Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Adam Gets All R for Ranty After Seeing V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta is an important film.
Not only does it mark the return of the Wachowski Brothers (the creative duo behind the Matrix Trilogy), but it is also Hollywood's most blatant stand against the current American regime's erosion of our freedom and civil liberties.

No matter what you think about the Bush administration, I can tell you from personal experience that I've come under attack for my political beliefs from people within the government -- and solely by Republicans. Now, my attacks came at the state level, thanks to my support of thecongressman.net...but they were politically motivated and carried out by people who were instrumental in, and directly benefitted by, the GOP electoral victories in Ohio.
The fact of the matter is, Byron Gunter was investigated by the State of Ohio because he voiced his opinion on a private website. Keeping in mind that he was not an employee of the state, and even if he was, his political speech would be protected under the First Ammendment, the actions of the state were fascistic in their nature. Their subsequent investigation of yours truly just showed how far they were willing to go. Simply because I supported Byron when the State of Ohio began their illegal and immoral harassment of him, I was also put under the microscope.
Thankfully, as the clean-living twit I am, they couldn't even manufacture something like "Attempted Misuse of State Equipment" to attempt to stick on me. And, also thankfully, they couldn't pin it C-Edit, J-Edit or Byron. Much as they tried to create some sort of controversy, there was no crime committed, and the State lost.
As a person whose life has been touched by politically-motivated harassment and persecution, I can tell you that we are in dire straits here in the US of A.
We live in a world where an opposition political stance, be it Democrat or Libertarian or whatever, has consequences.
We live in a land where journalists and entertainment figures are wiretapped illegally by the government because they hold, or are suspected to hold, opposition views (even though, if the government really was "looking for terrorists" as they claim, they could have gotten legal warrants for the wiretaps -- indicating that the purpose was as false as the war that some of the wiretapees were protesting).
We live in a place where our Constitutional freedoms are now void and we are now subject to the iniquities of the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that blatantly disregards the Bill or Rights.
The sad thing is, as the movie points out quite correctly, it's OUR fault. The people themselves are to blame for any government they have.

See, for most people, including myself, it's easy to blame THEM. It's THEIR fault that we're involved in this war. It's THEIR fault that we have too many SUVs on the road and THEIR fault that we're too dependent on fossil fuels. It's not. It's OUR fault. All of us.
I'd thought I'd taken a lot of blame on myself after the last presidential election. I'd volunteered and worked a phone bank. I'd admitted that the GOP worked harder than we did. I'd said they'd played our own game better than we did.
You know whose fault that is, though? It was ours. The Democrats -- the opposition in general -- did an inadequate job. Had we done what we set out to do, we would have carried Ohio. And, as conventional wisdom goes -- as goes Ohio, so goes the Nation.
See, anyone can play the blame game. Admitting that we ourselves are at fault is much more difficult.

Casting-wise, James McTeigue and the Wachowskis couldn't have done better for themselves. They put the dynamic Hugo Weaving behind the mask of V (having shot for a week or so with another actor in the role, not that you could tell). Weaving isn't vain enough that he'd need the mask off at any time during the movie, just so you could see his face (I'm looking at you, Stallone, Tobey Maguire, etc). He lets his voice to the lion's share of the work, showcasing how truly talented he is.
They also lucked out in having Natalie Portman play Evey. Portman's got a bad rep of late, mainly due to her work in the Star Wars prequels. However, micro-management in the editing room was the problem with those films. Not performance. Given room to emote and given the trust to bring the character to life, Portman's Evey truly is the axle upon which this movie spins. Her arc from scared little girl to strong revolutionary soul is the journey everything depends on. And, outside of her capable hands, it might not have succeeded.
Stephen Rea was an inspired choice for Finch, his humanity outstripping the character's efficiency. He makes the inspector just as much a rebel as V himself, as the Truth is his final goal.
And, of course, John Hurt is a delight as the Chancellor, Adam Sutler. He is all the righteous anger and fearful rage that his government embodies. He's always excellent, and he gets many, many chances to shine throughout the film.
Add in some marvelous supporting work by Stephen Fry (as Finch's Party-loyal partner who is shaken by what they discover), Rupert Graves (as Evey's secret-keeping boss), Sinead Cusack (as the doomed coroner), and a deeply, gleefully villainous turn by Tim Pigott-Smith (as Creedy, head of the Finger Men), and the film is made stronger still.
I'd also like to acknowledge the minor (but key) roles performed by Billie Cook (as the Little Glasses Girl) and Imogen Poots and Natasha Wightman (both as Valerie) -- who do so much with so little material. Their characters' sacrifices are what jump start this revolution, and without them mattering to the audience, it wouldn't work at all.

It can be argued that the current administration isn't as fascistic as the government in V. Well, duh. It it was, this movie never would have been seen. And the Wachowski Brothers would have just disappeared.
That's the joy of speculative fiction. V for Vendetta is a cautionary tale. It's a parable. We're supposed to learn something from this story.
Fascism is wrong. I don't think I'm going to get an argument on that.
Sadly, our government is bordering on the fascistic ethic. Dissent has been vociferously denounced in the past (the President has, of late, encouraged dialogue, though...meaning he's noticed that his party hasn't been playing nice, maybe?). Opposing views are shouted down on FOXNews as "UnAmerican" or "UnPatriotic". Which is funny, because that very action is both.
It must be recognized that such acts are the slide upon which we shall fall into fascism. Erosion of freedom is a very slippery slope, and it starts and ends with us, the people.
We don't have the Finger rooting us out yet. We don't have curfews yet. And we aren't totally being spoon-fed our news yet -- but this government has TRIED to do that.
Our government HAS performed medical experiments on our own people (the Tuskeegee Experiment and MK-Ultra being noteable examples -- or the Army sending soldiers out into the blast zone at Trinity). It's not too far a leap to assume they'd do something more drastic.
Now, the War or Terror (or the Long War, as the Right is now calling it, since they admit it can NEVER BE WON) might not have been started by an event that they created, but they are benefitting from it. Witness the huge government contracts going to Haliburton and Lockheed (companies very connected to the Right wing).
You're supposed to turn a blind eye to that profiteering, you know. All that American blood that's being shed isn't making money for the people who sent the soldiers over there under fradulent circumstances. Noooooo.
Even if we end up making the world a better place, the war was started on a lie. This fact isn't in dispute.
So, we have soldiers -- our soldiers, our sons and daughters -- halfway around the world spilling blood on behalf of a lie. And if we speak up about that, we're not supporting the soldiers. We're being Unpatriotic and Unamerican (here we go again...).
I'm calling bullshit on that.

