In a future time when books are banned, a secret underground preserves the world’s literature. [Dir. Francois Truffaut/ Julie Christie, Oscar Werner, Cyril Cusak/ 112 min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Drama/ Freedom of Speech]
“We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books.” Thus is explained the government’s anti-book rationale. That is: exposure to the ideas found in books makes people different; differences create social friction; therefore books must be destroyed.
In this projected world, people are peaceful – but placid, shallow, and alike. Without books, there are no ideas to talk about, no prose or poetry to inspire – in short, no mental experiences that would give a person individuality or purpose.
It’s a bland authoritarian society in other ways as well. Men are forced to have short hair to preserve the appearance of being alike; “volunteers” are drafted (one is reminded of the term “social security contribution”); and people step out of their identical houses to look for a wanted man on the orders of a passing police car.
At the center of the story is one of the government’s anti-book enforcers. He leads a bleak life, simply going through the motions of existence. Then one day a strange woman approaches him on his commuter train and talks to him about the books he so routinely burns.
It’s a forbidden subject, but she’s an impertinent character.
Soon curiosity gets the better of him and he begins secretly reading some of the books he is supposed to burn. The experience transforms him. He reads another book and then another.
Eventually he’s caught, and forced to burn the books he’s been reading. But before he can be tried for his “crime,” he manages to escape and makes his way to a secret haven in the woods, mentioned earlier by the strange woman on the train, where people who care about books are covertly preserving the world’s literature.
This is a wonderful Ray Bradbury story, and its antiauthoritarian content will make it of very strong interest to libertarians. Truffaut’s telling of this story is Hitchcockian at times, and seems all the more so supported, as it is, by an excellent Bernard Hermann musical score. Listening to the music, one is reminded of just how much a difference a really good film score can make.
The pace of the film is sometimes slow, as the details of a semicomatose world without books are played out, but this just adds to the sense of changelessness. In the end, one is left with the disturbing impression that such a society could actually be brought about.
This article is reprinted with permission from Jon Osborne’s Miss Liberty’s Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millennium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.