Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Violent Vigilante Values Vast Vocabulary

I just returned from the film "V for Vendetta," the central point of which is that terrorism is okay as long as you're actually a freedom fighter.

Okay, that's not *really* the central point, but it serves as a handy sound bite. "V," for those who don't plan to see it (those who do and hate spoilers should probably spend their time visiting a different web site) is set in a dystopian London. The United States, valiant defender of all that is True and Good, has fallen into anarchy in the wake of a plague that - we are informed by unsubtle hints from a ranting British Limbaugh wannabe - they supposedly unleashed upon themselves. Britain is now a totalitarian state, ruled by the tyrannical and supposedly deeply religious High Chancellor, Adam Sutler (John Hurt, channelling Ian McKellen's Richard III). You'd think countries would stop having chancellors, really. Sutler's religious police make life miserable in the opening minutes for Natalie Portman's Evey, who is rescued by the populist-terrorist 'V' (who is equal parts Vengeful, Vivacious, Violent, and Verbose). Subsequently she rescues him back, prompting him to abduct her to his Batcave - excuse me, Shadow Gallery - on the pretext that she won't be safe from the authorities elsewhere. Of course, over the course of time she falls in love with him, despite the fact that he's clearly dangerously insane and abuses her horribly.

The film - interpreted by the Wachowski brothers of "Matrix" fame from an anti-Thatcherite graphic novel originally published in the 80s - unfolds as an extended metaphor for the Bush administration's reaction to 9/11, right down to the tinfoil-hat theory that They Made It Happen On Purpose. The central figures of the Sutler administration are revealed to have manipulated events to establish their cruel, Pharisaically Puritan dictatorship - and incidentally to reap huge profits. It culminates, as most people probably already know, with the destruction of Parliament (on Guy Fawkes' Day, of course) by a fertilizer bomb (*coughOklahomaCitycough*) as a miraculously unharmed multitude of civilians in V costumes stream past a bewildered military security cordon. Leading up to this is a melange of stylish murders and Wachowskian action sequences accompanying a process of political intrigue straight out of an X-Files season finale - complete with Secret Meeting In Creepy Memorial.

The *real* central message of the film is that symbols - or, more precisely, illusions - are more important than reality. If you frighten people enough, they'll let you turn them into slaves. If, through a campaign of chaos and terror-bombing, you create the illusion that England is free, maybe it will be.

Personally I find V to be unsympathetic - as I do most munchkinny antiheroes - and Evey even more so. Portman does a fair job of banishing the memory of her treelike Queen/Senator/Citizen Amidala, and Hugo Weaving is delightfully menacing as the never-actually-seen V, but the characters' mutual lust for revenge disguised as revolution is hardly endearing. The love story aspect feels bolted-on for American audiences and is particularly ludicrous when Evey kisses V's immobile metal face. Granted, I never read the graphic novel.

Still and all, it was visually impressive and thought-provoking. I am further unable to resist being a pretentious git and rating it a nine out of eleven.

Those more intrigued with the Your Government Is Lying To You In Order To Justify A Perpetual War Against An Ill-Defined Enemy subtext of the film (or 9/11 As Reichstag Fire paranoia more generally) may enjoy the following link:


I bid you good day.