如果特吕弗的改编电影《华氏451》 给人乏善可陈的感觉，可能是因为它不那么特吕弗，也不那么科幻。事实上，对于这部电影的刻薄评论可不少，比如Pauline Kael在她的影评这样写：
事实上他并不只赞赏本质，对于特吕弗在电影里所做的一些创意，比如把男主阅读双城记换成阅读大卫·科波菲尔，一字一字读着I am born，还有电视墙，结尾时书人（book-man）们走来走去的雪景……甚至在他自己1985的剧场版里，除了以上细节，还直接把电影结尾的某段台词套用上了。
Re-Framing Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury’s dramatic responses to François Truffaut
By Phil Nichols
When François Truffaut’s film of Fahrenheit 451 was released in 1966, the immediate critical response was lukewarm. Film historian Arthur Knight, writing in Saturday Review within days of the film’s American release, recognised its “vivid and imaginative” approach to adapting Ray Bradbury’s novel, and called it both “highly original” and “thought provoking” – but at the same time “distressingly superficial” (Knight 1966). Critic George Bluestone found a deeply unsatisfying lack of passion in Oskar Werner’s portrayal of Montag, resulting in the character’s awakening being largely unmotivated (Eller 2014, p248). Perhaps the most scathing review of all came from Pauline Kael (1968), who noted Bradbury’s gimmick - that firemen don’t put out fires, but instead burn books - as being inexplicably compelling, while the film’s exploitation of it was “clumsy” and “unformed”.
Ray Bradbury’s own response was much more positive. Reviewing the film for the Los Angeles Times, Bradbury was pleased with Truffaut’s “visual poetry”. Not at all bothered by the film’s modifications to his story, he declared that Truffaut had captured the book’s essence and had produced a film “about a lover and a loved one […] Man as lover, book as loved one.” What’s more, he recognised a kindred spirit in Truffaut, in that he and Truffaut had “shared out a folly” and that their “parallel loves had, by an optical illusion, somehow joined” (Bradbury 1966c).
With passing years, appreciation for the film would increase, and while a clear critical consensus is still yet to be reached, many critics and Truffaut scholars have come to identify significant strengths in the film, while at the same time recognising failings which place it among the director’s lesser works. Bradbury’s opinion, on the other hand, shifted gradually from adoration of Truffaut’s achievement to a position of near condemnation when, in twenty-first century interviews, he began accusing Truffaut of “ruining” Fahrenheit 451.
In the midst of this critical shift of position, Bradbury wrote his own theatre version of Fahrenheit 451 (published in 1986). While presented as an adaptation of his novel, the play is actually something much more significant: a re-writing and re-casting of the novel, in response to Truffaut’s film. In developing his play, Bradbury consciously adopted a number of Truffaut’s innovations, and (possibly unconsciously) revealed influence from a number of others. The play later also served as the basis for Bradbury’s own screenplay version of Fahrenheit 451 (written in 1997, but as yet unpublished and unfiled). The result of this continued revision of his story is – to use terms from Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation - a multilaminated adaptation, a palimpsest layered of novel, film and theatre (Hutcheon 2006, 6-7).
Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953. Thirty years later, commenting on the notion of re-writing Fahrenheit, Bradbury would write, “I don't believe in tampering with any young writer's material, especially when that young writer was once myself” (Bradbury 1996, 75). Then, with the fiftieth anniversary edition of the novel in 2003, Bradbury wrote a new preface in which he stated, “[T]he book is complete and untouched. I will not go back and revise anything. I have a great respect for the young man that I was when I […] plunged into the passionate activity that resulted in the final work” (Bradbury 2003, 6).
Despite holding these views in relation to the novel, Bradbury did re-write Fahrenheit, first as a play and later as a screenplay. It is characteristic of his authorship that, although his novels remain largely stable, he frequently returned to his earlier works in new media: radio, television, film and theatre.
A Reaction to Truffaut
The 1966 film of Fahrenheit 451, scripted by François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, was the first major film to be produced from an original Bradbury work, bringing to life his dystopian near-future world in which books are routinely torched by firemen.
