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Fahrenheit 451: Arsonists of Freedom

Fahrenheit 451 François Truffaut dystopia

Totalitarianism burning totalitarianism. [Image: frame from Fahrenheit 451]

The conversation in the video clip below between Montag (Oskar Werner) and Clarisse (Julie Christie) belongs to the film Fahrenheit 451, released in 1966 and based on the dystopian novel of the same name by writer Ray Bradbury, published in 1953. A movie directed by François Truffaut and that, like others like 1984 or Soylent Green, if at the time they were made they could be seen as mere entertainment or fiction, in current times not a few will do so with a certain degree of concern, after the almost improbable or in any case very distant dystopia that was presented to us when they were released has currently exhibited some of its brushstrokes, although the worst thing is that perhaps we can intuit and at the same time warn of the dangerous path to where it seems we are heading as a society. In this way, what at the time seemed improbable or very distant may not be so if the disturbing but harmless fiction becomes an equally disturbing but crude and dramatic reality.

As Clarisse rightly points out to Montag, the Fire Department has effectively gone from putting out fires of a material nature to causing others, fulfilling government orders, of a material nature... but also spiritual. Because that is the true objective of the book burning: not only to nullify critical thinking, but simply to separate people from the need to think, as well as from having access to sources of knowledge that are not those strictly authorized by the ruling elite, which has legalized one of the greatest crimes against the human being: stripping it of its humanity. Hence, not only book pyres are the daily routine of firefighters in Fahrenheit 451, but reading has also been prohibited by law, leaving anyone caught keeping or reading any kind of book under arrest.


«We've all  got to be alike; The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books. All the books»

«This one must be very profund: The Ethics of Aristotle. Anybody that read that must believe is a cut above anybody that hasn't. And it's no good Montag. We've all got to be alike; The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books», Captain Beatty (Cyril Cusack) says to Montag while holding a copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in one hand. Beatty is the head of the Fire Department, a true psychopath, who not only achieves enormous pleasure when the trigger of the flamethrower is activated, but also exerts a devastating psychopathy on his subordinates, whom he pressures, harasses, lies, deceives and manipulates to satisfy his ego and to ensure their loyalty.

The previous words of the fearsome and tyrannical Beatty correspond to one of the most violent and at the same time most revealing scenes of what the human being can be capable of doing in order to defend and not give up the exercise of its freedom. After one of the usual house searches, Beatty's bloodhounds find what would be the jackpot in their work: an attic library filled with the best literary gems of all time. The degree of perversion is such that the assailants not only settle for burning it down, but decide that the entire house must also be burned to the ground. Its owner is ordered to abandon it before the flamethrower comes into action, which she flatly refuses. It is then that the chief of the literary arsonists, seeing that the lady has planted herself on her books without the slightest intention of leaving, asks one of his arse-lickers to count to ten before setting fire to everything. Towards the middle of the count, it is the woman herself who lights a match and throws it on the books that had previously been sprinkled with abundant fuel, like the rest of the house.

Quema libros Opernplatz Berlín 1933
The burning of books by the Nazis horrified Ray Bradbury and inspired him to write Fahrenheit 451. [Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14597 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons]

Stomach Wash, New Blood and Start Again

Actress Julie Christie, who in the film plays Clarisse, an aspiring teacher who is quickly ousted after realizing the direction of her school that does not follow established teaching patterns, also plays Linda, Montag's wife, a perfect mannequin that spends all day locked up at home, glued to the multiple television screens that populate its walls, to her headphones and to a varied menu of designer drugs that, apart from keeping citizens immersed in a virtual life with no feelings or emotions, they encourage from a sexual perspective a weird self-attracting behavior, which Montag himself observes every day on his way to and from work on public transport, where people, absorbed, make without even noticing a series of curious touches that, although not quite obscene, suggest that what little libido they have left is destined to love and enjoy to themselves. It is curious to see how on one occasion Linda, totally addicted to the pills of supposed happiness, suffers an overdose and her husband, who finds her unconscious body lying on the floor, desperately calls the hospital. A few minutes later, two men dressed in white show up at his home, whom Montag identifies as some kind of male nurses...

— Where is the doctor?

— What doctor?

— The doctor to take care of my wife...

— No doctors on these jobs. We do all the blood jobs. Who did you expect? Cases like that... we handle 50 a day like her. She won't be the last tonight, not by a long shot. Don't you worry, we'll give her a pump out and fill her up with new blood. In 20 minutes she'll be as good as new. Just you relax. By tomorrow it'll all be forgotten.

— You mean she'll be completely well by tomorrow?

— Better than that. Take my word for it, she'll be on top of the world. She'll have appetite for all sort of things. She'll be starving. You'll find out.

