleted”.
Great novels are boiled down to simplistic paraphrasing, a sort of clickbait headline to explain the entirety of the book. Even scriptures like the Bible
Captain Beatty, our main antagonist played by the always-frightening Michael Shannon, serves as the narrative explainer of why we are this way. According to this contemporary mythos, tech companies began predicting what makes people happy using algorithms—a not-so-subtle stab at companies like Facebook and Google selling our private information.
These tech companies formed the Ministry, a secret quasi-governmental agency that runs the Salamander enforcers and—at least it is implied—control the information going out on the 9 (internet), even editing it to fit their agenda—which seems to be a critique on “fake news”, both as media conglomerates presenting misleading information to seek an agenda, to news groups like InfoWars who peddle in unproven conspiracies.
One prominent quote seems to echo the anti-PC theme, when Captain Beatty states, “We are not born equal, so we must be made equal by the fire.” This seems to critique social justice warriors who advocate radical social progressivism, many of whom try to change aspects of culture or language to suit their version of egalitarianism.
Despite the amazing social commentary in this movie, the story itself seemed rather bland. Fans of the original novel will not recognize this movie, as entire characters and plot points are left out. The ending is completely changed to something that seems to make more sense than the original Fahrenheit 451 ending, yet somehow more disappointing and nonsensical.
This movie was not meant to entertain. This movie was meant to critique society. It is meant to warn us of our future, that through keeping our heads in the sand, we allowed the social media companies like Facebook and Google to control our lives.
Or as one character put it: “We demanded a world like this”.
Sean David Hartman is a freelance reporter for the Central Florida Post, with a wide portfolio ranging from entertainment to politics. He is a centrist political operative and blogger and a student at UCF. Hartman is autistic and bipolar, and supports the neurodiversity movement.