Bradbury was immensely flattered when Truffaut showed interest in his work prior to the making of the film. Correspondence from his files shows that he immediately determined to arrange screenings of Truffaut’s earlier films, to familiarise himself with the oeuvre of this rising star director of French cinema (Scott 1962). On screening Truffaut’s celebrated Jules et Jim in 1962, Bradbury wrote to Truffaut, “You were born to make motion pictures […] A beautiful film of such texture and humanity, I simply am spelled by it” (Bradbury 1962). However, Bradbury resisted Truffaut’s invitation to collaborate on the screenplay for Fahrenheit, despite Bradbury’s considerable experience as a screenwriter. It would take four frustrating years for the complex arrangements for the film to fall into place, during which time Fahrenheit evolved from being a modest French film into an ambitious American-funded film, shot in Britain.
Bradbury’s own contemporary view of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 was overwhelmingly positive. He appreciated the boldness of Truffaut’s independent vision of his story, and was impressed that the film seemed to reflect – and reflect upon – his novel. Immediately following a private screening in Los Angeles, and prior to the film’s release, Bradbury sent a telegram to Truffaut, proclaiming “My novel looks at your picture and sees itself, your picture looks at my novel and sees itself!” (Bradbury 1966a)
In a follow-up letter, Bradbury went into more detail. The film sets were “absolutely right” and so were the costumes. On the matter of casting, Bradbury was pleased with both Julie Christie (“beautiful[ly] in her double roles”) and Oskar Werner – a completely opposite view to many contemporary critics, who found the principal casting to be baffling. Bradbury offered but one criticism, which he couched as a “minor suggestion” which he recognised could not be acted upon at this stage. His suggestion was to make Montag’s escape from the city much more difficult. His reasoning was that “we need a longer period of tension in the running chase before the lovely quiet period at the very end, which is just right”. (Bradbury, 1966b). Upon the film’s American release, Bradbury wrote a review for the Los Angeles Times. He confirmed publicly the assessment he had communicated privately, amplifying his view that Truffaut had created a work that thoughtfully reflected the source text: “Truffaut has managed the difficult task of transmuting the written word into the visual form of poetry that we call motion pictures”. Bradbury acknowledged that Truffaut didn’t follow his book in every detail, but affirmed that he captured its “essence”. Having deliberately distanced himself from the making of the film, declining invitations to write the screenplay or visit the sets in London, in his review Bradbury stated his belief that “either you trust a director to deliver your child intact, or you should never have taken him on as a midwife in the first place” (Bradbury, 1966c).
Bradbury drew particular attention to the partially serendipitous ending of the film, set in a snow-covered landscape: “In the unexpected gift of softly falling snow, Truffaut moves his actors like all mankind, whispering their poetries and dream to the cold sky and the sifting whiteness”. This and other “special moments of beauty” convinced Bradbury that his and Truffaut’s “loves had […] somehow joined out there at the edge of tomorrow.”
With the passing years, Bradbury’s view of the film would shift. In 1982, around the time he was developing his stage play of Fahrenheit, an interviewer asked him if he would like to remake the film. His reply was simple: “It’s not necessary, because I love the Truffaut film” (Bradbury 1996, 133). But in the early twenty-first century, after Bradbury had remade Fahrenheit for himself as a stage play, he arrived at a new position: Truffaut’s film was “very good, but he made a mistake by casting Julie Christie in double roles” (Weller 2010, 69). A blunter re-assessment cited by USA Today (2009) had Bradbury saying that Truffaut had “ruined” Fahrenheit by downplaying the role of Clarisse, the free-spirit teenager who catalyses the changes undergone by the fireman, Montag.
Bradbury’s 1986 Play
Bradbury’s stage play of Fahrenheit 451 was first performed in the early 1980s, and was published in 1986. The play follows the same story as the novel, but with some scenes inevitably removed or shortened. More significantly the play incorporates several key aspects which show it to be a further development of the story. All of them can be seen to be responses to Truffaut’s film, in some cases adopting an invention of Truffaut’s, and in one case seeming to react against Truffaut.
