V versus W: No Betta Vendetta.
…an expression of a mood, and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.
— Eric Fromm, Afterword to George Orwell’s 1984.
Conjuring icons and tableaus from humanity’s last four millennia (including Guy Fawkes, The Phantom of the Opera, Shakespeare, Huxley’s Brave New World, Batman, Harlan Ellison’s “Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, Nazism, The Man With No Name, and a thousand other quasi-plagiarisms), V FOR VENDETTA is a confluence of electric ideas and wolfen imagery that will burn itself into the cortexes of this politically-tepid generation as Orwell’s 1984 was burned into previous generations.
It may even make them do what today’s society would rather they didn’t: think.
Whereas 1984, published in 1949, heralded the pessimism of a far-flung future, where civil liberties were nonexistent, where government held tyrannical sway over citizens’ very thoughts, manufacturing fear through canards and strong-arming via automaton Thought Police, the horror of VENDETTA’s vision is that it reflects not a distant future, but the PRESENT.
Sure, it is clothed in a fiction; of a Britain gone Beyond Big Brother, where pseudo-police called Finger Men are given carte blanche to do with suspects as they please, including cold-blooded murder and rape; where the government can manufacture a virus, release it into the public, and then use the cure as election leverage, and where elected officials have stakes in the company that sells the cure – but how is this any different from a President and his cronies profiteering from a manufactured war that costs millions of lives, holding stakes in all the weapons and oil conglomerates involved?
Just as superheroes were originally created in reaction to their social climate (Zorro, to fight the tyranny of the Spanish Californian governor; Superman, as escapist vision after the Great Depression; Captain America, to give Hitler a good old American Right Hook every so often – all three of these icons also evoked by this film), VENDETTA’s hero, simply known as “V,” is a superhero for OUR times, fighting for the same ideals as his predecessors, ramped up to 2000’s ferocity.
Wearing a permanent Guy Fawkes facemask, V (Hugo Weaving) takes his cue from Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament), motivated by the same premise – to overthrow a corrupt government. Fawkes was foiled on November 5 (hence the rhyme, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”). V is also the only surviving guinea pig from the manufacture of the lethal government virus, which necessitated his facemask and Bat-Zorro outfit. Hence his vendetta – against all his captors, now occupying political positions.
Departing from the storyline and ideologies of Alan Moore‘s and David Lloyd‘s 1988 graphic novel from which it was lifted (Moore and Lloyd reportedly not too rapt with the changes), writers Andy and Larry Wachowski script VENDETTA in a society of 2020, but quite easily evoke a society likely in existence today: there is nary a doubt that this is George W. Bush’s dystopian America. To take the edge off the scythe, the British government stands as allegory for the U.S. government, America having been nullified as a world power in a recent war.
On the November 5th night we meet V, he rescues Evey (Natalie Portman), just before he blows the Old Bailey courts, to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, promising in a pirated television broadcast to do the same to the Houses of Parliament next year.
Upon V’s first appearance as the suavely lethal, black-caped vigilante, loquacious to a fault, my heart actually beat faster – at last!: a character intelligent, articulate and adept at weaponry – who is not the British Bad Guy. At long last, a truly knowledgeable and literate protagonist wins the day, not some disheveled cop or loudmouth devil-brat who teaches his parents how to love again. A Hero whose abode is piled high with books, where art and learning – not a big screen TV or sports memorabilia – are given pride of place (thank American Sitcom Husbands for the shiftless male idiom); where ornate statuary and a baby grand piano reflect traditionalism and sophistication – without the snide implication that knowledge equals nerd equals FRASIER.
WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
— George Orwell, 1984.
The credo that George W. Bush stakes his christian pocketbook on. And Orwell thought he was writing of a fictional future society. In VENDETTA, the doublethink is the same, media programs spewing absolute lies in their spin reportage of subversive events. (How is this any different to force-feeding creationism to schoolchildren; to reporting that America won the War In Iraq?)
In the most ironic casting since Moses became the head of the NRA, John Hurt (who played the failed rebel Winston Smith, in the film version of 1984) overlords this totalitarian social order as Supreme Chancellor Sutler, whose every ranting breath from wall-sized TV monitors is channeled into policy through his armed regimes of thoughtless drogues. (How is this any different to a President who can sign a bill against torture and then use torture whenever he feels like it; who can progress a war effort without the legal approval of congress?)
A small coterie of officials report to the Chancellor, for weekly doses of intimidation, among them, Finch (Stephen Rea), doing the “disheveled cop who finds his conscience” routine, and Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) as the cop who doesn’t have one.
Natalie Portman, who seems to have a proclivity for morally-ambiguous super killers – Leon, Darth Vader, and now V – effectively wipes away the stain of STAR WARS with this performance. I am in love again. Hugo Weaving, eternally hidden behind V’s mask, lets his unseen elocution fly daggers, and is doubly commended for the fact that he is so clearly understood even without the benefit of seeing his moving lips. Roger Allam is a Limbaugh clone shouting agitprop to the huddled masses, and Stephen Fry is a tragic television host who at last finds the courage to rebel.
“A building is a symbol – the more people who place their faith in that symbol the greater the statement in destroying it.”
As well as the World Trade Center, the christian-corrupted Ten Commandments are evoked, the first two abjuring false gods and graven images. Did the World Trade Center attacks leave such a deep scar because of society’s failing in affording mere physical edifices such nationalistic import? Even after business resumed through other avenues and families recovered from loss of their beloveds, the ire is still raised whenever “9-11” is mentioned disparagingly. Like right now. (To the idiots who will obviously read into this line of thought an advocacy of Al-Qaeda policy, please visit me so I can beat you with my shoe for your willful stupidity.)
