Depiction Of Nonconformist Individuals In Fahrenheit 451 And Gattaca

The necessities of individuals who go against the values of powerful societies tend to generate contention and scepticism on both sides. This notion is encapsulated through a plethora of literary and film techniques in Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Andrew Niccol’s ‘not too distant future’ dystopian film, Gattaca (1997). The two composers explore the values that authoritarian societies impose and the social implications with upholding them in both of these texts. Through Bradbury and Niccol’s sophisticated portrayals of two tyrannical societies, they are able to effectively compare the needs of individuals and the needs of oppressive societies. Although both texts are set in different settings and characters, the composers offer profound insights into the conditions needed to sustain individuality in the face of adversity and uncertainty in powerful societies.

When taking into account the similarities between the two texts, the two texts highlight the nonconformist needs of individualistic outcasts in dystopian societies. In Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, embodies this idea as he hoards books from homes that he has burnt down as a ‘fireman’. This is further illustrated through the old woman who wanted to stay in her house while it burnt down with her books when she said: “I want to stay here”. The use of a biblical allusion is apparent in this part of the novel where Captain Beatty says: “You’ve been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it!”. As a result of using a biblical allusion, the reader comes to refer to this biblical story where people could not agree with each other on certain things as they all spoke different languages.

On the other hand, in a few Gattaca scenes where Vincent seeks help from German who would aid him into joining the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, there were various film techniques used by the composer which exemplified this concept. In one of those scenes, Vincent uses a non-diegetic voiceover saying that: “A member of the elite falls on hard times, their genetic identity becomes a valuable commodity for the unscrupulous”. This means that the ‘elites’ or ‘valids’ in this case, have valuable DNA that can be useful for invalids such as Vincent. The composer made use of a yellow filter, symbolising Vincent’s inherent weaknesses as a ‘god-child’, contrasting the genetic superiority of the valid class, especially in the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. Later, Vincent meets Jerome who embodies the image of a ‘perfectly valid individual’ with “a heart of an ox, has vision better than 20/20 and can practically live forever as quoted by German. However, his shortcomings were that he was severely crippled in an accident. Importantly, Niccol’s use of a green filter for this scene rather than a yellow one symbolised the transition that Vincent would make into becoming a ‘valid’. Thus, there are similarities between the two texts when considering the differing needs of individuals in authoritarian societies.

In addition, commonalities can be found through Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Niccol’s Gattaca in relation to the conflict and confusion that divides autonomous individuals and conformist societies. This idea can be found in Fahrenheit 451 where Guy Montag threatens his fire chief, Captain Beatty, with a flamethrower after realising that his house would be burnt down. The nature of this notion is further explained by Beatty: “Why don’t you belch Shakespeare at me, you fumbling snob? “There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm’d so strong in honesty that they pass by me as an idle wind”. Through this quote, it is obvious that Beatty possesses substantial knowledge of literature which is unusual as his job requires him to reject it. Conversely, Montag’s response: “We never burned right adds a layer of meaning behind conflict in the novel. Through the use of italics, the composer underlines the word ‘right’ due to the fact that he is talking about how books are ‘right’. In direct contrast to this, parlor TVs and radios offered false information and should be burnt, not books. In addition, this phrase also applies to the firemen whose job is to destroy written knowledge. The conflict shown is that Montag believes that entertainment has become more significant than knowledge, giving the underlying cause of the role of firmen in this dystopian society.

As opposed to Fahrenheit 451, this notion is explored in Gattaca where Eugene (Jerome) expresses his hurt and anger when he recounted the time he came second in a swimming race. While Vincent was practising Jerome’s signature, Eugene came up to him and said: “Jerome Morrow was never meant to be one step down on the podium”. This is revealed through the composer’s use of a medium shot. By using this film technique, Niccol emphasises the burden that Eugene had as a person who had ‘almost perfect’ genes. Additionally, the use of a medium camera shot also adds a personal tone to the scene, making the audience sympathise for Eugene’s intense burden of being ‘perfect’. Therefore, both Fahrenheit 451 and Gattaca have similar ideas when considering the conflict and confusion between powerful societies and their individualistic outcasts.

When one considers the wants of individuals possessing autonomy, it is clear that conflict and perplexity with the burden of conforming to oppressive societies. This is explored through the burden that conformists face in these societies as well as their tension with nonconformist individuals.  

16 December 2021
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