After the success of Hulu’s adaption of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” networks have been searching for the next dystopian fiction to shock audiences. HBO is banking on “Fahrenheit 451,” based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, to be the next big hit.
Fresh from his success as the villain Killmonger in “Black Panther,” Michael B. Jordan stars as Montag, a “firefighter” who’s coveted role in this futuristic society is to set fire to books, not, as the audience would expect, extinguish them. It’s an act cheered upon by the masses, but Montag’s growing crisis of conscious, and genuine curiosity about what makes the books he burns so terrible, set him at odds against his mentor, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon).
“He’s the golden boy,” Jordan said in a release. “And with that type of pressure on him, there’s also a pressure to continue down that path – not to go back, not to turn left, not to make any mistakes.”
In this 2018 adaption, written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, there are some updates to the story, which was released in 1953: Montag interacts with a Big-Brother-style AI installation called Yuxie; the literature deemed destructive is replaced by emojis; and a social media v-logger helps turn Montag and Beatty into cult-like celebrities.
Some of these changes work, while some of the more ambitious ones don’t. The TV adaption veers creatively from the novel’s original path, focusing on Montag trying to protect a technology developed by the resistance called OMNIS, a way to store all of humanity’s art, history and literature in a microscopic strand of DNA.
However, at its core, the themes of “Fahrenheit 451” resonate with today’s audience, from the rise of anti-intellectualism to censorship to the normalization of terms like “alternative facts.”
“I think the message of the film and the book is very important today, when our freedom of choice and freedom of speech – our rights as human beings – are being tested. Don’t always do what you’re told. Do what you feel is right,” says Jordan. “That’s something my character Montag learns as he starts to question what the Ministry taught him and slowly but surely begins to think for himself. Know that you have freedom of choice. Don’t rely on someone else to tell you what is true or what your reality is.”
“Fahrenheit 451” airs Saturday May 19 at 8 p.m. on HBO.