Yet for all the puling and faux-empathy, the exploitation is rampant – lest we forget the mini-flag-makers and magnetic ribbon purveyors and – most venal of all – Hollywood: at least two 2006 movies brazenly depict, in garish newspeak (read as nationalistic tunnel vision), 9-11 subject matter, whilst the propaganda-drenched TV movies all make their unscrupulous bid for their fifteen minutes of Nielsen glory (the most ironic featuring the comedian Timothy Bottoms, perfectly cast as Bush Jnr., as not only is the poor guy a dead ringer for W, his insipid acting is perfectly congruent with the insipid leadership and public persona of the real thing).
In the real world, insurgent media opens two possibilities: either the government the media rails against is NOT as corrupt or as criminally organized as it is portrayed (if it were, the insurgent media would be quashed) – OR, the government IS that corrupt, but are so insulated from due process of expulsion that they have nothing to fear.
The awful truth is that it is a little of both. Anyone who thinks otherwise has the mind of a thirteen-year-old girl.
Coincidentally, it is when Evey is dressed as a schoolgirl for a pervert bishop – how could something so wrong be so right?! – that she displays just such a naiveté and tries to betray V. It is only after a terror-filled interlude that she allies with him wholeheartedly.
There are those who accuse VENDETTA of advocating terrorism. Semantics! Guerilla tactics by allies are “covert ops,” or “freedom fighting,” whilst the same tactics, if used by the enemy, are decried as “terrorism.” Use your semantics to define the Chancellor’s acts of viral terror and disinformation, inflicted on a wide scale, killing millions; how would your semantics describe a manufactured war, taking countless lives to pad the pockets of the wealthy upper class?
How haughty for the stinking super-rich to classify any acts which diminish their unethical, blood-red wealth as “terrorist” acts. Note that “terrorists” – on both sides – never sabotage or create anarchy to specifically harm lower classes. It’s always about making statements that will make the rich and powerful take notice; the lower classes happen to be in the way.
For years it has been my contention that when all civil, legal and righteous methods to dislodge a dishonest government fail, situations will degenerate to visceral animal backbiting and pipe-hitting, as it does in the film: there is a scene where a young girl is shot in the back by a Finger Man who believes himself immune to retribution by holding up his badge – which proves impotent against a horde of citizens wielding pipes. Hard, pipe-hittin’ niggas indeed…
The Wachowski Brothers and director, James McTeigue, are all MATRIX vets. In that series, they lost themselves in the folds of their own mind-lobes with their vacuous, insular proselytizing and specious, Möbius-strip philosophizing, not to mention the overblown, mostly unnecessary effects. In VENDETTA, they have found their stride, close-reining the efx and preachiness, rather concentrating on real ideas.
“Behind this mask, there is an Idea. And Ideas are bulletproof.”
The movie conjectures that a country’s citizenry, for the most part, will unite in a putsch against their corrupt government – unfortunately, this is not the case, as evidenced in the United States of Bushtopia, where there is an even distribution of citizens across the spectrum, from those who would kiss the government’s feet in denial, no matter what crimes were perpetrated against them, to the picketers, lobbyists and congresspersons who actively work to dethrone heinous governing bodies.
Watch any episode of REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER and the occasional guest Republican will stand their ground like a braying ass, defending their pedestrian President against incompetence and duplicity against all evidence to the contrary. If there is one unquestioning drogue like that, there are thousands. An Idea being bulletproof unfortunately works both ways.
Like every superhero, V is a fantasy unfulfilled – he is the omniscient super being who will do the hard pipe-hittin’ when that critical mass is attained. When all sense is shunted aside – when malfeasance and misfeasance are the norm; when failure to act reaches life-threatening proportions (the infamous seven minute incognizance during The Pet Goat after being informed the country was under attack; Hurricane Katrina inaction); when ignorance is lauded for political agenda (creationism; prayer in place of progress; global warming study censored because the contracted scientists did not report what the government wanted to hear); when news reportage allows sham and glam to take precedence over substance (Michael Jackson’s insanity and Britney Spears’ ugly pregnant belly overshadowing immigration policies and homosexual rights, which in turn overshadow the national deficit and war crimes, which in turn overshadow the government’s clandestine business affiliations with their supposed enemies); when civil rights have become civil wrongs – the SENSELESS methods must necessarily be invoked. Some people just don’t understand anything BUT a pipe to the head.
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
Roger Ebert opines that in an ideal state, both governments and their people should exist in harmony and that fear in either direction leads to violence. Ebert forgets that Fear is a euphemism for Respect, and vice versa. When a government believes it is so untouchable that it loses all respect for the people who voted for it, and starts instigating policy that furthers only the goals of government itself, rather than the people whom it ostensibly works for – that is when “fear” should be utilized to re-assert respect. If the only way to remove a corrupt government is via a government-endorsed method, how would the government ever be removed? Obviously by another method. Involving pipes. (In a related topic: One of V’s planted bombs illustrates that even the grandest insurgents of the future will still be courteous enough to include Roger Ebert’s Red Digital Readout, so that the defuser knows how much time he can fuss about with the red and blue wires before he arbitrarily cuts any old one.)
“The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.”
This film is a cry out to the intelligentsia of the planet to hold fast – in one way or another, justice is coming in a long black cape…