A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 353 – V for Vendetta

V For Vendetta – February 16th, 2011

Looking back, there is an excellent reason we did not watch this on Guy Fawkes’ Day, though I am now rather disappointed that we didn’t find a way to manage it. At the time, I was heading out of the state to visit a friend and so we watched something incredibly easy on our brains because we were watching it just after midnight on the previous night. We did some Monty Python. Not really the same sort of thing at all, even if both works are British in origin. Still, as I said, it’s too bad we didn’t manage it. I honestly don’t remember if we even floated the idea or just skipped to the familiar out of necessity. Ah well.

I am a bad comic book/graphic novel reader and have never read the work this movie is based on. Oh, it’s crossed my desk at work several times. I’ve had the opportunity, but, you see, I knew the basics about it, and it is the sort of thing I have to be in the right mindset and mood for. And to be honest, I don’t know if I was tonight. I get the point of it and I can see all the possible parallels and given the current political climate in certain geographical areas, well, I’m sure there are film students and political science students and pop culture students writing theses on it all as I type. Cheers to them all. I’m sure they’ll say very interesting things about England and the US and Egypt and Tunisia and Iran and protests and fascism and totalitarianism and fear and torture. Were I in college I believe I would try to do something with this movie, The Stand and Wag the Dog and I could likely have made a good go of writing something coherent, if I could bring myself to really prod at the political history necessary to anything halfway decent.

And therein lies my problem with a movie like this. Any movie that’s making an overt statement about current politics, really. And while this movie can be said to be pointing backwards at regimes like Hitler’s in Germany, it is set in the future in the UK, with references to civil war in the US. And while allegory as an artistic form is often used to comment on political or social issues of the day without actually flat out stating them, I don’t believe this to be allegory. It is straight up cautionary dystopia. And while I can appreciate it for its brazenness it pings a little hard on my anti-propaganda meter. It swings so hard and so fast away from what it rails against that it makes me give it the side-eye. Which I find immensely frustrating

All that being said, I did enjoy it, and I credit that enjoyment to the performances, which totally sold me on every moment of the movie. Natalie Portman as Evey, a young woman whose whole family seems to have fallen victim to the chaos and destruction that have brought England to the state it is in as of the time of the movie. There was a viral outbreak at a primary school that claimed her brother. Her parents became activists and were arrested, never to be seen again. There were riots and chaos and now the country is under a strict rule of fear and hate. And against it all is a masked vigilante named V, who, we learn, was a victim of the government’s secret experiments on its own people. V and Evey become connected through a couple of minor events that end up leading to far more than either one expected. I don’t really feel the need to go into much more detail really. If you don’t know the movie, then I think it’s better to see it play out. If you do, you know how it goes. It is brutal in places and oddly sweet in others. It has moments of sadness and melancholy and moments of exultation. And really, it is Portman as Evey who carries it all. Hugo Weaving, as V, is fantastic as well, but you never see his face. It’s all in his voice. Evey gets to show us expressions, and often that’s all she needs. The rest of the cast stands up to it too, whether they’re on the side of the government or V or somewhere in between (most people seem to be in between, really). So it’s the performances. They made this movie for me.

It’s incredibly heavy-handed in many places. It presses its agenda to a fault. I really disliked the end scene with people taking the masks off because it felt so very forced and unnecessary to have some particular people there. I would have liked there to be a little more depth to the atrocities committed by the people in power (they’re mentioned and stories are told, but it all feels glossed over every time). But for all of that, I enjoyed it. I cannot say whether it touches the right notes as an adaptation of the graphic novel, but as a movie on its own I would say it is at least a partial success, and I say partial because I know some people will see the message of the movie from the very first scenes and be turned off right then and there by its obviousness. But personally speaking, I wasn’t. I acknowledge its flaws and enjoy it all the same for being a movie that deals with issues of fear and suspicion and freedom not just on a national level, but a personal level as well.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

V for Vendetta

February 16, 2011

V for Vendetta

As adaptations of the “unfilmable” works of Alan Moore go this is one of the better ones. Oh, it’s far from perfect – it panders a bit much and it substitutes action and adventure for suspense and tension. At its core though it has something, some seed of an idea, which feels… right. This movie is not the book, but it says some of the same things about a desire for a hero to deliver us from fear – and the kind of monster that hero must necessarily be.

Before V Moore had worked mostly with already established characters and continuing stories. His re-invention of Swamp Thing and Marvel Man for example. V was his first attempt at a self contained world and a finite story arc. Call it a dry run for The Watchmen. Indeed I seem to remember reading an interview with Moore where he said that he had learned a lot from writing V about planning ahead and carefully plotting the story because as he wrote V the story kept evolving between issues.

The titular “V” is a vigilante. He is a mysterious and suave swashbuckler in a Guy Fawkes mask with a brace of knives and a literary bent. In a not too far fetched fascist England of the future everything is in control of a right-wing religious party which utilizes a fearsome secret police, constant surveillance and an iron grip on the media to maintain order. V shows up and proceeds to slowly kill his way through many members of the ruling party. It starts out being about his vengeance for the heinous crimes that created him in the first place (and there’s a whole lengthy reveal about where he comes from although it is never really resolved just who he actually is.) Eventually, however it turns out that his vendetta goes deeper than just eliminating those directly responsible for his origin. He wants to topple the entire repressive regime that holds England in its grip.

For me, though, all that is window dressing. V himself says that he is more an idea than a man. The human center of both the book and the movie is Evie – a young woman that V saves early on and ultimately takes in as a reluctant protege. Her evolution as a character is really what the movie is about for me, and it is Natalie Portman’s fantastic powerhouse performance that brings this movie up from just another comic book adaptation to something more soulful and powerful. She has great material to work with of course. Evie’s story has a lot of power to it, from the loss of her revolutionary parents in her youth to the transformation she undergoes throughout the film. Portman proves herself a masterful actor and in many ways is the best thing in the entire movie. Not to downplay how very difficult it must have been for Hugo Weaving to emote as V when you never get to see his face and all of his dialog is dubbed in during post-production. I love his perfect diction, even if once in a while I expected him to end a sentence with “Mr. Anderson” or “Mr. Baggins.”

I remember when this movie came out that it was criticized for being such an obvious allegory for the use of fear of terrorism by the Bush administration (and to a lesser extent the Blair and Brown administrations) to cling to power. Yes, the parallels are clearly there, and perhaps the adaptation that the Wachowskis created highlights them somewhat, but much of the core story of a single indomitable man standing up to a totalitarian regime comes directly from the book – which was written during the era of Regan and Thatcher. I’ll admit that my memories of the book are vague (it having been one of the many books lost to me during a move from LA to Boston back in ‘92) but even so I think I can say that the themes of the movie are, mostly, faithful to the book. You might as well say that the peaceful revolution in the movie is a clear analogue for events taking place in Egypt and throughout the Middle East right now. Certainly whenever the anger of the internet is roused you can expect to see at least one or two Guy Fawkes masks in amongst the flash crowds of Anonymous.

I so very much wish I had the book now. Maybe I can find it for cheap at one of the many Borders stores going out of business in the coming days.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment