Thursday, April 13, 2006

V for Vendetta (warning: here be SPOILERS)

Viva la revolucion, bollocks to everything else. "V for Vendetta" fizzles with subversive rhetoric about as empty-headed as the lobotomy wing of your local insane asylum. For all its compelling images, swift fight scenes and breakneck pacing, the film fails to realize itself as little more than a stylized battle cry of "we're not gonna take it; no, we ain't gonna take it anymore."

Since I'm by no means compelled to write with any element of originality in here blog, I'm just going to paste the plot synopsis from and add commentary here and there:

Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered and elf-eared young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN) who is rescued from a life-and-death-and-rape-in-a-grimey-alley situation by a masked man (HUGO WEAVING) known only as ā€œV.ā€ Incomparably charismatic, fatally long-winded, and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression through his all-too-quotable and alliterative aphorisms. As Evey uncovers the truth about Vā€™s mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself ā€“ she's a non-sexual masochist, and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his utterly selfish and idiotic plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption and a long-suppressed hard-on for explosions.

With their screenplay - adapted, transposed and/or inspired by/from Alan Moore's graphic novel of the same name - the Wachowski brothers unabashedly rape the gloomy dystopia of Orwell's "1984" while Saussure and other semiologists jerk off in the corner. Of course by extension perhaps Moore is just as accountable for the film's unproductive mishmash of ideas, but alas, I have not read the novel or comics. This film didn't boost my motivation to do so either.

In "V for Vendetta" the Wachowskis take Orwell's oppressive England of the future - including the government's media manipulation and historical re-writes - and then replace Big Brother with Chancellor Sutler's (John Hurt) barking head. Next, they throw in some exhausting monologues from V that frisk the idea of sliding signifiers and meaning as a product of interpersonal construction. Of course these concepts are delivered in a "Saussure for Dummies" format through phrases like, "Behind this mask is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof."

Being the progenitors of the wretched "Matrix" sequels, the Wachowskis and director James McTeigue (1st AD on "The Matrix" films) must also deliver an action quotient. Therefore V is not only a carnivalesque demagogue but also an expert with explosives and knives - then again, that's kind of carnivalesque of him as well. Thankfully the wire-fu is kept at a minimum, which makes for some appetizing fight scenes in "V for Vendetta." It's the main course of glib political rabble-rousing that induces the film's nauseating aftertaste.

V defines his ideology in opposition to those of Britain's ruling party; he doesn't seem to embrace any cause of his own. In other words, he's kind of like today's Democrats - no true agenda, but you can be damn sure it's far away from that of the Republicans. But bollocks to the hordes of critics who label him a terrorist with whom sympathizing is impossible. The government V attempts to overthrow is indeed vile and venal and all those other v-words. Although he doesn't seem to pretend there'll be no "collateral damage," he is no mass murderer. He doesn't attempt to terrorize the citizenry, but to rally them.

Yet V's insurrection and theatrics thinly mask what V literally stands for: vengeance. As a subject in a bioweapons test gone awry, V is out to get the government for torturing and disfiguring him. The fact that his enemies are part of an evil totalitarian regime is convenient, because it makes it easier for him to garner allies. But would V wear the likeness of Guy Fawkes (the Briton who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605's "Gunpowder Plot") and start the all-too-romanticized revolution if he wasn't so pissed off that the government damaged him dermatologically? Probably not - and that makes for one selfish, tunnel-visioned revolutionary with no cause, but rather an anti-cause.

The likely retort to my criticisms will be that V's lack of an agenda stems from his desire to empower the populace to start their own government and rule themselves fairly. While an admirable goal - hey, down with dictators - it's too bad V seems to forget something: that NEVER works. The revolutionary spirit will persist after the revolution, the inevitably unhappy will continue to revolt, and stagnation will ensue. Leaders - however democratic but by necessity authoritative - are needed.

V would be the most likely candidate - hell, by the end of the film half the country is wearing his garb like 4th graders on Halloween. But V seems to foresee the chaos that will ensue after Parliament is blown to bits and true to his irresponsibly revolutionary and selfish spirit, he effectively commits suicide after etching the names off of his "To Kill" list. Because vengeance is his, V doesn't stick around and lead the masses through the wreckage of the revolt he started. We aren't left to worry about that wreckage either, because in "V for Vendetta," all that matters is revolution for revolution's sake.

(photo courtesy of

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