Bradbury reminds us of the joy of thinking

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By Kelly LeVan

The next book up in Mesa Public Library's books-to-movies series couldn't be more apropos for a library to host: the 1966 film adapted from Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

Most recognize the basic plot; numerous films, books and even video games allude to the story of a future where firemen burn books.

The government has outlawed the printed word, deeming it anti-social and the cause of human misery. Instead of reading to relax, people watch TV. Instead of flipping through a newspaper, they skim wordless comic strips.

Although banning books should, by law, encourage less isolating, more friendly behavior, society members appear desperate and incapable of connecting with one another. They touch their own faces like they would a lover's. They rub their cheeks lasciviously against the fur collars of their coats.

They seem shameless in public, yet at home, Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) and his wife Linda (Julie Christie) share only the merest, pajama-clad hint of intimacy. Emotionally, they know each other as well as their world's empty shelves know the smell of a garage-sale paperback.

While the movie strays quite liberally from the book - the script avoids the death of a major character and another pretty major plot point, a nuclear war, completely - Franois Truffaut's direction retains the hollowed-out, yet stubbornly optimistic tone.

I doubt the new adaptation, scheduled for release in 2009, will keep the original film's guarded, ambiguous and elegantly clumsy feeling. Where the 1966 version wears its inconsistencies like an armful of fading but story-rich tattoos, the new movie is set for production as soon as its director, Frank Darabont, finishes up with upcoming horror movie, "The Mist" about a group of townspeople trapped in a grocery store fighting a "species of bloodthirsty creatures," according to www.imdb.com. It might be the best movie ever written for all I know; Darabont's adaptation of two other Stephen King stories, "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," bulge with excellent qualities. However, "Fahrenheit 451" is not - so far - a horror movie. It's quiet, ponderous and provoking where Darabont and King tend toward lush, thrilling and chilling.

I hate to imagine the scariness of the more violent scenes overshadowing the calmer, all-invasive off-ness of every single human interaction, even that of a man trying to understand his own mind.

Bradbury said many times that his book was not about censorship so much as his abiding love for literature, and his fear that TV would take us away from literature's great ideas into somewhere dull and purposeless: a society untrained to think beyond the surface of anything and utterly disengaged from both the joy and sorrow in life.

Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451" is proof that movies are not TV.

"Fahrenheit 451" will screen at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room "theater." Admission and popcorn, as always, are free.