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Non-Review Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 certainly makes a strong case for being “the movie of the moment.”

Adapted loosely from Ray Bradbury’s iconic and beloved science-fiction novel, a piece of source material that famously bewildered François Truffaut during his first and only interaction with Hollywood movie-making, writer and director Ramin Bahrani perfectly positions Fahrenheit 451 as a piece of pop culture for the Trump era. Bahrani smartly retains almost as much of the aesthetic of the source material as he updates, making a strong case that Fahrenheit 451 is more than just an opportunistic broadside at the current political moment.

“I’m going to burn it all.”

Nevertheless, Bahrani makes a number of changes to the story, and turns up the volume on particular story elements, to align his televisual adaptation for the current cultural moment. Ray Bradbury famously claimed that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 as a criticism of television, creating an engaging irony within this adaptation. Bahrani shifts the emphasis slightly to position his adaptation as a criticism of the internet, in particular modern internet subcultures and the way it decreases the audience’s attention span. There are live streams, in-home assistants that are always listening, emojis, and online “fans.”

This is certainly a valid approach to the material, and it’s to the credit of Bahrani as a writer and a director that he manages to build a world that is obviously of a piece with that created in the source material written sixty-five years ago and which works as a pointed commentary on modern cultural discourse. With its brutalist architecture, its cold digital cinematography, its compelling central performances, its suggested alternative history, and its ominous ambient lighting providing the occasional splash of vivid colour, Fahrenheit 451 creates a fictional world that is compelling and engaging.

Lighting a spark…

Unfortunately, the film’s narrative is nowhere near as engaging as its setting. Bahrani cannily borrows characters, premises and sequences from the source novel, but he largely reworks the story. Fahrenheit 451 is restructured as a more conventional science-fiction narrative than the original book, complete with apocalyptic stakes and a macguffin to drive the plot. The plot of Fahrenheit 451 is generic science-fiction fluff, a pale imitation of the familiar rhythms of movies like The Matrix or Equilibrium or Aeon Flux. It is almost as though Bahrani has internalised Bradbury’s critique of television as dumb and simple and broad.

As a result, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. It is a beautiful piece of work from an aesthetic perspective, but one employed in a very crude and unsatisfying manner.

Television film.

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Battlestar Galactica: Razor

It’s strange what we carry with us past the end of the world. In The Road, it’s hope for our children carted around inside an old shopping trolley; in 28 Days Later, it’s whatever humanity we can find hiding amid the ruins. For Admiral Helena Cain, what she carries with her after the destruction of her home is what she’s carried with her her whole life: a razor she picked up as a small child to defend herself after the loss of her younger sister. She carries that until she can’t – then she passes it on to her surrogate daughter, who carries it until she can’t. The razor itself is lost with Kendra Shaw, and maybe that’s a good thing. The last member of Cain’s inner circle dies taking all that hatred and aggression and lust for validation and vengeance with her. It’s an important transition. It’s also particularly insightful – given how Battlestar Galactica has generally focused on rebuilding after the fall of society – establishing a functioning democracy, a legal system and even rebuilding Caprica in a form – that this television movie focuses on the flipside of the coin: what humanity takes with it after the fall.

Talk about retro chic...

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