“The history of the world is but the biography great men.” – Thomas Carlyle.
“The end of rebellion is liberation, while the end of revolution is the foundation of freedom” – Hannah Arendt.
Though Carlyle’s insight is undoubtable, this author under the influence of Arendt believes that the history of the world is in fact the biography of great rebels. From Nelson Mandela opposing the legalised racism of apartheid to Galileo Galilei reorganising the stars, rebellion has punctuated revolution throughout history. The future, however, has been foreshadowed to be a tad more obedient with texts like Blade Runner and Fahrenheit 451 depicting dystopian societies where fear and authority are the padlock and deadbolt chaining vital rebellion.
Now why should I bother to read a column about rebelling against some far-off fictional government, you may be asking. The future may appear to be a distant number on your phone, but we are living in a time where the Chinese government think they can swallow Hong-Kong alive. Where the Russian government has already bitten a chunk out of Ukraine. Where the 2018 missile strikes against Syria have gone unanswered. The future is closer than you think, and it may very well be more terrifying than any text could convey.
Outwardly, the futuristic world of Fahrenheit 451 appears to be quite pleasant with its wall-wide televisions and beyond state-of-the-art toasters. However, dissatisfaction runs rampant with a totalitarian government guaranteeing its power by reassuring the ignorant and burning the dissidents. Such a future is personified through Mildred Montag, a woman obediently locked in a vicious cycle of vapid gratification by day, and suicidal self-destruction by night. Her society compels her to obey with any deviants being extinguished and labelled insane: as Captain Beatty puts it “Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us”.
Mildred’s speeding, attempted suicide and utter rejection of meaningful thought highlight her inner turmoil, and yet she’s convinced of her happiness, announcing “Happiness is important. Fun is everything. I am [happy]… and proud of it” after conversing with Captain Beatty. Beatty represents authority within Fahrenheit 451, being the leader of the book burning fireman. Beatty stokes Mildred’s obedience to “fun” and effectively reassimilates her into their society after a long and surprisingly well-spoken monologue to her and her husband. Despite Guy’s pleas and her own overwhelming dissatisfaction, Mildred rejects any notion of free thinking, of disobeying, of rebelling, even up until her death.
Authority’s paramount influence over Mildred’s attitudes and beliefs reveal to the reader one’s nature to surrender to authority. This aspect of human nature isn’t exclusive to fiction either. An electrifying study performed in 1961, called the Milgram shock experiment, attempted to shed an academic light on the degree to which people obey authority despite it conflicting with basic human morals. The experiment disguised as a memory study entailed an unknowing participant – playing the teacher in the situation, being instructed by an authoritative figure (experimenter) to shock a student (actor) every time they got a question wrong. Shockingly, 65% of all participants delivered the maximum 450volts despite the distressing screams of the student (McLeod, 2017). Mildred’s complete obedience under authority may seem like something that you or I would never stoop to, however the 1961 experiment confirms the struggle man faces when trying to defy authority. As Faber articulates “So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily”.
Bradbury juxtaposes the introduction of Mildred and Clarisse to illustrate the differences between the rebellious and obedient. Guy and Clarisse share an energetic exchange, with the dialogue unfolding in rapid sentences to represent the spontaneous mind of Clarisse. Conversely, Mildred is introduced with the simile “Her face was like a snow-covered island upon which rain might fall; but it felt no rain”, positioning the reader to see her as isolated, cold and impersonal. The effects of authority’s influence on these opposing characters invites the reader to perceive rebellion in an oppressive society as liberating while obedience as enslaving.
Unlike Fahrenheit 451, obedience is injected into the world of Blade Runner by fear more so than authority. The two most thematically significant characters, Deckard and Roy, share a common motivation of fear, with the latter fearing his own mortality and the former fearing persecution by the LAPD. Deckard begins his hunt free of doubt and desperate to retire the machines as quickly as possible. However, after killing Zhora, he questions what it means to be human as his own empathy towards replicants uproots his values and inculcated cultural assumptions (i.e. replicants are to be used as they cannot feel).
His unyielding doubts become apparent in his immediate search for liquor and are emphasized by the tone of the scene. The rainy, dark setting coupled with a piercing synthesizer in the background create an uneasy tone, positioning the reader to feel distressed like the protagonist. The scene maintains an eye-level medium shot solely framing Deckard and his disturbed expression as he walks toward Zhora’s dead body, highlighting his uncertainty and even regret. Yet despite all these factors, Deckard subsequently agrees to hunt down the remaining replicants including Rachel, the woman he later falls in love with, after talking to Bryant. The obedience fear can instill is made almost palpable in this scene, revealing one’s nature to instinctively favour survival over morality.
Roy Batty, the leader of the renegade replicants can simultaneously be viewed as both a parallel and complete antithesis to Deckard. The very purpose of a replicant is unequivocal obedience, but Roy chooses rebellion when faced with the fear of his impending death. A link between submission and the fear Roy is rebelling against is directly drawn in his iconic quote “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave”. Both Roy and Deckard are motivated by fear but Roy contrasts early Deckard’s obedience with rebellion as he advances to Earth to reclaim his life. Roy rejects authority, killing Tyrell and in what this author considers the greatest act of cinema rebellion, spares Deckard. In his final moments, Roy singularly proved that he is more human than any of the men chasing after him with an appreciation for life and an empathy he nor any other character had displayed thus far into the film.
Not all forms of rebellion are as unadulterated as Roy’s, with many shades of revolt existing within both texts. From Beatty’s acceptance of his society despite its flagrant flaws, to Faber who acknowledges the failure in both his society and his ability to act, obedience and rebellion are intertwined throughout different layers of texts: especially Fahrenheit 451. The only survivors of the nuclear bombing at the end of Fahrenheit 451 are the true rebels of its world, Guy – the man who renounced the attitudes and values held by society and Granger’s gang – the men who had outright rejected the society. With this ending Ray Bradbury implicitly positions the reader to understand the importance of rebellion and its necessity for the survival of a man in an oppressive society.
Sadly, rebellion is double-edged as highlighted in the slaughter of all Nexus 6 replicants and the innocent Clarisse. However, their deaths weren’t in vain, their efforts not lost “like tears in the rain” as their actions sparked a new flame of rebellion in another. Clarisse was the pivotal influence that awoke Guy from his misery and the Nexus 6 replicants forever reshaped Deckard’s attitudes, values and beliefs towards replicants.
Symbolism is intertwined with rebellion in both texts. Guy stripping naked and entering the river while another man is killed in his place symbolises his transformation as a rebel, with his obedient identity dying as he is reborn – like the ever-prevalent phoenix. Roy misquotes William Blake with the line “Fiery the angels fell…burning with the fires of Orc”. Orc in Blake mythology represents revolution and rebellion. Orc was born a worm but transformed into a serpent, was chained to a mountain but then freed by his imagination. The intentional misquote (“rose” to “fell”) indicates Roy knows he has fundamentally rebelled by returning to earth and that he identifies with the fallen angels.
Now, a thousand words wiser and all the more rebellious, you my reader are faced with a decision. Will you rage against the obedience imposed by fear and authority like Guy, revel in the freedom of your rebellion like Roy for half-hearted intentions are a meagre drizzle in the intellectual and emotional drought of an impossibly dystopian future? If not, rebelling against this coda is okay to.
“Become so very free that your whole existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus.
- McLeod, S. (2017). The Milgram Shock Experiment. Retrieved from Simply Psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html