Premieres Saturday, May 19 at 8 PM ET/PT, Exclusively on HBO
Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon star in HBO Films’ Fahrenheit 451, depicting an alternate tomorrow in which media is an opiate, facts and history are rewritten, and “firemen” burn books. Jordan portrays Montag, a young fireman who begins to question his beliefs and turns against his friend and mentor, Captain Beatty, played by Shannon. Sofia Boutella (“The Mummy,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) stars as Clarisse, an informant who becomes newly politicized through her interactions with Montag.
The cast also includes: Lilly Singh (“Bad Moms,” YouTube’s “Superwoman”) as Raven, a social media vlogger who works with the fire department to spread the Ministry’s propaganda by broadcasting its fire-shows to fans; Khandi Alexander (HBO’s “Treme”; Emmy® nominee for “Scandal”) as Toni Morrison, leader of the underground effort to memorize and preserve books and knowledge; Martin Donovan (“Inherent Vice,” “The Portrait of a Lady”) as Commissioner Nyari, Beatty’s superior; and Dylan Taylor (“Covert Affairs,” “Reasonable Doubt”) as Fireman Douglas, Montag’s rival firefighter.
“I have always loved Ray Bradbury’s prophetic novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’,” says Bahrani. “The concept is so provocative. Three years ago, I started to think about it again, because the world was frighteningly catching up to what he had envisioned. Bradbury said that we demanded, we elected, for the world to become this way. That’s different than having a totalitarian government take over. I found that to be true, because we have willingly given up our knowledge, identity, books, history, dreams, culture – everything – to tech companies, big business and politicians.”
Fahrenheit 451 follows Guy Montag (Jordan), the most popular fireman in his district, with a mandate to achieve happiness and social harmony by burning books, physical or electronic, deleting and altering history, art, photos and facts, and replacing words with simplistic emojis. “Natives,” or citizens, mainly stay home, happily interacting with screens and getting anything they need from “Yuxie,” an advanced AI personal assistant that listens to and watches them at all times. “Eels” fight to save books, knowledge and culture. When firemen catch them, they punish Eels in public burnings, which are broadcast to the city on giant building-screens; the Eels’ digital identities and histories are wiped clean and they are banished to Talay City, a poor slum with very little technology.
Captain Beatty (Shannon) is Montag’s mentor and friend, and the head of the regional fireman brigade. He is grooming Montag to take his place, but Beatty also harbors a secret: a desire for knowledge and books, exactly what he trains Montag to burn. Beatty manages to ride a fine line of contradiction to survive within the Ministry. He finds himself losing control of Montag, his prized student, who is haunted by dreams and increasingly questioning his beliefs. Interacting with Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), an Eel-turned-informant, Montag is drawn to forbidden knowledge. The turning point comes when an old woman burns herself alive, in front of Montag, for her books. Now, Montag must know why. His first step: steal a book. Next: find Clarisse to explain it to him.
Through Clarisse, Montag connects with rebel Eels who are preserving books by memorizing one author’s work and “becoming” that novel. They have developed OMNIS, a way to store all of humanity’s art, history and literature in a microscopic strand of DNA – an advanced form of a technology that exists today. The Eels need Montag to use his status as a fireman to protect OMNIS. A conflicted and suspicious Beatty realizes that Montag has aligned himself with Clarisse, betraying him and the Ministry. Beatty confronts Montag, resulting in a series of fiery standoffs in which Beatty tries to bring his apprentice and only friend back into the fold. But Montag can’t be saved. He has a goal: save the OMNIS. Mentor and apprentice will have to face the inevitable tragedy that neither friend wants: One of them will have to be destroyed.