That's right, Linda wakes up the next day with a voracious appetite, but not only for food, because it seems that by having renewed blood in her body, that is, devoid of the addictive and inhibiting drugs, her sexual appetite towards her husband has woken up after who knows how long. Not even they would know when was the last time they had sex, because the society in which they live memory is a capacity that has been removed from the human being. So much so that, for example, neither of them remember when and how they met, not even remembering what they did the day before and even today.

«Suggestions» Mailbox

Without the ability to read and acquire knowledge, with the use and abuse of drugs that inhibit feelings and emotions, and screens as the only means of entertainment... the brain is nullified and at the mercy of the manipulative government, who from then on will be able to do anything with a citizenry that not only tolerates but also embraces the bars of the prison in self-absorption in which little by little, without realizing it -boiling frog metaphor-, has been locked up. In fact, the citizens themselves are the ones who gladly collaborate in maintaining their own slavery thanks, for example, to the information -snitch- mailboxes, where they can leave their envelopes denouncing the perverse reading practices of their neighbors, their friends... and even their relatives, with the most varied and spurious motivations. Thus, the government has not spared details wanting to have everything tied up and well tied up; proof of that is a new language conveniently promoted and now part of everyday life, as can be observed in the following dialogue between Montag and Clarisse:

— Look at that fellow over there.

— What's he doing?

— That's the information box. He can't make up his mind.

— What does he want to find out?

— He doesn't want to find out anything. He knows someone who has books. So he got hold of the person's picture and number, and is going to drop it into that box.

— But he's an informer!

— No, he's an informant. Look at him. Like someone circling around a woman...

— He's putting something in his mouth...

— It's a stimulant to work up his nerve.

— He wants to make sure no one sees him. He's dissembling... but he walks away. Do you see it? He has repented.

— Don't worry, he will come back. He's back...

— What an indecisive man... That's it, he did it.

— He's already got rid of a noisy neighbor, a brother-in-law whom he envies or even his own mother... why not?

After his meetings with Clarisse, Montag, who to date the only reading he could carry out was that of some bland comics with illustrations but no text, begins to ask himself questions inside and to question both his work and life around him. Although he has received strong indoctrination in the Fire Department, it seems that the fact of dispensing with the consumption of pills and television screens, as well as having a job that prevents him from spending the day locked up at home like most of the citizenry, have ensured that his is not yet a hopeless case.

«I'd forgotten about all those things...»

Secretly, without his wife finding out about him, Montag begins to get out of bed at dawn to start reading some copies that he has saved from burning. His ability to read, although he retains it, is somewhat atrophied due to lack of use and it is curious to see how he starts reading David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, putting his index finger under each syllable as he reads in a more or less mechanical way, as when learning to read.

Precisely Montag takes advantage of an occasion in which his wife has received a visit from her friends to read them a fragment of said book. At the end, one of them can't help but start to cry with emotion, but instead the rest of the group, including Linda, reproach Montag not only for having broken the ban on reading, but with his cruel action has provoked tears. «All those words: idiotic words, evil words that hurt people. Isn't there enough trouble as it is? Why disturb people with that sort of filth?», comments one of the friends while saying goodbye to Montag's wife, while still sobbing, the only one who has reacted to reading the fragment, affirms: «I can't bear to know those feelings. I'd forgotten about all those things...»

«Just keep them busy and you keep them happy... That's what matters»

This is how Montag, to whom the ruthless Beatty has told him about a possible promotion -a ruse that he has already used with others to achieve their full submission and loyalty-, gradually begins to separate from the path laid out by the government and begins to walk his own... until becoming a man-book, stage of which we will not give more details in order not to advance more content of the film to those who have not yet watch it and have the intention of doing so.

Of course, we do not want to finish this article without referring to the words that Beatty says to Montag during one of their talks in the offices of the fire station. After asking his subordinate if he likes sports, obtaining the expected answer, the despotic captain declares: «More sports for everyone. Strengthen the group spirit, organize the fun. Just keep them busy and you keep them happy... that's what matters».

The sinister boss is clear that first all individual freedom must be destroyed in order to later be able to exercise an authoritarian control over a group deprived of freedom and paid with a false equality. Once this objective has been achieved, indoctrination, consumerism, entertainment and drugs become tools to alienate the slaves from reality and thus be able to maintain the new implanted system, which will progressively strip human beings of their roots, beliefs and traditions and their ability to feel and be moved to the point of nullifying their spiritual component, resulting in the loss of the essence of the human being. Its dehumanization*.

But in this life we can lose everything... except our soul.


[*Unfortunately, this process has already started decades ago. However, it's been accelerated significantly in the last two ones, taking advantage of the execrable and perverse windows of opportunity that open with the successive crises induced and managed by precisely those who are determined to step on the accelerator. One might think that the reality of Fahrenheit 451 would only be extrapolated to a small group of people; However, there are those who seem to have been working for a long time to raise that bet not only to entire populations of countries, but also globally.]