Peter M Howard ::

V For Vendetta

01Apr2006 [movies]

On the surface, this film appears to be a fairly decent comic adaptation, with a smattering of action, Natalie Portman with a shaved head and Hugo Weaving in an odd looking mask. Weaving is a true master, managing to bring life to a masked character who is theatrical to the point of the absurd, while still being believable. What action there is looks pretty cool; I had feared it would be a Matrix rip off but there was no wire-work in sight. But the trailer has already shown most of the action, including blowing up the Houses of Parliament, which one learns fairly quickly will be the movie's endpoint! Further, the movie crams a lot of talk in, and it rarely becomes mere exposition. But, beyond the comic action movie, there is the politics. And politics brings problems.

I have seen two reactions to the movie, which are, quite predictably, based on the viewer's politics. Either the film justifies terrorism, or it doesn't go far enough in its condemnation of today's governments. Certainly, one brings what one will to the viewing. But really, I find it hard to believe anyone with a passing familiarity with 1984 and/or Hitler can see the film as justifying terrorism. The film is really black and white: the government is a Big Brother/Hitler-esque tyranny, V helps the people rise up in revolution. It's all too easy to justify (most of) his actions as those of a revolutionary. The movie has a happy ending! And therein lies the film's greatest weakness. It falls for the Judas problem I've written about before, turning the bad guys into monsters. The guys in charge are the Nazis with a bit of technology ripped from 1984. John Hurt plays Chancellor Sutler, not as Big Brother, not as Tony Blair, but as Hitler, in his mannerisms, his speech, his increasing madness. Anyone who's ever seen footage of Hitler addressing a crowd will immediately recognise him. And that's way too easy. It pulls the movie's future out of the realm of possibility and into the realm of fantasy. And on the other side, suddenly blowing up the Houses of Parliament is no big deal, because it never really happened.

In some ways, though, the film does push against current issues, and pushes pretty hard. It's just that every time it brings something up, I wanted the film to take it somewhere, but it never did; it always pulls back to the black and white. I'm guessing it's actually these in-between bits that are riling up the people who condemn the film, not the revolution. And admittedly, I suspect it would be difficult for a blockbuster to push any harder; I just wish they'd taken it where it could've gone. There is mention that the government of the film persecuted Muslims and gays, that it bans works of art it finds objectionable (for the too-easy Hitler links), that it used/uses fear and the media to control the population, that the media repeat the government's lies knowingly. But again, with the obvious Hitler link, it conflates all the slightly-dodgy things of our society with the obviously evil things, leaving no room to show that this is what we could become.

And finally, though the ending is somewhat satisfactory, justice prevails and all that, it doesn't leave one wanting to take to the streets like London's citizens in the film. It's just too easy. Good will prevail, so why bother doing anything about evil. Whatever happened to "Evil wins when Good Men do Nothing"? I haven't read the original comic, so I don't know how the ending compares, but this one is way too happy. 1984's ending is far more confronting, and makes the whole story much more satisfying for it. But instead of seeing Winston Smith walking out of his cell thinking all is right with the world, we are Winston Smith, walking out thinking all is right.

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