Remember, Remember: A "V for Vendetta" Review

One of the great pleasures of my life is that Roommate K is in a professional position that often allows me advance access to and knowledge of pop culture projects that I greatly enjoy. Tonight I accompanied him to an advance screening of the movie V for Vendetta, which opens nation wide on March 17.

Remember March 17. It's an important date, for reasons I'll get to.

For those who are unfamiliar V is based on a comic book by the same name, written in the mid and late 80's by Alan Moore. The basic plot centers around a future version of England where a fascist regime has taken advantage of fear and uncertainty and taken over the government and lives of the British peoples. A terrorist known only as "V", who styles himself after the British folk hero Guy Fawkes, has risen to counter this fascist government. The comic (please note: SPOILERS at that link) is one of the greatest pieces of graphic storytelling in the history of the medium, and is often one of the books that comic readers give to non-comics readers as an example of the perfection that the medium can achieve. I had not read it until a few months ago, but it quickly became a favorite.

The movie was adapted to the screen by the Wachowski Bros. who gave us the Matrix Trilogy. When I read V for the first time I knew about the movie, and spent the reading wondering how certain elements would be adapted to the screen, and more importantly how certain elements would be accepted by the American public. Can we support a movie, for instance, where the main character is a terrorist who spends most of the movie plotting to blow up the British Parliament Building? No matter how evil the government that he is combatting, can we sympathize with someone acting in a manner that we ourselves have been victimized by? V also wears a mask throughout the entire story. Can a static image like that translate to a visual medium based on motion? Tonight all fears I had about this film were laid aside, but replaced with a whole new set of fears.

This is an amazing movie. While, not a 100% accurate adaptation the spirit of the graphic novel is firmly in place and well supported by the production. I'll admit to missing certain scenes, and some of the nuance of the comic, but every adaptation loses something, right? Thankfully this adaption also gains a few things. Alan Moore left the time period of the story vague, and open, and set the movie in a post apocalyptic London, damaged by nuclear war. The movie very firmly nails down the year of the story and links the changes in England not to global nuclear devastation but to something even scarier: The Iraq War. Only ever referred to as "The American's War" it is still very clear exactly which war they are referring to. The circumstances of the new British government are unchanged from the comic, but they ring in an eery light given the current political climate. The British people are told that their loss of liberties are for their own safety and protection. The wire taps, and secret surveillance done by the government is done to keep them safe. The manufactured news programs are there shield them from things they don't need to know and to keep them happy. The country survived the threats against it because they are blessed by God. The government has eliminated the threats to the British way of life including Muslims and homosexuals. Standing in unity and not questioning the prosperity given them in exchange for these small encroachments into their liberty is the best way to stay happy and peaceful.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

This is where the power of this movie lies: it manages to at once be a major Hollywood blockbuster style motion picture and subversive at the same time. The best testimony to this is that at several points I caught myself wondering whether or not the motion picture industry was allowed to do certain things. I was actually afraid for the stars and film makers worried that such a harsh criticism of government may not be received very well by the people being criticized. That was a scary thought for me, that a piece of art may be so subversive that it would not be allowed to be seen by the government. If you can view this movie without seeing the parallel and being scared by it you are either firmly planted in a red state mentality, or just blind. In the words of V: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Is it a perfect movie? No. The introduction of V at the beginning of the movie is a bit rough. He has some very complex lines that got totally lost partially because he is quoting poetry, and therefore speaking unnaturally, and partially because you can't see his mouth for the mask, and it takes a few minutes to adjust perceptions to just listening, instead of listening and watching. (That got much better very quickly, don't worry.) I also had some difficulties some technical points in the movie, for instance V has copies of his mask delivered to every household in England as part of his plot... who made these? How did he get them into the UK? There is also some murkiness plotwise in the last 20 minutes of the movie, but it was clearer on screen than it was in the comic, so maybe it wasn't SO bad. I also object to the reduction the "Voice of London" from a god-like radio voice to a blustering Morton Downy type.

These minor points are balanced by a lot of good stuff though. The movie is visually beautiful. They manage to use light and shadow and some very subtle head movements to make that mask come completely alive. The use of the color red is stunning, and often unexpected. The political commentary is smart, cutting, and dead on accurate. Can this be the future of America? Do we have a Guy Fawkes who can step up to the plate? As for whether or not Americans can cheer for a terrorist, remember that at one point there was a government that considered a lot of our founding fathers to be terrorists, a point that you are reminded of early on in the movie. This is an important movie. The voice of this movie is a voice that America needs to hear.

So remember March 17 and get to the theatre. You NEED to see this movie. I just hope that everyone who does need to see it gets out and does.

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