Some of the elements adopted from Truffaut are minor, and yet deeply influence the dramatic impact of the story. For example, Bradbury borrows the idea of Montag using the despised television screen as a reading lamp: Montag “goes to turn on the TV screen to no particular station, to a station gone off for the night” (Bradbury 1986, 51). The idea that the TV has no content to offer surely resonates with Bradbury’s own conception of television in his novel, where the medium is good only for mindless engagement with interactive soap operas and for watching falsified news coverage, but the moment is drawn from Truffaut rather than from the novel.
More significantly, instead of Montag’s first act of reading in this scene being of a nonsensical text (a satirical passage from Jonathan Swift), the play adopts Truffaut’s idea of using a Dickens text to reflect Montag’s situation and state of mind – although instead of using the “I Am Born” opening chapter of David Copperfield, Bradbury selects A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (Bradbury 1986, 51). The reading process, too, is mirrored on the film, with Montag tracing his fingers under the text as he haltingly reads, like a child learning to read.
Later, Bradbury re-works one of Truffaut’s more memorable scenes, in which a dying old man is helping a young boy to memorise Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston. Bradbury substitutes Clarisse for the young boy, but otherwise the scene plays as in the film, with the old man passing away when the appropriate text is correctly recited – “And he died as he thought he would, as the first snows of Winter fell” (Bradbury 1986, 89). This scene is so directly drawn from Truffaut that it uses not Stevenson’s actual text, but Truffaut’s paraphrase of the text. Truffaut had originally scripted his scene to quote from Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae, but unexpected snowfall at the time of filming prompted him to improvise a change to Weir of Hermiston, but using lines not found in Stevenson (see Truffaut & Richard (1965, 127)).
While all these minor elements show up in the play without direct acknowledgment of Truffaut, Bradbury did openly refer to the influence of the film on his thinking. Bradbury recounted some of his writing process for the play in his 1982 essay “Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451”, which was later repurposed as an afterword to the paperback edition of the novel (Bradbury 2013, 199-205). Here, he addressed two major changes which were influenced by the film: the survival of Clarisse, the catalyst who sparks Montag’s curiosity, a character who disappears (presumed dead) part way through the novel; and the fleshing out of the antagonist, Fire Chief Beatty. Elsewhere, he addressed the question of technology, an area where his and Truffaut’s views of Fahrenheit seem to be most divergent.
Bradbury’s explanation of Clarisse’s survival is brief, and directly credits Truffaut. “Many readers have written protesting Clarisse’s disappearance, wondering what happened to her” Bradbury writes, continuing “Truffaut felt the same curiosity and […] rescued her from oblivion […] I felt the same need to save her”. So it is that Clarisse, presumed dead in the novel, is actually safe among the book people and able to welcome Montag into their fold, in both Truffaut’s film and Bradbury’s play.
Bradbury’s account of the Fire Chief is more extensive. According to Bradbury, he “came […] out of the wings in answer to my question: How did it start?” The revised Fire Chief is not just opposed to books because of the system he works in. Instead he is an embittered character, who in a time of trouble had turned to books for comfort and consolation, but had found their words irrelevant, empty or hurtful: “Oh, the words were there, all right, but they ran over my eyes like hot oil […] Offering no help, no solace, no peace, no harbour, no true love, no bed, no light.”
This explanation of Beatty’s back-story is clearly important to Bradbury, and takes up several pages of the essay – and yet it barely touches the surface of the transformation the author has wrought for the Fire Chief. A fuller explanation requires a slight detour to consider how the Chief is depicted in both the original novel and Truffaut’s film.
Beatty as Father-Figure
There are many dimensions to Fire Chief Beatty in Bradbury’s novel. He’s quite a lowly official, yet he is also the highest-ranking representative of the system of government we see, and therefore the closest the reader gets to seeing the mechanisms of the state. He functions as a military commander, a censor, a judge, an executor. Montag also refers to him – albeit only after his death – as a friend (Bradbury 2013, 124).
