Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

The first words I recall reading about V for Vendetta were on Ain’t It Cool News, after one of its first public screenings at last year’s Harry Knowles-hosted ButtNumbAThon in Austin, TX: “A movie with the power to change the world!” If that were the case, there likely would’ve been rioting in the streets by now. And yet after seeing it twice (once at the theatre and again last night on DVD), it’s clear how a certain type of idealist would be moved to choose such words after viewing the piece.

Before going any further, let’s address the divide between the graphic novel and movie: they are different pieces and some who’ve been attached to the literary version (and undoubtedly only a handful of those have yet to see the film) didn’t or aren't going to like the movie incarnation and may even consider it an abomination. This is a valid viewpoint - but please don’t try to spoil it for the rest of us, or else I fear certain views central to both versions have been missed. Regardless of your feelings of book vs. movie, you should urge people to see this film so they can decide for themselves. (The flipside, of course, being that those who see and appreciate the film should perhaps look into the graphic novel as well.)

It’s also a valid viewpoint that no work of art based on a previous piece of art must ape its inspiration word for word, image for image or thought for thought. If it were necessary to do so, then the film version of The Wizard Of Oz is logically a travesty of incalculable proportions.

V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea Mr. Creedy…and ideas are bulletproof.

The movie version of V for Vendetta is a thing to be adored and admired. It’s not perfect mind you, but it’s a passionate work, brimming with thoughts and ideas. Some of its thoughts are silly and many of its ideas are ludicrous…yet it’s a comic book movie, and in that sense it remains true to its origins. It’s as subversive a piece of popcorn entertainment as anything I’ve seen in ages, and that alone makes it more important than a dozen Fahrenheit 9/11’s strung together.

V for Vendetta is less the story of the terrorist/freedom fighter V (Hugo Weaving) and his protégé Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) and more the tale of a world gone mad. The central characters are less identifiable to the viewer than the postulated “New British Order” the film puts forth. Undeniably a Bush-era parable, it’s some scary crap what with John Hurt cast (nice touch there for 1984 fans[1]) as the Dubya-esque figure and all. No less than the original graphic novel’s writer Alan Moore heavily criticized this aspect of the movie, although I’d argue back that one aspect of V that never should have been changed is its inherent Britishness. To move the story across the pond might have been to admit filmmakers' defeat; keeping it in the UK whilst at the same time altering the political emphasis is something of a triumph. That we can clearly see Bush in John Hurt’s Chancellor Sutler is one of the film’s greatest achievements - or perhaps it just shows that one megalomaniacal politician looks the same as the next.

Evey Hammond: My father was a writer. You would've liked him. He used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover it up.

Timelessness is the benchmark for judging the greatness of art and it remains to be seen whether or not V is a movie for the ages or merely a piece of present pop hysteria. The fact that a movie like this can even exist somewhat supports the latter over the former. Timeliness, however, may have been key to the many changes made to the film from its 25-year old source material. The original novel was steeped in anarchy and shades of gray. I’m not even sure anarchy is much of a solution to anything anymore (was it ever?) and the film leaves little doubt as to whether or not V was/is in the right in his actions.

Do we not currently exist in a world that’s become more black and white than ever before? In the words of our esteemed leader, “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” Everyone seems to know what a terrorist is these days: They’re brown people who keep copies of the Koran within arms reach at all times, right? Where V excels is in providing us with an avenue in which to question what defines a terrorist. It’s nearly impossible to not root for V. We want his plans to succeed and it’s only because he’s shown to us as one who's overcome great hurdles and loss of self-esteem that makes him someone to root for. How do we know that V’s skin isn’t/wasn’t brown underneath the Guy Fawkes mask? We don’t, and the color of V’s skin is less important than the ideas for which he fights.

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

I took great issue with the above dialogue upon first seeing the film. I don’t think people and their governments should be afraid of each other; I believe they should respect one another. But that was six months ago and I realize now that I was imposing my brand of idealism on V for Vendetta. If we’re going to talk in black and white terms, I’m forced to agree with V on this one. And certainly I don’t currently see a government that’s particularly frightened of or even bothered with caring what its people think. If V was able to get me to think about such aspects of the world around me, he has succeeded in jumping out of the film and into my mind. Maybe those first words I read on Ain’t It Cool weren’t so hastily chosen after all? And I just gotta wonder what Oliver Stone thought of the movie?

A powerful aspect of the novel the film retains is a subplot concerning a woman who’s captured, experimented upon, tortured and eventually killed – all for being a lesbian. It’s this section that moved me to tears on both viewings. An aspect that was invented for the movie involves Stephen Fry’s closeted homosexual character Gordon and his fate echoes the above lesbian subplot – only it occurs prior to it in the movie and in some ways lessens the more powerful of the two stories. That Gordon is played by Fry, an openly gay actor, also somewhat lessens the particular plot development. This is brought up only to illustrate an area where the film fails since I’ve gone on and on about the areas where it succeeds. (It should also be noted I'm a big Stephen Fry fan.)

But for all its failures and/or successes, V for Vendetta is an important movie although I highly doubt it will change the world. Now that it’s out on DVD, it’s going to be viewed by unsuspecting folk who never gave it the time of day during its theatrical release. These people are going to talk with you about V for Vendetta and it’ll soon be coming to a party conversation near you. If there’s one DVD you need to rent and/or buy this weekend, it’s V for Vendetta. You should have an opinion on the film and be able to discuss it with a fair amount of intelligence, even if I’ve failed to do so here at the Morgue.

I’m looking forward to seeing how many Guy Fawkes masks inhabit the streets and parties of America this Halloween. And I’m looking even more forward to seeing what - if anything - goes down a few days later this November 5th (there’s a lotta zany folk out there).

And by all means, don’t ever let me catch you saying, “It’s not as good as the book” or I’ll go all V on your ass.

Evey Hammond: Does it have a happy ending?

V: As only celluloid can deliver.

[1] Interesting coincidence - this was Entry # 84 here at The Rued Morgue[2].

[2] V: There are no coincidences, Delia... only the illusion of coincidence.

To anyone considering reading the "Comments" section of this entry: It delves deep into Spoiler territory. You were warned!