Censorship in Fahrenheit 451 and The Name of the Rose

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Farenheit 451 (1966)
Director: François Truffaut
Oskar Werner
Julie Christie
Cyril Cusack

Fig. 1: Fahrenheit 451 is based off of the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury and takes place in a society with a futuristic totalitarian government

Farenheit 451 (Fig.1) is a Dystopian science fiction film based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury. This film is set in a significantly controlled society in which a fireman, Guy Montag, who burns all literature, becomes a fugitive for reading. The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1966 Venice Film Festival.

The main point of this movie is to portray a society that is controlled by not only the media, but censorship, the limiting of publication of or access to a book (Baran, 2015, p. 53).  Television and film have shaped perceptions of reality, similar to The Truman Show. Montag burns all the books, which are seen as evil because they are “repositories of ideas, ideas that can be read and considered with limited outside influence or official supervision” (Baran, 2015, p. 55).

Montag says to Clarisse at the beginning that “books disturb people… they make them antisocial.”

Fig. 2: The women in society are so wrapped up in the ideals relayed through television that the portrayals of beauty and lifestyle all become their perceived reality.

Society in this movie is completely engulfed in television programs and mirroring what they see on the screen such as elements of perceived “beauty” in the way the women dress, do their hair and makeup and act. (Fig. 2). The world is completely idealized in that no one actually talks about important things anymore but rather the majority of society is aliterate, wherein people posse the ability to read but are unwilling to do so, hence a type of self-censorship (Baran, 2015, p.55).

Russian immigrant and writer Joseph Brodsky‘s explanation during his Noble Prize for Literature clearly ties to this movie significantly: “Since there are no laws that can protect us from ourselves, no criminal code is capable of preventing a true crime against literature; though we can condemn the material suppression of literature – the persecution of writers, acts of censorship, the burning of books – we are powerless when it comes to its worst violation: that of not reading the books. For that crime, a person pays with his whole life; if the offender is a nation, it pays with its history” (Baran, 2015, p.55).

This quote is significant when analyzing the scene in which Montag says to his wife and her friends, ““You’re nothing but zombies, all of you… You’re not living, you’re just killing time!” He starts reading to them, which not only scares them but makes one of the women start to cry from them emotional strength of words that flood the pages of books. Millie is livid with him and says, “All those words, idiotic words, evil words that hurt people….isn’t there enough trouble as it is? Why disturb people with that sort of filth?” These women live in such a distorted world of ideals and censorship that they have allowed the government to take full control and demand of their mindsets, values and viewpoints. They depend on screen media to the highest degree, mirror their ideas of beauty and habits by what they see in the media, similar to today in that individuals seek out similar images of popular celebrities and mirror the way they dress, act, and live according to the mediums they favor (magazine, celebrity shows, or films).

Regardless of the fact that all books are burned in the movie, some individuals still remain willing to sacrifice everything they have to ensure that books, which carry out necessary elements of knowledge and morals over filtered screen play, remain alive. Montag becomes one of these individuals to question his social position when he talks to Clarisse about beauty, nature and love, watches a woman die with her books, and witnesses his wife suffer in the depths of television and grow into someone he does not even know anymore. Ultimately, Montag desires more knowledge, education and intellect thus he contacts Professor Faber who helps him on his way to redeeming his personal humanity.

The Name of the Rose(1986)
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Sean Connery
F. Murry Abraham
Christian Slater

The-Name-of-the-Rose-1986Umberto Eco
Fig.1: The Name of The Rose is based on the book written by Unberto Eco

The core of The Name of the Rose (Fig. 1) is a simple mystery of a murder case that occurred in ancient Northern Italy. One day, a young monk died mysteriously and the murderer continued after William, who was Franciscan friar and known for his wisdom as well as Adso, his apprentice, who visited the monastery. They are convinced to help them solve the horrible event, and consequently, they figured out a secret book that killed people and is the reason of murder. This movie refers to many historical individuals and events, yet, more importantly to our class, to the role of books before technology, as a forbidden book is the key to solve the murders.

First, since it was the age before the printer appeared, there was still an old-fashioned way of producing books in the monastery. People who worked there were the illuminators, translators, librarians and so forth. They copied the original books to pass down to the next generation in order to contain all the significant information.  All victims were the workers of the library system and therefore had access to read the banned books in this film.

Fig. 2: He is mad at the monks who are laughing him

Then, why was the book put under strict censorship? You can find the answer in the scene in which William and Adso visit the library in the monastery to see what they do, since the first victim was a famous illuminator.  In this scene, when the blind librarian enters the room as working monks are laughing, he scolds them and says, “A monk should not laugh. Only the fool lifts up his voice in laughter” in Latin (Fig.2). The librarian strongly believes that laughter is a sin and Christ  never laughed. The truth is that the hidden book is funny thus it can trigger laughter to its readers, which the librarian, the culprit, believes is sinful. William, however, argued that, “A laughter is particular to man.” For that, the librarian, hid the book so secretly that no one could commit an act of betrayal to their God.

What was he actually afraid of though and what made him perform in that way? It is probably the belief that people would get revolutionary ideas by reading such books because books have the “influence as cultural repositories and agents of social change” (Baran, 2015, p. 53). Books can give a change within the people, readers, socially and culturally (Baran, 2015, p. 52) especially when they are more intrapersonal resources. They develop the reader’s mind, whether or not it is good, without the help (or influence) of outsiders (Baran, 2015, p. 53). Books simply work readers’ minds and increase knowledge, which is why some people, like William, love reading.

Fig.3: William is excited by all these books he found in the library

William was so excited when he found out that he was able to get into the library that he was denied access to before:  “I knew it!” he shouted, getting excited that he was in the greatest library in Christendom (Fig.3). His apprentice, Adso, even asked his master if he even cared more about humans than books because the master seemed to be engulfed solely in his readings. This trend indicates how strong the power of books is. This type of power is sometimes considered a threat to a certain group of people, which in turn, causes this level of censorship to ensue in society. In this movie, a banned book, which relatively brought laughter, was also banned among monks due to their religious beliefs. Surely, this book would bring not only laughter but the new idea that could break their tradition sooner or later.The question that one is truly left with at the end, however, it this: Is it worth banning a book for tradition, or is it worth fighting for “the power of ideas” (Baran, 2015, p.55)?

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 3.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. 47-69. Print.