The HBO adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 arrives on May 19, with an updated twist to the story that shows how eerily close we are to its dystopian future. The film retains the basis of the book, pointing out the importance of literature and free thinking in a world dominated by technology, but for this one, director and writer Ramin Bahrani changed the plot to drive this point further — including by introducing what OMNIS is to the Fahrenheit 451 movie.
Spoilers ahead. Unlike in the book, where exiled rebels had to fully depend on their memorization of books in order to preserve literature once society is annihilated by nuclear bombs, OMNIS allows for literature to secretly live on forever. In the dystopian world created by Bahrani, OMNIS holds every piece of literature, art, and history in a DNA strand, preserving the long forgotten culture that the firemen tried to erase. The Eels, those who were exiled due to illegally owning literature, do everything in their capacity to protect OMNIS from the firemen by storing it inside a bird.
The Fahrenheit film revolves around the OMNIS after it’s introduced during a pivotal point in the story. Montag witnesses an old woman burn herself when he is tasked with burning her collection of books. Her gruesome death is streamed live, but one detail is omitted from the public: the woman’s last words were “OMNIS.” Instead, her last words are replaced with "cowards," hiding the existence of a literature database that could change society despite the firemen's efforts. After witnessing her impactful death, Montag sets out to find what the word means against the ministry’s attempts to make sure it's wiped from the Nine.
OMNIS holds far more power than the firemen, and becomes the catalyst for the tension between Montag and his mentor Beatty. Through his conversations with the character Clarisse and the rest of the Eels, Montag realizes the importance of literature and the change OMNIS can bring to society. Meanwhile, Beatty deals with his own conflict of desiring knowledge yet wanting to remain in authority. When Montag begins to question him about the OMNIS, Beatty tries to hide what he knows, playing it down to Montag. This moment shows how Beatty already knows the magnitude of OMNIS and the threat it represents to them.
With the help of the OMNIS, one advantage the Eels have over the firemen is that the OMNIS' location is strictly kept between them. Montag has to prove himself to be trustworthy to learn its whereabouts, as they all fight to protect it at all costs. Through his interactions with Clarisse and the rest of the Eels, Montag quickly realizes that OMNIS holds a positive power, and sees that the firemen's work has been cruel and pointless since they're unable to destroy OMNIS. Once Montag finds OMNIS, he follows the Eels' fight to protect it, even if it means sacrificing himself. By the end of the film, the OMNIS lives on, but its fate is left up to open interpretation of the viewer.
The introduction of the OMNIS may seem to starkly deviate the movie's story from the novel’s, but instead Bahrani uses it as a way to make a more modernized point of the importance of literature and culture. OMNIS becomes a symbol of a new hope in a bleak, literature-loathing society that hints at the emergence of a better future. It is a threat to society’s simple-minded views. When the old woman says “OMNIS”, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t matter how many books the firemen decide to burn, there’s still hope out there for a free-thinking future.