In terms of his function in the story, Beatty is clearly a father-figure, not only keeping control over his squad but intervening in their personal lives. Mengeling (2002, 131-2) points out that when Montag feigns illness, Beatty comes to his home and watches over him at his bedside; Beatty wisely claims to have experienced the difficulties Montag is now experiencing, and lectures him on the dangers of his waywardness; and Montag hides things from Beatty as one might hide things from a disapproving parent. To Montag and to the reader, Beatty fully embodies the authoritarian state, and so when Montag rebels he is driven to destroy Beatty.
This Oedipal reading of Fahrenheit 451 is amplified in Truffaut’s film. Anne Gillain (2013, 161-186) observes that Truffaut’s version of the firemen’s world is both masculine and childish, in the sense that the fire truck and the firemen seem to be like a child’s toy. Indeed, there is one scene where Montag’s rival, Fabian, plays with a toy version of the truck.
Gillain relates Beatty’s squad to a Freudian “primitive horde”, referencing Freud’s Totem and Taboo. Here, she says, the father-king (the Fire Chief in this instance) maintains the immaturity of his sons (firemen and cadets), so that they will be forever dependent upon him, thus ensuring his continuing reign. The clues to this are many. Beatty looks down upon his men/boys from a throne-like seat on the fire truck. He addresses Montag like a child throughout, infantilising him by calling him by name rather than by using the pronoun “you”. He inflicts arbitrary, brutal violence, particularly on the younger cadets. As a consequence, the firemen’s dependency on the Chief keeps them in a state of rivalry with each other; they are rivals for the Chief’s attention and approval.
Furthermore, Gillain likens immaturity of the firemen – and of most of the populace - specifically to Lacan’s “Mirror stage”, that pre-lingual stage typically observed in children around two years old. The narcissism of the characters in Truffaut’s film – they repeatedly look at themselves in windows and mirrors - supports this notion.
Gillain’s most telling observation is the logical extension of her Freudian reading of the firemen. If the Chief is a Freudian castrating father, then he should reserve for himself the exclusive use of “the women” of the horde – except that in Fahrenheit 451, books take on the symbolic role of being the object of a fireman’s desire, taking the place of “the women”. Fahrenheit is a story of a man in love: a man in love with books – a notion consistent with Bradbury’s 1966 review of Truffaut’s film.
In contrast to Truffaut’s enriching of the Freudian undercurrents in the Fire Chief, Bradbury’s stage play moves in a very different direction. There are allusions to a father-son relationship, particularly in dialogue, and more so than in the novel, with Beatty’s sarcastic lines (directed at Montag): “My son has come out in pimples and started adolescence;” “Come on, child, give as good as you get;” and “Someone help the baby, someone help the child” (Bradbury 1986, 75-77).
However, far from embracing the Oedipal struggle implicit in the novel, the play unexpectedly reveals Beatty as a nurturing parent who wants Montag to have what he couldn’t have for himself.
“You’re so much like the fool I was, I can’t help but want you around long after I’m gone,” (Bradbury 1986, 82) Beatty says, as he prepares a diversion which will allow Montag to escape. Beatty draws the deadly Mechanical Hound to his own location, and away from Montag. He then awaits his inevitable death as a victim of the Hound, while Montag escapes. This is a stark contrast to Bradbury’s novel and Truffaut’s film, both of which fulfil the Oedipal struggle with Montag killing Beatty.
The seeds of the Chief’s suicidal action and redemption are sewn earlier in the play, when a linkage is made between Beatty and Mrs Hudson, the old woman (unnamed in the novel, but here given a name) who chooses to burn herself along with her books. As Beatty and Montag watch Mrs Hudson’s house in flames, stage directions call for “the light of a burning and flickering house” to play over their cheeks, and for Beatty to “rub[bing] his chin, recollecting”. His “Master Ridley” dialogue exchange with Mrs Hudson reveals a distinct commonality between two literate characters, and Beatty’s silent reflection allows for the possibility that Beatty is considering his own position in relation to books and literature. Far from being the representative of the system that Montag despises, and therefore “needing” to die for Montag to be free, this version of Beatty is a tragic figure who, unable to break the system himself, is at least able to prepare the way for his “child”.
