Saturday, March 18, 2006

I was a huge fan of the original V for Vendetta comic book, or at least the version that was released serially in the US by DC in the late eighties. Saw the movie yesterday—"digitally projected"—in Union Square yesterday afternoon. Most of the changes, I thought, were for the worse. The grim atmosphere of postwar privation is oddly dispelled, perhaps to make V's world look more like our own—Sutler's party has apparently been delivering the material goods along with healthy doses of terror. And yet no one seems especially terrified or savvy about what it is to live in a totalitarian state. While I enjoyed the addition of Stephen Fry's character, doing his sad Oscar Wilde bit, either he or the regime are naive to the point of incoherence: how could he have gotten his staff to go along with his treasonous broadcast? Or, a better question: why would the regime have so overreacted? My first thought when I was watching was that it was a cunning attempt to make V seem ridiculous, to pull the fangs of his agitprop. Worst of all was the destruction of Parliament at the end of the story: in the comic book this is V's opening move, not the destruction of the Old Bailey, and it makes perfect sense: since representative government has ceased to exist, a logical wake-up call to send the population is the destruction of what Adam Susan (the nancy-boy name Sutler's given in the original) calls "their finest propaganda symbol." On a character level, I didn't really care for the romance they tried to create between Evey and V; it seems like an attempt to draw attention from V's unconventional sexuality. He clearly gets off on masks, knives, leather, and (this is more obvious in the original) voyeurism than he would from chaste plastic kisses with Natalie Portman. Speaking of Portman, I still don't think she can act, though she's beautiful enough (she rather resembles my sister, actually). And how in hell is a fake ID sufficient to elude the clutches of a state that apparently has the technological resources to do retinal scans of its population with its omnipresent security cameras?

In spite of all this, I loved it. First off, I had expected the story to be completely gutted, and it wasn't: most of the most powerful and involving sequences were retained and it was gripping to relive them. The story of Valerie and her note brought me to tears now as it did then, and V's "treatment" of Evey actually makes more sense here than it did in the original, given her tendency to betray him (her character would have made a little more sense though if we'd been given a better idea of the brainwashing she must have received after her parents were taken away). And some of the changes were actually good ones. V is no longer omniscient nor omnipotent, and is in fact revealed to be something of a geeky fanboy, like his core audience (we will always need our Peter Parkers and Clark Kents to identify with). Instead of an implacable force of anarchism, he is changed by his relationship to Evey—or at least they make gestures in that direction, it doesn't quite come off. The paranoid notion that the government would kill its own population to retain power while making its leaders a fast buck in the bargain seems, if not exactly plausible, the kind of exaggeration that conceals the truth: to paraphrase Kanye West, Sutler and his kind not only don't care about black people, they don't care about the people, period. And there were other nice touches: a Bill O'Reilly-type who's a former concentration camp commandant; the casting of one of my favorite Irish actors, Stephen Rea, as the dogged Chief Inspector Finch (though Finch was more interesting in the comic, where he was a former lover of the female Mengele character and took an LSD trip in the ruins of Larkhill to try and understand V's frame of mind); and although I simply can't believe that V (at least, not this V) would be able to manufacture and ship masks and cloaks to every person in London, the image of thousands of Vs massing in defiance of the army at the end is an indelible one, and makes flesh the "idea" of freedom that V is meant to represent.


Craig Morgan Teicher said...

Hey Josh,

I saw it last night, not having read the comic. I will say this for it too: without anything to compare it to, I agree with you that it was a really intriguing and enjoyable movie. Sure, it was full of the kinds of cliche's all hollywood movies are full of (the kiss on the masked lips elicited a healthy inner groan), but it seemed to me to be a novel and in fact timely take on the other side (not our side) of terrorism. And I bought the book today and am reading it joyfully.

best wishes,

upyernoz said...

i reread the comic yesterday--my last read was 17 years afo--and was surprised to see that some of the "hollywoodisms" in the film were actually in the comic too. the dance between evey and V, and the kiss were both there. (sure, they didn't happen at exactly the same place in the plot. but both of them happened)

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