Sunday, March 26, 2006
V for Vendetta
I saw the movie at the I-Max last week, but I wanted to wait until I had finished the original graphic novel before I commented, because I knew that writer Alan Moore had removed his name from the movie at the last moment, and I wanted to see just how much the project had changed. The verdict is that Moore should have kept his name on; although I can empathize with the writer's proprietary attitude about his creation, V for Vendetta is an excellent movie based on an excellent book.
The graphic novel, which originated in comic books in the 1980's, was written by Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd (who wisely kept his name on the movie). It is currently published by Vertigo ( a DC comics entity) and available. Basically, it's 1984 with a hero, except the writers, writing in different time periods, based their totalitarian states on different ideologies. Whereas Orwell's novel depicted a totalitarian Britain based on socialism, so that everyone reading it in the late 40's when it was published thought, "Russia," V for Vendetta was published between 1982 and 1988 (with a long break based on the failure of its original vehicle), in the early Reagan era here, and interestingly was begun before the rise of Thatcher in Britain. So Moore did his work before the current wave of fascism here and in Britain; his prescience is remarkable.
Briefly, if you haven't seen the movie... well, go see it now. But if you'd like to read this blog entry first, let me tell you briefly that in a nightmarish dystopia of Britain a few years from now, fascists have seized control. The country is under a perpetual curfew. Blacks and gays have been eliminated through concentrations camps. The media is under the thumb of the government. But into this Orwellian world comes a man dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, known only as V, to fight back. He blows up lots of buildings. He rouses the citizenry. He kills a lot of people with swords.
Let me tell you, my initial reaction to the movie was shock. Not so much at the content of the movie, but at the fact that the movie was #1 in America the week before. Because the movie version is so obviously directed at the current situation in America. The changes made from the graphic novel to the movie are of two kinds. Of course there is lots of violence; that's from the book, but there is a lot of Hollywood violence that's been introduced to sell this thoughtful piece as an action-adventure film. The second group of changes here is the updating of the novel; the time period is moved from 1997-98 to probably the decade after ours, for obvious reasons. But whereas most films versions of inflamatory books, in this spineless age of ours, tend to dumb down and diminish any content which would make the story less palatable to the mass market, the Wachowski brothers or whoever initiated the changes in the story line have actually modernized it to make it more applicable to current world affairs. Both the novel and movie are set in the aftermath of wars which destroyed the United States and most of the world; in the novel the war was nuclear, in the movie it appears to have been biological. In both, the complicity of religion in the destruction was essential and the state religion is part of the government structure. In both, fascist have seized power in Britain based on the fear of the population. However, in the movie, it is made clear that it was America's bullying approach to the world that caused the whole mess, and the references to terrorism make it unmistakable.
In other words, America spent $25m for the opening weekend of a movie whose whole point is the need to fight back against a government moving by leaps and bounds, as Sandra Day O'Conner has pointed out, toward dictatorship -- dictatorship initiated and maintained by fanning the flames of fear in the populations What does this mean? With Bush's popularity at a new low, I would like to be cautiously optimistic. I would like to think that America is getting smarter and is ready to throw out the Christian Reich and the Bush Cabal before it's too late. But I've been disappointed too often. Is it possible the moviegoers are missing the point? Do they think it's about someone else's goverment? Are they not thinking at all?
There are other differences between the book and the movie. My advice is, go see the movie, and if you like it, and want to see what underlies it, read the book. Please note I have avoided spoilers here as much as possible. There are other differences in the movie and the book; whereas in both, V is a victim of past government oppression (including medical experimentation) who seeks both redress for personal wrongs and an overthrow of the system that victimized him and everyone else, in the novel he is an explicit anarchist. By that I mean he is an anarchist in the strictest philosophical sense, in that we wants to build a Utopia built on anarchy. But that, like most of the literary and philosophical references in the book and the movie, have to be lost on the audience, or at least the movie audience. Do most Americans even know what Guy Fawkes day is? Go get you some of that education. A lot of the dialogue is Shakespeare and quotes from other literary sources, by the way. And Natalie Portman gives what has to be the performance of her career.
Will this movie actually succeed in its effort to make the masses of America think? So many have tried, so many have failed. But I hope it does. Then again, it's been a long time since my evaluation of the intelligence and perception of the American public has gone anywhere but down. Surprise me, please.