Bradbury’s own 1966 review of the film indicates that he agreed with Truffaut’s view at the time: the “seemingly rash elimination” of technology from Truffaut’s film, he wrote, prevented a “properly balanced drama” from being turned “into one more ride on the James Bond computerised carousel” (Bradbury 1966c) – there having been three James Bond films released at this point. By the 1980s when the stage play was in development, we can assume, this was no longer a risk, and so Bradbury’s play makes confident use of the Mechanical Hound, a technological element of the story which Truffaut had jettisoned.
Later still, Bradbury would become increasingly critical of Truffaut’s removal of the Hound. In a 1993 interview he claimed that it was one of the things “that has always bothered me” (Green 1993) and in 1996 he called Truffaut “a coward” for leaving out the Hound: “[it] should be included, because it’s a metaphoric adventure thing” (Kelley 1996).
The Hound in the play is more sinister than in the novel, since it is represented largely through the use of lights and sounds, except for a couple of instances where the script calls for projection to display a pictorial representation of the robotic animal. In his 1975 essay “A Feasting of Thoughts, a Banqueting of Words: Ideas on the Theater of the Future,” Bradbury had speculated on the potential of holograms for creating “ghosts”, and gave an example of summoning up the Hound of the Baskervilles, bounding forth, and projected in three-dimensions (Bradbury 1991). While such technology would not be a reality in his lifetime, his script calls for the next best thing: a projected “image of a half-realised, blueprinted, x-rayed HOUND” (Bradbury 1986, 20) which changes in response to Beatty’s gestures, and is occasionally animated into running motion. For the most part, though, the Hound’s threatening presence is to be represented through “greenish light,” (20) “a faint green glow […] with a great shadow” (52) and through “snuffles and soughs” (51). Fittingly, though, Beatty names the Hound “Baskerville”, jokingly referring to this as “literary reference number 977” (21).
Bradbury concluded “A Feasting of Thoughts” with a recognition that technology was never to be the centre of theatre. He wrote, “no matter how large the multimedia, or how complex the stage of twenty-first century houses, the single actor in the lone spotlight will still be the thing” (Bradbury 1991, 197-213). Fahrenheit 451, for all the multimedia innovations called for in the play script, puts this philosophy into action from its opening scene, in which a solitary Montag delivers a monologue version of the “pleasure to burn” passage from the novel: “There is a thing about burning. It is so fine… so complete… so beautiful” (ellipses in original text). Montag declares that “we were born of fire” and that “we go back to it” (Bradbury 1986, 5).
The closing scene of the film, with the book-people wandering back and forth in the snow, was contentious for many contemporary critics. Are they free, or are they wandering as aimlessly as the unliberated people back in the city? Are they saving great literature by memorising it, or pointlessly talking nonsense to themselves? The imagery is ambiguous, and Bernard Herrman’s music underscores the ambiguity with a great unresolved final chord. But for Bradbury at the time it seemed that Truffaut “move[d] his actors like all mankind, whispering their poetries and dreams to the cold sky” (Bradbury 1966c).
Despite Bradbury’s admiration for Truffaut’s ending, in the play he opts for something more directly optimistic, as Montag and Clarisse look to the dawn horizon. Montag asks, “The light at the edge of the land. Is that the Sun…?” – a question which links back to Montag’s opening monologue: “We are born of fire.” Clarisse’s reply affirms the self-determination open to the liberated book people, and simultaneously shows the actualising power of language: “Morning? If we say it is, yes. If we say so… it must be” (Bradbury 1986, 90).
This play is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but at the same time it isn’t. It’s not a simple translation of the novel, but nor is it an innocent updating of the story, nor an attempt to fix whatever may be wrong with the novel. Bradbury’s own metaphor for his process in selfadapting Fahrenheit 451 was “You float over your material. You don’t descend into it. You don’t retype it. You float over it like a salmon fertilising your own eggs” (Weller 2010, 99). But this metaphor overlooks the significance of the cross-fertilising from Truffaut’s film.
