Not quite a review: V for Vendetta

I first wrote about this movie in September, as it was already chugging along and I had only just heard about it. Being a large fan of the comic, I was both excited and apprehensive about a Hollywood treatment. Having seen the movie last night, I do believe I can say it lived up to Alan Moore's politically relevant anarcho-dystopian vision.

Given the success of the final product, I find it hard to see why Moore wanted his name removed from the project; as I understand his reasons, they had more to do with past experiences of movie adaptations (clearly horrid affairs) and an unwillingness on his part to be suckered again, than anything he saw in the Wachowskis treatment of his material. I think his fears were unfounded, I think the essence of his vision is intact, and I'd like to hear his reaction to the movie now.

As far as adaptations/revisions/updates go, V is on the mark. Moore's comic spoke to Thatcher's government of the 1980s, in the general climate of cold-war fear and trendy late-20th-century apocalypsicism; the movie takes the same characters, the same basic discourse of freedom and self-determinism vs. fascism and totalitarianism, and makes them relevant to the globalist, terrorist and religious fundamentalist early 21st century. Major background events in the comics, such as WWIII, have rightly given way to contemporary cataclysms like disease epidemics and isolated conflicts.

A major element missing from V's vendetta in the comics is his championing of anarchy as the solution to fascist England, an omission to which many anarchists took umbrage and called for boycotting of the film; anarchic rhetoric is watered down in the film to mere democracy, which I think ultimately does no harm to the plot.

The plot was greatly streamlined, several characters dropped and a more Hollywood Big Good Guy vs. Big Bad Guy Showdown ending inserted, but in the movie this really works, it really contributes to a satisfying conclusion. V's mission was to hand governance back to the people, arming them with the tool of an ideology around which they could all rally. This leads to the final scene of several thousand Londoners in black capes and Guy Fawkes masks converging on Parliament, waiting to see if the terrorist keeps his word and succeeds in blowing it to smithereens, having already rendered the government blind, mute and ultimately decapitated. I think a lot of people objected to this scene as just plain silly when it was first rumored and appeared in script form circulating the internet, but I found it brilliant, even moving - a powerful illustration of V's success in inspiring the populace to stand up to their government, a more final-word than the open ending of the comics which frankly left me a little disatisfied.

A few notes on what I think did hurt the plot and how I might have liked to see this movie done: A very typical Hollywood romance is forced onto V (Hugo Weaving, not the first choice for the part but others refused once they found they would get no actual face time; he does well in performing expressively despite this) and Evey (Natalie Portman - and this really is her movie, her strongest role and performance since Leon the Professional), which worked fine halfway through as a sort of ambiguous tension, but failed in the end as *spoiler warning, unless you've actually read the comic* a dying V tells Evey she helped him love again, etc. Other scenes made me either laugh (a nice Benny Hill treatment of London's new terrorist threat) or cry (the aforementioned denoument right before Parliament explodes), but this was the one moment I came close to actually scoffing.

The fascist state, as depicted, was rather weak and one-sided. It's been years since I read the full story arc, I only own two issues of DC Vertigo's original mid-80s print run, so I couldn't really compare this angle or indeed the whole story against what I remembered, but I do remember the High Chancellor being a more complex figure than simply a giant face on a screen. I also found myself searching for evidence of life being as bad as V claimed - all we really see at the beginning of the film is a curfew of a "yellow" code, reminiscent of our very helpful color-coded terrorist threat index of today, and then V immediately launches into his campaign to take down the government, so adopting the perspective of one unfamiliar with the whole story I had to ask why he thought the system needed taking down. Evidence for the constrictive nature of this government is only added little by little, with mentions of censorship and occasional scenes of domestic survelliance and the beat-downs of dissidents. Otherwise it only resembles a relatively happy London of today, except with nice big flat-screen TVs in every home. The sinister and pervasive Eyes, Ears, Finger and Brain of Norsefire (in the movie reduced to simply The Party) are little seen and seldom mentioned. This is more a Jumbotron style of totalitarian government.

Also, half the fun of the graphic novel wasn't just what it told but the way it told it, with clever chapter titles all beginning with the letter V, recurring motifs of song, and so on. It made me hanker just a little for a more Sin City treatment, told episodically with in-scene subtitles. But then, Sin City already did that and it did it well, so V for Vendetta was free to be something else, part Shakespearian vaudeville, if you will; part crime drama, and part dystopian horrorshow with enough shadows of our own world to make us quiver just a little and take a good look around.

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