Monday, December 1, 2008

Film Notes for V for Vendetta

Just noticed Richard Estes' commentary on the film V for Vendetta. I have an interest in dystopian novels and films, and am always curious to read others' reactions such works of art. An extended clip:
V carries out a killing spree for reasons of revenge (evocative of the great Vincent Price cult film, Theatre of Blood, wherein Price, playing a Shakespearan actor, kills the critics who denied him a prestigious acting award), but for V, the personal is the political, as they used to say, with his vengence releasing the latent discontent of the populace against their authoritarian government.

Accordingly, the Wachowski brothers are traveling over a terrain that is most disconcerting to anyone who believes that the hegemony of the US empire can be overcome solely through non-violence. V is a flawed, egomanical character that reveals the extent to which rebellions are often lead by marginalized figures who live outside of societal convention in profoundly troubling ways. Revolutions invariably, as shown in the film, involve a complex interweaving of violent and non-violent components. One need only look at the extent to which the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela basks in the security offered by the resistance in Iraq, a resistance that prevents the US from taking action thousands of miles away, as a contemporary example.

Significantly, however, the true protagonist of the film is Evey (a strong performance by Natalie Portman), not V. V needs someone who will carry his vision forward, because it will die with him, a solitary dream, a fantasy, if the next generation does not share it. Evey's evolution into a fearless, nameless (she ultimately survives with a fake ID), confident woman as she is forced to confront more and more harrowing degrees of loss, violence and deprivation, most memorably in a prolonged incarceration sequence, is therefore central to the film's premise. In this, V transcends his desire for grandiose revenge, and creates an enduring social legacy, much as the character of Prospero does at the conclusion of the great Shakespeare play, The Tempest, but the legacy requires that someone grasp it, and that person is Evey. Thus, the Wachowski brothers, paradoxically through the genre of the comic book action film, insist that we engage with the past, present and future by recognizing history as it is, not as we would like it to be.

Indeed, a detective, Eric Finch, played by Stephen Rea, is involuntarily compelled to do so in one of the film's most compelling sequences, as V, reminiscent of Prospero, skillfully stage manages his impending insurrection, navigating the chaos around him with ease. V's willingness to voluntarily hand over his movement, no strings attached, to Evey, leaving success or failure to her, distinguishes him from the fascist, Mabuse.

All along the way James McTeigue, the director, utilizes some effective alienation effects, as the past (Fawkes), our ephemeral present (through flashbacks of Evey, V and Valerie, an incarcerated lesbian) and the impending future, the present setting of the film's narrative, are powerfully contrasted. The surface normality of our times, with our knowledge of its concealed atrocities, and our belief that we are privileged enough to remain securely and happily independent of them, degenerates into the explicit brutality of an authoritarian future. Valerie's recollection of her affectionate London life with her partner, as the world around them becomes more and more intolerant of any expressions of compassion, is especially poignant.

A fusion of fear, fascism and media manipulation relentlessly devours all remaining sanctuaries of personal kindness and autonomy, as Evey's dear friend Gordon, who shelters her, tragically discovers as a result of V's obssessive pursuit of Old Testament revenge and revolutionary transformation. Yet another splash of ice cold water from the Wachowski brothers: a radical consciously goes forward despite the certain knowledge that some good hearted innocents will inevitably be consumed by the conflict around them, something that John Sayles acknowledged as an essential feature of his brilliant 1987 film about a turn of the century West Virginia coal miners strike, Matewan. J. Hoberman of the Village Voice has warmly described V for Vendetta as a supremely tasteless movie. Let's have many more of them.

I cut to the punchline, but hope that you'll check out the rest of essay.

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