Based on the 1960 novel of the same name by author Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is an insightful study of our society and the fears of the Cold War.
It presents us with an oppressive future society in which the reading of books has been banned in order to control public opinion and is considered criminal conduct.
An effective touch is that the movie’s credits are not printed, but spoken at the beginning of the film.
In this vision of the future, firemen are the foot soldiers of the repressive ruling culture. Montag (Oskar Werner) is a fireman, and it is his job to incinerate books and the property of those who read them (451° Fahrenheit is described as the temperature at which paper catches fire – although this is not strictly accurate).
The people in this uniform, permanently-supervised society lead dreary lives without any individual responsibilities other than to work, obey, and watch manipulative TV shows. There is no personal or intellectual freedom.
On his way home from work one day, Montag is approached by Clarisse (Julie Christie), who questions him about his profession and the damage it causes on society.
She gives herself away as a reader and challenges Montag to decide on the evils of reading for himself by experiencing it first hand.
Intrigued by the thought that there might actually be a better life to be found in books, he steals a book from one of his jobs and begins reading it at night.
The book devastates him emotionally, freeing his mind and expanding his horizons.
Montag becomes a devoted reader, torn between the call of his duty and his adoration for books.
When his conformist wife (also played by Julie Christie) discovers his reading habit, she informs on him. Montag is declared an outlaw and is forced to flee as a fugitive in a search for his freedom and a better life.
He finally finds an encampment of fellow fugitives – the ‘book people’ – who pass their days memorising the contents of great written works so they can pass them on verbally to future generations.
As each of these refugees commits a book to memory, they also take the name of the title and so ensure the works live on for future generations.