Friday, March 17, 2006

V For Vendetta


So I went to see V For Vendetta, adapted from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The history of adaptations of Moore's work has not been illustrious and has been complicated by his struggle with DC over control of his work and his insistence on having his name taken off any products he doesn't own and film adaptations of them (which is why the posters say only that this film is based on the book drawn by Lloyd). Though he's done a fair bit of media recently in what seems like a deliberate attempt to spoke the wheels of the Wachowski machine it does seem in this case to no avail.

It's actually a pretty good adaptation. Other comics adaptations in the past have tended to junk any parts of the original work that they didn't like (in Judge Dredd it doesn't really matter that Dredd takes his mask off, but it's a sign that they're going to turn the ultimate fascist into a cuddly freedom fighter), but here the source material is treated with reverence. Lots of key scenes are kept in whereas a more careless writer would have junked them in favour of more V fighting (looking back now I realise how little fighting there actually is in the film, but it's strength is that you'll probably not realise that until after the film's finished). Occasionally the point is missed slightly, in the graphic novel the falling of dominos is counterpointed with the collapse of the state, in this film V sets up a big display of dominos which, when toppled, reveal the V image. As the film takes part over a year, there are presumably some days when V takes time off from overthrowing the state.

V for Vendetta is set a few decades into the 21st century. Britain is ruled by an Authoritarian, almost fascist, Government following a collapse of the old order caused by worldwide unrest due to the actions of George W. Bush and a chemical attack that scared the population into giving power to Adam Sutler (a suitably repellent John Hurt). Now no-one even dreams of a better way of life until a freedom fighter, dressed up as Guy Fawkes, suddenly appears to oppose the state and inspire the populous to rise up. But 'V' seems to have ulterior motives to all this chaos, and a private vendetta as well as a public mission.

Once we get past the 'explaining who Guy Fawkes was for the stupid people' (I suppose that's harsh, if British schoolkids don't know about Auschwitz I suppose it's too much to expect they or American kids will know who Guy Fawkes actually was), recasting him as a freedom fighter rather than any historical actuality, it's fairly good.

For some reason the Government in the film are less explicitly fascist than the people in the books, although we find out that religion, well, Islam, and homosexuality are banned and imprisoning offences, I wonder if this is to allow us to equate them more easily with our Authoritarian regimes. The extermination of non-Aryans that's key in the book in not explicit in the film. A character in the film has a hidden copy of the Koran which he likes to look at because it's beautiful, there's no time in the film for such ideas such as the repressive nature of most Muslim culture towards women. V is also different, in the film he's more of a freedom fighter, striving to bring down the Government. In the book he's an anarchist and that is what he's striving for, he would probably oppose any Government. In the book Moore is wily enough not to hold up V or his ideals as perfect, he's a damaged character that will damage others to achieve his ends, in the film that's somewhat softpedalled, he kills the bad guys and does what he does for the good of everyone else. The clip of him spouting the v-laden speech that was in the promo for the film is probably the lowest point of the movie. A dictionary is a dangerous thing.

I expected violence to be done to either London locations or the English accent and so was pleasantly surprised that Natalie Portman, parachuted in as Evey (much as Elijah Wood was as Frodo in Lord of the Rings), doesn't do too badly, though the mostly English cast around her probably helps. Hugo Weaving as 'V' is good while Stephen Rea as the police detective Finch provides his usual solid performance, he manages to elevate a rather thankless part who doesn't do much except follow V's trail and explain the plot to us. The script retains a number of key scenes from the book, Evey's capture, imprisonment and torture, her discovery of a letter from a former inmate of the cell, Valerie, who is killed by the regime simply for being a lesbian, V's destruction of London property to music, the climax of the film with the destruction of the Houses of Parliament, albeit reframed, which I'll come to in a minute. An addition to the script is a wonderful scene with Stephen Fry as Deitrich, a television producer and Evey's boss. He takes her in and shows her the secret museum in his wine cellar, full of things banned by the Government. He reveals he collects these things because he too is 'banned' by the Government and is unable to live freely. For me this is the real emotional heart of the film, the fight for freedom is the fight for the freedom to love. We also see him satirise the Government on his TV show, expecting a slap on the wrist, and then what for the viewer is the expected and bloody actuality.

There's another change at the climax of the film. In the book Evie takes V's place to announce the death knell of society, in the film V has distributed Guy Fawkes masks to every household in London and they march on Parliament. Some people have pointed out the absurdity of thousands of anarchists dressed identically, which is partly why I don't believe V is an anarchist in this film. It does have power, especially when they take off their masks. And as importantly, V never removes his mask and we are never explicitly told who he is, though it's not too difficult to guess, something which could have caused the immediate explosion of fanboys worldwide is averted.

The fight count is limited, much as in Matrix Reloaded, so there's more time for the battle of ideas, unlike Reloaded, where I constantly wished they'd stop talking and just hit something. The Matrix films also had an uncomfortable whiff of fascism around them, The One who was special, who people would sacrifice themselves for, who were morally obliged to shoot anyone plugged in to the Matrix because they could be an Agent. No wonder 'fans' in the West have found it's bastardised cod-Buddhism selfishness appealing and people have copied it's dress-sense and killed those they considered inferior. I doubt anyone will be able to write a Matrix Warrior for this film.

So, actually quite a good film at the end of the day.


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