Last night I went to see V for Vendetta, a film based on the comic book by Alan Moore.
The comic book revolutionized the art form because it did not have any thought bubbles, and because the main dramatic character had no facial expressions. As a result, the feeling of mystery and uncertainty about V, the main character, was enhanced. An essential aspect of the comic is we never really understand who V is or why he does what he does. Is it all part of an elaborate vendetta or is he a revolutionary or is it all of the above?
The comic book is very subversive. Essentially V claims that liberty and justice have sold themselves out for stability and power, and that the only way to restore freedom is to transform the power structure to an anarchy. An anarchy is not a place where there is no order, but that order is not imposed.
In addition to politics, the comic book attempts, modestly successfully, like Les Miserables, to not only address the big questions but also the little ones of the little people. V the comic book wants to be a tapestry not a simple morality play. For example, in a bar a meaningless character pleads to the fingermen (the secret police) to let his mother live with him, and the fingermen point out that she should have been sent to the homes years ago. He complains that the homes are gas chambers. The fingerman turns to him and says: No, truth be told they are a room with three men and a truncheon. At which point the man breaks down and asks why must man live this way. The protestor is quickly subdued.
The movie is less subversive and less amibitious. It’s more a critique of fascism than a critique of structured government. The villian is not justice brokered by powerful men, but the powerful men running the show. It’s a story about revolutionary violence, not a story about the violence perpetrated by power. And perhaps it’s even a critique of the Bush administration.
Having said all of that, the movie retains the flavor of the comic book, and the creators of the Matrix do in fact know how to put together action sequences and exploit special effects to dramatic effect. So the movie entertains even if the moronic love moment between V and Eve could have been removed … the predictability of it was pathetic.
Which brings me to the other piece. The comic book structure is divided into two elegant parts. In part I we discover V as a man performing a Vendetta on his enemies from the Larkhill asylum. At the end of Part I we are left wondering like Finch, was V performing a Vendetta when he killed anyone who knew him and now it’s done? Or was V planning something bigger? Or did V kill everyone not to recognize him but to create a plausible back story? Or what? The second part is where we discover the or what.
The movie structure eliminates the creepiness of the descent into V’s insanity. The movie V is a revolutionary who announces his Vendetta and his Vengence on society in the openingin sequence. We know he plans to blow up parliament as he dramatically declares his revolution in the first 15 minutes of the film. This creates tension in the movie, but alters the comic book pacing and reduces the impact and creepiness of the murders.
The movie, instead adds some back story explaining why the fasicst come to power, although the backstory is silly and predictable. However, there is a small moment of surprise when we discover that perhaps the entire back story is really all part of V’s plan.
Natalie Portman, as Eve Harmond, fails to capture the essence of the most dramatic moment of the comic book. When Eve finally discovers that she is free from the bonds in her head. The directors can not be blamed for altering the structure of the comic book, the problem is that Natalie simply can not convey the Matrix like moment where you discover that you were trapped in a cage and now, at long last, you are free. Part of the problem is that they could not use makeup effectively to show the degradation of Eve’s body. Some bruises, dirt etc would have helped significantly.
Hugo Weaving performed admirably, and with restraint as V.
John Hurst did a great job as the crazed leader of the fasicst organization.
All in all a fine and entertaining movie that captures the spirit if not the essence of V.