The latest film adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic Fahrenheit 451 arrives to HBO on May 19, and it stars Michael B. Jordan as Montag, a fireman who has dedicated his life to burning books but starts to question his own beliefs after an impactful experience. The movie and novel are both set in a dystopian future where books are banned and technology fully takes over, limiting free thinking. Yet for this adaptation, director and writer Ramin Bahrani wanted to drive further the concept of how closely current society mirrors the world created by Bradbury, by making the Fahrenheit 451 movie ending different than the book in several major ways.
Spoilers ahead. The core event that inspires Montag to challenge his own beliefs and start thinking for himself is the same in the novel and the film. The protagonist witnesses an old woman burn herself alive when he is tasked with destroying her expansive collection of books, and he desires to know what would motivate someone to sacrifice themselves when faced with the loss of literature and knowledge — leading him to steal one of the woman’s novels. But Montag’s reaction and consequences in the movie are vastly different from Bradbury’s story.
The film's ending, you see, shows how much of an impact the woman's actions had on Montag; he finally realizes that literature brings to light a brand new world and a forgotten history. It gets to a point where he mirrors her martyrdom, as Montag and Beatty have an intense standoff, causing Montag to sacrifice himself after releasing OMNIS into the world. This ending will take readers by surprise, since the book ends with a dark yet much more optimistic conclusion. In the book, Beatty confronts Montag about secretly stashing books, but Montag manages to kill Beatty, running away to safety with those who were exiled as the city is annihilated by bombs. The novel offers a more clear-cut glimpse into the future that hints at a new literature-based era.
This movie ending instead is more mixed in its tone, showing that even though people like Beatty retain power and kill Montag, there is a glimmer of hope for the future thanks to OMNIS. And at the Fahrenheit 451 premiere in May, Jordan assures Bustle that even though the ending may seem somber, there’s a positive side to it. "I think there was a constant questioning in his head for a lot of the movie, until it got to the end where he finally understood why she did what she did,” explains Jordan, referring to the old woman.
Jordan also notes how Montag’s sacrifice is an example of how much his character grows throughout the story. “He was willing to give up his life for something that he believed in, that he never had any conviction and never cared about anything as much before," says the actor. "I think Montag was at peace with letting himself die because he got the OMNIS out to the world.”
In a way, the movie's ending does feel more realistic because it shows how society's flaws can't be easily fixed overnight. Montag letting the bird holding OMNIS fly away before sacrificing himself becomes a metaphor for small steps needed to change. If the OMNIS information is shared and eventually embraced, there will be a co-existence of technology and literature, threatening the lack of free thinking in this dystopian society. That might sound a lot bleaker than the book, but from Jordan’s perspective, it just might be the best way to show how much the importance of literature impacts Montag and the rest of the world.