Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"V for Vendetta": a 1980's graphic novel that predicted the Patriot Act

Ah, the life of a college film student. You spend as many nights trying to convince other film majors that idolize Wes Anderson that their fan-dom makes them mild douchebags as you do trying to perfect scripts ostensibly about vampires but are actually about the reunification of Germany*, which makes you a mild douchebag as well.

It was 2005. I was headed into my senior year, and had since the 2000 elections grown more and more politically aware. As you can probably gather from the title of the post, I was not the biggest fan of the Bush administration, and was constantly thinking about the various ways the medium of film could express the frustration that I felt many people had with the White House, but because of the "you're with us or against us" mentality were afraid or unable to fully express.

My college pet project that never really materialized was an adaptation of "Catch-22" for the Iraq war, which I had tentatively titled "Stop Loss". Never mind the fact an Iraq war drama of the same name was recently released, to do the source material justice is all but impossible, if you don't believe me, sit down and watch the star-studded flop of 1970 (not that it really matters, but I did eventually write and direct a gentle "Office"-esqe satire of the Bush administration before graduation). It was frustrating that, for the most part, the mainstream entertainment industry only had Jon Stewart and eventually Stephen Colbert to take Bush and Co. to task for, if nothing else, blatant and unapologetic fear-mongering.

Then, in 2006, Warner Brothers released the next project the Wachowski Brothers had following the (silly and pretentious) end to the Matrix trilogy. It was an adaptation of a graphic novel from Alan Moore and David Lloyd about a revolutionary trying to jostle the public of a dystopian London from their political slumber.

The movie, of course, was "V for Vendetta".

The title character, V, is a vehemently verbose vigilante who vows vigorous vengeance for the virtuous vulgus victimized by a vile vanguard.

Did the previous sentence take me 20 minutes to write? Yes, yes it did.

V marks the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day, by bombing the Old Bailey, a historic London court. The act is one of rebellion against a theocratic administration, led by a scene-chewing John Hurt, that used the panic following a wide-spread poisoning to rise to power and control all aspects of British life with an iron fist. Tangled in with V, played with aplomb by Wachowski veteran Hugo Weaving, is Evey, an eventually bare-headed Natalie Portman. Hot on the trail of Evey and V is Inspector Finch, played by Stephen Rea, who is warned from the highest authorities against digging too deep into V's motives.

The result: an adaptation that, although a slight departure from the source material, effectively ridicules public apathy, manufactured fear, theocratic and militaristic rule, and specifically the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib, Dick Cheney, and Glenn Beck all in the not-always-subtle disguise of an action thriller.

The success of "V for Vendetta" lies not only in the sharpness and immediacy of its political commentary, but the fact that the story does not rely on the parallels to keep the story moving. Despite the producer's awareness of the time they were making the film and the details they included because of the climate, the themes of "V for Vendetta" are broad enough that it can stand alone.

What we are given with "V for Vendetta" is a story of revenge, retribution, and awakening that is carried primarily by superb casting and the idea of triumph of the common man. The final act of "V" is, not to purposely alliterate, visceral. Your heart will swell, and I guarantee you will never again listen to the 1812 Overture the same.

TOO MUCH: V occasionally being a whining sissy

COULD HAVE USED MORE: exploding landmarks, dominoes

FILM SNOB NOTE: To film the final scene outside of the Parliament, Westminister was shut down for three nights from midnight to five am, the biggest accommodation for a film that was ever made for the area. Graphic novel co-author Alan Moore distanced himself from the film after his previous works were, in his eyes, bastardized for the screen, as he would do again for the 2009 release of "Watchmen". The other co-author, David Lloyd, said he liked the film and thought Moore would only approve of a straight depiction from the novel.


IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: You picked a good thriller, and if you ever ask me to hang onto a mysterious package for you, I should probably say 'no'.

*I couldn't find a clip of this scene from the Colin Hanks vehicle "Orange County". If you caught the reference, you deserve a cookie.

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