Monday, March 20, 2006

V for Vendetta: Great Movie or Greatest Movie?

I saw V for Vendetta on Saturday. If you haven't seen it, don't read beyond this paragraph because I'm going to deal in spoilers here. But I will say this and you can read it without fear: V for Vendetta is a great film. Pay no neverminds to the mainstream film reviewers who're being very cautious in their praise because of the "controversial" subject matter. I think their reaction to The Matrix was similarly tepid. For me, I thought not only was V for Vendetta better than the trailers let on, but the film is better in many respects than the graphic novel it's based on. Call me a blasphemer.

Spoilers below:

V for Vendetta is to left-leaning film audiences living under the reign of Bush the Younger what the graphic novel was for left-leaning comic readers under the reign of Thatcher and Reagan: a message of hope and solidarity in a time of political darkness. It's a great big happy billboard posted up for all to see that, even though it may seem differently, you are not alone. That even though the media tells you that the so-called silent majority is in support of those things you oppose, they are, in fact, with you. Not only are they with you, but if it gets bad enough, that silent majority will rise up with you and topple those who seek to tyrannize a free people.

The movie's a fantasy, sure, but even if it's just a palliative, it made me feel better for a couple hours, so it works. V for Vendetta is not, as some in the mainstream media have tried to suggest, a call to arms or a celebration of terrorists who blow up buildings (even though the hero of the film does say, "Blowing up a building can change the world." Roeper has a good opinion on this line here.) To me, this film was an opportunity to sit in a dark theater and have a mini political catharsis. Not that a film like this could make up for how depressed I felt in November of 2004 when I discovered I would be living under W's administration for a further 4 years, but it helped. It's that good. The ending of the film was, for me, one of the best moments I've seen in a film since the Kaiser Soze reveal in The Usual Suspects. And what's amazing, what's so impressive, is that you see it coming the whole time and it's shocking and exciting. Because of how awful and repressive the government in the film is, the explosions that end all of that are beautiful. Matrix was no fluke. These guys know how to tell a story.

V for Vendetta is a cautionary tale. Despite what some on the right are saying, the Wachowskis aren't asserting that the fascist England of the future where V for Vendetta is a mirror of our current reality, only that fascism, though the term sounds old and musty, is still possible in a so-called Western democracy, and that if we let it, our governments can and will sink to it. (For a little backstory, the story of V for Vendetta, as Moore conceived it, was to tell a story set in an alternate England where the Nazis won WWII). The film tells the story of Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an average citizen of this poisoned country, who, with the help of the Morpheus-like, masked "terrorist" V (played by Hugo Weaving) "frees her mind" from the years of government propaganda she's been indoctrinated with. He takes extraordinary measures to allow her to live without fear; the fear the government has used as a tool to control the populace her entire life.

In addition to being a cautionary tale, V for Vendetta is a celebration of the amateur conspiracy theorist in all of us. Once the facts of a government conspiracy have been exposed to the public, the conspiracy theorist believes, the citizenry will rise up and make things right again. This film allows one to think, even if just for a few minutes, that given enough information, the people WILL rise up and make things right again, and it's a great feeling. McTeague and the Wachowskis have fashioned a film that builds to the climax so well, so forcefully, so brilliantly, that I came out of this movie beaming, and excited that others would see this film and be similarly affected. I came out of this film feeling the same way I did after seeing Fahrenheit 911, and JFK in the theater. I know both of those films were essentially propaganda films that played fast and loose with the facts, but that didn't make them any less effective or well-made. V for Vendetta, on the other hand, is fiction. There are no facts that require massaging. If critics believe this film is purposely critical of current governments, than it's because they see similarities.