Bradbury’s play is best seen as a re-thinking of the novel in light of Truffaut’s film, or a play engaged in a dialogue with the film. The result, for the viewer, is a multi-layered drama through which flicker memories of the novel and memories of the film.
Fahrenheit 451 Revisited for Screen
In 1995, Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions bought the film rights to Fahrenheit 451 and began developing a new cinematic adaptation of the novel. Several screenwriters were attached to the project at various times, including Bradbury himself. Bradbury’s 1997 script was rejected along with all the others, and remains unfilmed and unpublished despite being an accomplished piece of screenwriting. Acclaimed writer-director Frank Darabont subsequently wrote a completely new screenplay, and while his version has come close to production on occasion, at the time of writing any new film version of Fahrenheit still looks like a distant prospect.
The 1997 screenplay gave Bradbury a chance to revisit and revise Fahrenheit 451 once more. It is as much an extension of his stage play as it is an adaptation of his novel, but it manages to break the story free of the confines of a stage set. Bradbury builds filmic spectacle, making full use of the Mechanical Hound and – unlikely as it may seem – a car chase to enliven the story. But he also develops his characters further, this time not just re-building Beatty, but ensuring that Montag remains the central character who undergoes dramatic growth. The screenplay confidently builds upon the best elements found in his novel, his stage play and Truffaut’s film, creating a synthesis that is arguably his best unfilmed screenplay.
The script wastes no time in establishing what the story is about, and calls for on-screen spectacle from the very first scene of the film, the burning of a house and its stash of hidden books. The books’ ashes are put into fireworks (“burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes” (Bradbury 2013, 6) which are then blasted into the sky as public celebration and, perhaps, public warning (Bradbury 1997, 2). This new addition to the firemen’s ritual calls back to the novel, 15 and Faber’s remark: “Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality” (Bradbury 2013, 79).
From the firework display, ash fragments fall out with the odd full or partial page: something survives even this process, providing a symbol of hope which the screenplay will fulfil. Montag collects one such fragment, hiding it in his glove. Later on, he empties it into a drawer, where we see he has many more of them. He is collecting fragments of text, not whole books; until the Old Woman’s house is torched.
The screenplay, like the novel and especially the stage play, uses quotations for their performative value, but unlike previous versions of Fahrenheit, the use of physical fragments of text gives the script a visual analogue of quotations, allowing the idea that Montag can be entranced by the texts even when he cannot understand them. (Truffaut did something similar, of course, in withholding all text from the screen except for glimpses of pages writhing in flames.)
As if to provide a logical demonstration of the limited way that permitted texts function in this society, Bradbury here shows his firemen engaged in rote learning: Beatty gives Montag a packet of instructional papers to read, instructing him to memorize them, so that he can easily recite every word to his subordinates whenever required (Bradbury 1997, 27). Later, Beatty calls on Montag to recite a long litany of arguments about the state of the world and why it is necessary to burn books. Whereas in the stage play Beatty does all the lecturing himself, here it is as if Montag and the other firemen have previously been lectured to by Beatty, and have had to learn his lectures by heart. This neatly confirms the normality of rote learning in this society, and demonstrates that text is not forbidden here as long as it is broadly factual, functional and cut short, especially in TV news bulletins and the like (Bradbury 1997, 48-50). The importance of rote learning makes the primary action of the book-people – memorization of texts – much more plausible than in any previous telling of Fahrenheit 451.
The science-fictional elements determinedly played down by Truffaut – and somewhat marginalised in Bradbury’s stage play due to the pragmatic considerations of theatre – are emphasised much more in the screenplay, reminding us that Fahrenheit 451 is what Bradbury referred to as his only science fiction novel (Aggelis 2004, xviii).
The Montag’s wall-screen TV is a late-1990s upgrade to the large TV screen used by Truffaut, and is more reminiscent of the “parlor wall” found in the novel, although this one (Bradbury 1997, 10-12) has a multi-picture-in-picture display which can present a variety of images, including Orwellian surveillance images from outside the house and from elsewhere in the city. This multi-imaged representation of the reality is, though, only of interest to Montag. Mildred, as in the novel, uses it just to watch and engage in her fantasy soap-opera world (Bradbury 1997, 16).
