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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fahrenheit 451 stars Michael B. Jordan and is a loose adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury novel. There's a bit of overt sexuality and strong language, but the latter seems mostly incidental (it feels improvised by the actors, rather than emphasized in the script), so HBO likely intended for the adaptation to be seen by teens. The film does make a big deal about fire: The main characters are "firemen," but rather than putting out fires, they carry blowtorches that allow them to eradicate any cultural material (books, films, music, and electronics) that the government deems dangerous to the population. The firemen use their weapons to show off in classrooms, punish criminals, and destroy property -- and the film makes setting these fires look very cool. Fire is also used to kill people throughout the film. The movie takes major liberties with the book's plot, making substantial changes that end up muddying the message and blunting the impact of the original story.
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What's the story?
In the totalitarian American society in FAHRENHEIT 451, books are banned and "firemen" don't put out fires -- they start them. The belief is that books, or any sort of culture that might present a point of view that conflicts with the government's, can literally drive people insane and therefore must be destroyed. Firemen like Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) and his Master Trooper Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) use blowtorches to eradicate any unauthorized books, films, music, or computers they can find, usually smuggled by book-reading outcasts called "eels." Anyone caught with books is stripped of their identity for a number of years.
After a few book raids on eel houses, Montag starts to question what he has been told about the dangers of reading, and he strikes up a friendship with an eel named Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), who helps to educate him about the real purpose of books. As he learns more and more, Montag must choose between being a fireman and reading, a choice that could lead him down a path toward rebellion against not only the government but Captain Beatty, who has been a father figure to him.
Is it any good?
This fiery book-based tale had potential, but this adaptation ultimately ends up as soggy as can be. "Who controls information?" is a prevalent question in America in 2018, whether it's applied toward cable news, social media, or government. So it's easy to see why the creators of this version of Fahrenheit 451 have seen parallels between Bradbury's allegorical novel and our present society. But after some chilling opening scenes where firemen Beatty (Shannon) and Montag (Jordan) indoctrinate a class of young children into believing that reading books can make you crazy, the director fails at even simply telling a cogent story, let alone a resonant one.
Fahrenheit 451 spends a lot of time on mundane aesthetics: a futuristic world lifted wholesale from Blade Runner 2049, terrible special effects (mostly just different types of screens), and showing how fun it is to burn things. But the film takes its characters for granted. The steps in Montag's turn from wolfish fireman to literate rebel are difficult to track, and there's confusion as to Beatty's motivations throughout -- he seems to have some hidden depths but turns out to just be a two-dimensional villain. With no one to really root for here, and tons of contradictions in the setup, the premise itself falls apart under its own weight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to live in a society without books or a society where what you read is dictated by the government. Why would the government want to control what books people read, or what films they watch, or what music they make? How does the government in Fahrenheit 451 maintain this control?
How does the world of Fahrenheit 451 compare to our current society? The story seems to be set in the future but with many of the same tools and technology that we currently have, like the internet, computers, and flash drives. What's different -- and do you think we would ever be in a similar situation?
The main characters in Fahrenheit 451 are "firemen," who use fire to destroy things. What do you think the fire represents? What would it mean to have these kinds of fires and firemen in our society?
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