It seems that every now and again we need to be reminded why we shouldn't trust our governments implicitly. Huxley reminded us with Brave New World, Orwell with 1984, Bradbury with Fahrenheit 451, and I think V for Vendetta is our first reminder of the 21st century, and I think it's about time. Late in the film, one of the characters, a lesbian who was rounded up by the government, experimented on, and finally murdered, tells the story of England's descent into fascism through her own experience. She talks about how they used God to give them moral superiority. How they took bloodless, unfamiliar words, and gave them terrible meanings. She mentions "rendition" as an example, which is, I believe, a direct and pointed criticism of the Bush administration. Rendition means only "to give", or "to relinquish". Pretty harmless. But in Bushworld, rendition now means to hand over prisoners to other countries for the express purpose of being tortured. The cunning use of euphemism to do awful things the citizenry might object to is one of the hallmarks of a fascist government. So while the totalitarian England of V for Vendetta has much more in common with Nazi Germany than with modern day America, there are chilling reminders that there are similarities, and they seem to get more numerous every day. Last week US News and World Report reported that the Bush administration could give no assurances they were not doing warrantless searches of people and property under the same "authority" they believe allows them to do warrantless domestic wiretaps. Scary stuff. As Keith Olberman said on his show, "If there were a prequel to 1984, might this be the first chapter?"

And though there are moments in V for Vendetta that seem naive or fanciful -- the entire populace coming out wearing V's Guy Fawkes masks to demand a change in their government, for example -- the fact is something very much like that really happened a couple of years ago, albeit without the awesome masks. In the Ukraine, a fairly Westernized country, a handsome reformer ran against the Russian stooge incumbent. When the reformer got too popular, the intelligence service poisoned him. When that didn't work, they rigged the election. That would have done it, except the people rose up as one, gathered in the square, and demanded the Russian stooge go out, and the reformer go in. They stayed and they stayed, and finally, the Ukrainian president stepped down. When faced with an attempted coup d'etat, the people staged their own, successful one. So while some may say it's naive to think the people could ever rise up and speak truth to power with one voice as it happens in the movie, and most days I'd be one of those saying this, what may be more naive, more dangerous, is to think abuses of power and shifts away from representative government and towards fascism couldn't happen here. Anyway, I know that I've probably set expectations impossibly high for this movie, and you may come out of this movie totally disagreeing with me, but I really loved this movie and wanted to let you all know about it. It may be that after Ultraviolet, I could have gone to see Maid in Manhattan and been equally blown away, but I don't think so.

For an interesting, alternative view, go to Mike Moran's blog, Moranadu. He has a totally different take on the movie.

Before I end this way-long post, I wanted to link ya'll to this awesome clip. It's a video for a musician named Vitalic. It's called Birds and it has a lot of dogs in it, a la House of Dogs, flying around in slow-motion. Equal parts hilarious and mesmerizing, the thing that makes me watch it again and again (or rather hear it again and again) is the music. Just frickin' good. Makes me want to write. All right. More tomorrow.


Captain Mike said...

Wow. I guess you liked the movie. I still have mixed feelings about it. That Benny Hill sequence was insane. I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan of The Matrix, either, so I doubt that we'll ever totally see eye to eye on the Brothers Wachowski, but what good is the internet if not for a free exchange of ideas?


Speck said...

I just saw it tonight.

The movie is brilliant. I never felt thought a graphic novel on the big screen could be so powerful.

Anonymous said...

I knew if I persisted I would find a comments section t the end of this blog.


Craig Moorhead said...

Just saw it last night. I don't think it's brilliant, but as wish-fulfillment goes, it ranks right up there with that moment in Independence Day when our President blows aliens out of the sky whilst piloting his own fighter jet. Will we ever have a President that can do that? Or who cares enough about us to do that? Yes. And she will be a woman. A black woman. And that will be in the year 3000.

I think you're wrong, though, in saying "If critics believe this film is purposely critical of current governments, than it's because they see similarities." The Ws and McTeague have definitely steered the spotlight to shine on Blair and Bush. As they should.

ANYWAY, I agree, otherwise, with your take on this flick. It was darn good.

blankfist said...

Yes, great film. I do think this is a film geared toward left-leaning audience-goers. This is just a great film not only about how we shouldn't allow our government to gain absolute power, but also how given that proverbial inch they'll encroach on our liberties for a mile.

blankfist said...

Once a post has lasted for more than a day, any reply falls on deaf ears.