Another dominant technology in the screenplay recalls the high-speed freeways of Bradbury’s novel. Mindless drugged drivers of “flivvers” provide a major obstacle to Montag as he attempts to escape from the city. The term “flivver” of course harkens back to Bradbury’s childhood in the 1920s and 1930s, with added echoes of Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and suggests cheapness, oldness, rough rides and bad maintenance. In opposition to this, Beatty’s sleek car is the “Mantis,” which is later borrowed by Montag to escape the city.
Inevitably, there is an almighty car crash (beautifully described – Bradbury is an unlikely but evocative action-screenplay writer) (Bradbury 1997, 97), which might be compared to Bradbury’s classic short story “The Crowd” (1943).
The Mechanical Hound remains central to Montag’s story, and unlike Truffaut who entirely avoided it, Bradbury here revels in the possibilities that 1997 film-making might bring. The broad description (Bradbury 1997, 21) makes the creature similar to the one in the novel – a creature of nightmare, silvery, with eight spidery legs. This Hound is shown to be mass-produced on an assembly line (Bradbury 1997, 31), and indeed a whole pack of them is unleashed in pursuit of Montag.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Bradbury’s screenplay is its re-balancing of two central characters. Beatty – whose redemption threatens to over-dominate the stage play – is again allowed to make a sacrifice in order for Montag to escape from the city. This time, however, Montag’s journey becomes more directed: as he moves through the screenplay, he more clearly seeks to find someone or something to identify with.
Beatty’s father-figure role is teasingly emphasised in places, such as when he first rescues Montag from a fall, and then punches his arm to make him fend for himself (Bradbury 1997, 34). More important, though is Beatty’s repeated attempt to forge an identity between himself and Montag (Beatty, too, was sick once (Bradbury 1997, 44); Beatty, too, secretly brought home books for years (Bradbury 1997, 52). Beatty encourages Montag to see himself as a torch-bearer, receiving a baton from Beatty (Bradbury 1997, 55). Montag might easily come to see himself as Beatty’s successor, were it not for Beatty’s insistence that he forget about Clarisse and the old woman, and believe that they had never existed (Bradbury 1997, 35; 57-8). Montag’s existential crisis is seemingly tipped in favour of escape when a flivver “dopester” tears Montag’s helmet
off. From this point on, he is no longer a fireman. There is an echo here, perhaps, of Truffaut’s film, where Montag consciously throws away his helmet as he begins his escape.
Montag ventures into Clarisse’s now abandoned house, and announces to whoever might be there that he is a friend to Clarisse: his first acknowledged identification with her. No longer a fireman, and no longer having Clarisse to talk to, he feels the need for assistance, and goes in search of Faber (Bradbury 1997, 62).
The final scenes take place not in the snow that Truffaut had used so well – but in rain (Bradbury 1997, 109). A re-united Montag and Clarisse leave behind the bonfire used to burn the books they have been memorizing. Fragments of burned pages blow away in the wind, just like the ones which survived the house-burning at the start of the script. The rain that falls has the power to put out fire, as well as cleanse.
In the screenplay’s final literary allusion, Montag inadvertently likens himself to Dickens’ Marley when quoting from A Christmas Carol - he accidentally says his own name instead of Marley’s when reciting: “To begin with, Montag was dead…” He embarrassedly corrects his mistake – but, of course, it is a correct analysis of what his own character had been at the start of the story.
Just as the origin of Fahrenheit 451 can be mapped back to precursor writings from the earliest years of Bradbury’s professional career, so his active engagement in the story can be traced forward through his revisitations of the story for stage and screen. Rather than settle on a mere transcription of a settled story into a new medium, Bradbury tends to tackle his story anew, making new discoveries about his characters and their world. The base layer is his fundamental story, substantially unchanged since the novel 1953 novel. In the 1986 stage play he finds much to absorb from Truffaut’s film, and in the 1997 screenplay - the top layer of this palimpsest - he achieves an effective updating of his story that draws upon the best elements of the underlying tellings of Fahrenheit 451.
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