Ramin Bahrani on Adapting and Directing Fahrenheit 451

By Adam Kampe

Courtesy of HBO. 

With director Ramin Bahrani's fifth film comes something different. Instead of writing an original story or screenplay, he took on the herculean task of adapting the dystopian classic of American literature---Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In the novel, not only are books outlawed but it's the firemen who are tasked with--and delight in--burning them. Like most people, Bahrani first encountered this novel in high school. [Fun fact: My brother was in the classroom alongside him in Lewisville, NC in the early 1990s]. Bahrani chose to revisit the book because the story stayed with him and also because its themes resonate in today's web-obsessed, hyper-distracted society. If people aren't reading less, they sure do communicate with less words (hello, emojis and GIFs). Bradbury, it turns out, predicted we'd be forever immersed in screens and somewhat checked out. In the novel, people wear shells in their ears that are freakishly reminiscent of Apple's Air Pods and lose themselves in their wall-sized TVs. In Bahrani's cinematic retelling, he takes us deeper into this dark, neo-noir world governed by a repressive regime with a small but significant introduction: the internet. Known as the 9, it is everywhere. Digital billboards remind people that Happiness is Truth and encourage them to Stay Vivid. Everyone is watching everyone else, especially when the dissidents, known as Eels, are caught with the outlawed contraband. The film, which stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, aired on May 19 on HBO. I spoke with Bahrani about the special challenge of adapting and updating such a beloved book for a 21st century audience. Because today of course you can't just burn physical books and move on. Books, like music and films, also exist as digital files that can be uploaded and shared with the click of a button. 

If you want to learn more about Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451, please check the archived Big Read resources which includes an audio documentary and a short video with Ray. [under the multimedia tab] 

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