Updated: May 30, 2018
Streaming on HBO
Metadata: 2018 | TV-14 | 1h 41m
Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia
Why did I watch it: I've been anticipating this movie ever since I saw the first preview on HBO. I'm a huge Michael B. Jordan fan, and I felt like a new adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 was timely, all things considered.
You might also like: This movie reminded me of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, probably because it imagines a dystopian future that seems disturbingly possible. (Disclaimer: I have not watched Season 2, and its story extends beyond Margaret Atwood's, so the jury is out on that! Lmk if you have an opinion about it.)
I was in the eighth grade when I read Ray Bradbury's classic 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. There were only had a handful of us in my Learning Enrichment Program class, and we met in a trailer because the student population had outgrown the school building. I don't remember a lot of details about that time—except for the week or two we spent reading F451. Our teacher was a former high school English teacher, and she led us in deep and rousing discussions of the book. I vividly remember having a breakthrough at the end of a long class period, in which we all struggled with the book's complex imagery, just as we were packing up to walk out the door. "It's Mildred!" I declared. "Mildred is the phoenix!"
In HBO's movie adaptation, there is no phoenix, and there is no Mildred (the wife of the protagonist, Montag, in the book). So much nuance is lost in this adaptation, and I think it suffers for it. The whole movie feels a bit like a trailer for the book, which is both its weakness, and its great strength. And that's why I'm recommending that you watch the movie. It will make you want to read the book, whether you've never read it before, or, like me, it's been 15 years since you did. After all, that's the great cautionary tale of F451: Hold tight to your books, because look what it would be like if they were taken away. Watching this movie, that was my break-through: Read the book again, Grace. Read any book, for that matter. Then read the next one, and the next.
The other reason I'm recommending this movie is that Michael B. Jordan, who plays celebrity fireman Guy Montag, is a vision. I'm going to say something controversial here: I didn't love Jordan's performance as Killmonger in Marvel's blockbuster Black Panther. I didn't think it played to his strengths. The biting anger he spewed didn't feel natural, and it was hard for me to buy it from him. Jordan excels in F451, however. His face and his eyes are incredibly expressive, and he conveys fear, anger, confusion, and desire more compellingly than any other actor I can think of. It might sound a little silly, but his face makes this movie. The many close-ups of Montag as he quietly tries to sort through his complex feelings and mental lethargy draw you in, inviting you to recognize parts of yourself in him. Hands down, my favorite MBJ performance yet.