There are some important differences between the graphic novel and the movie. Most apparent is the extra material about gay and transgender people (expanded from just the Valerie letters in the book into a friend of Evey's from her work and in spending extra time meeting Valerie, to pound home her story.
There are also some pointed comments about V's nature as a person of some other gender classification. He's not the mask, or even the face behind the mask. V considers himself a concept -- similar to totemic fetishes or transgender identity.
The extra time given to the persecution of ethnic minorities and homosexuals is quite possibly due to Larry (Lana) Wachowski's transgender nature. After the Matrix, Lana more or less came out, though the pair still bill themselves as the Wachowski Brothers.
It's also important to note that these additions create more parallels to current events in the US -- further politicizing the movie as a parable about the current state of affairs in this country and not England in the 1980s as in the book.
The interlude where Evey stays with her friend Dominic serves no purpose in the narrative other than to add another queer face to the victims' roll call. He isn't safe, even though he stars in the most-watched program in the country, because he is a sexual deviant and a free-thinker.
Homosexuality is such an anathema to the people of the flyover states that gays are being denied their basic human rights at the State Constitution level now. My state passed a Constitutional Ammendment banning gay marriage with an 80% margin. Considering that the GOP victory here was by the slimmest of margins, that means that even the majority of folks on the opposition side joined with them on that issue (Once again illustrating their point that we are ALL responsible for the government that we install).
I think, perhaps, that the sequence was to prepare Evey to sympathize with Valerie when she reads her letter. Her friend is dead, and here is a message from someone who has suffered similarly.
Following the original graphic novel would have taken Evey to pretty much the exact place she does get, but the diversion creates tension between Evey and V that didn't exist in the book.

The ending itself is quite different from the original novel, both in content and intent. Evey is the new V at the end of the book, gathering followers like she herself had been gathered. In the movie, the great gathering of Guy Fawkeses stymies the government and forces the troops who had been previously ordered to shoot them all to stand down. They watch the destruction of Parliment together.
The movie's new ending is more hopeful than the original text, with the people taking up the Guy Fawkes mask en masse and taking to the streets. Some perform acts of civil disobedience. Some perform acts of senseless violence. All of them recruit more people to put on the mask and gather together.
There is a tense moment as the marchers approach the Parliment, and the soldiers await an order to shoot them. However, unlike at Kent State or Jackson State, cooler heads prevail. The marchers overtake their position and stand among the soldiers, fearlessly awaiting the moment V has promised them.
Evey and Inspector Finch looking out over the destruction of Parliment while the Guy Fawkes mob unmasks themselves to reveal the faces of the deceased amongst them. The dead are amongst the marchers because they are within us all, so long as we remember them. Their hopes and dreams live on amongst us, so long as we dare to be free.

I can understand some of the problems that Alan Moore had with the adaptation done by the Wachowskis. In a narrative sense, the brothers switch around much of the book. The attack on the TV station takes place at the beginning, making V's address to the nation one of the first things people see about him.
They transform Prothero from the staid, calm BBC announcer-esque Voice of England into Bill O'Reilly's even-more-evil twin. The government has become the root cause of England's woes, with a viral attack being the reason that England is so isolated (in the book, it is because England is all that remains after a global nuclear exchange -- which Moore himself has said is wholly unrealistic anyway). The brothers made the High Chancellor much more of an analogue to our current US President, making him a deeply religious demagogue. They put Evey to work at the television network and have her leave V twice. There are numerous side characters added, who are seen watching the events unfold on TV until they too decide to take up the mask and join the revolt.
There's also the issue of making the relationship between Evey and V more romantic. She no longer suspects that V was her long-lost father -- though she does refer to V at the end as him...and every other one of the Missing.
The movie also hints that Evey's parents were subjected to the same experimentation that V was -- even though in the movie's timeline, their incarceration happened years after (oops -- the Wachowski's made a boo-boo) those experiments had borne fruit.
Still, much of the intent and spirit of the novel is in the movie. Perhaps more so. V for Vendetta is more zealous as a movie than as a novel. More earnest and less cynical.

Perhaps that's part of the problem. Maybe we're too cynical in the opposition. Too jaded by our own failures as well as those we stand against. Certainly we must admit our complicity in the results of any government we abide, but we must also hold true to our own ideals in opposing the very same regime.
Idealism is a romantic value at best, but sometimes it's all we have. Sometimes, our ideals and our hopes are that final inch of ourselves that we possess. And it's our duty; not only to ourselves, but to those who come after us; to hold on to that final inch until such time as we can make it grow.
I believe that, despite their efforts to the contrary, we will survive this government who seems so bent on bringing about some sort of Apocalypse. We survived the fatalistic urges of the nuclear-detente 80s. We'll survive again. Why? Because we still have hope.
I'll be damned if I'm going to let anyone take that away from me.

No comments: