...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, August 14, 2006

Day 2043: V for España


Another exciting movie has arrived on shiny DVD today: it is called "V for Vendetta" and it stars Elrond as V and Queen Amidala as EV.

This is a movie that I should have sneaked into earlier in the year when it was on in cinemas, but we FORGOT! Fortunately, it is now available for me to let my daddies watch it on my television.

It's certainly incredibly BRAVE to make a movie like this in the current time: a complicated movie that asks the audience to decide whether the central character is a SUPER-HERO or a TERRORIST. A movie in which destructive acts are ultimately PRAISED as being able to be positive. And a movie which demands that the audience take more RESPONSIBILITY for their government.

Visage of a Villain?

"V for Vendetta" is based on a GRAPHIC NOVEL by famous beard Alan Moore and famous artist Dave Lloyd who used to work together on Dr Who's comic adventures.

It was a GOOD movie – possibly even a GREAT movie, but maybe not quite great ENOUGH to do justice to the original.

There are some especially EXCITING bits, like when they BLOW UP Her Majesty's Palace of Westminster, but also some very SCARY, even HARROWING bits, with EV being caught and tortured, and these managed to capture some of the heart of the novel. It is worth giving the movie time to get to these parts rather than worrying about the MAINLY SUPERFICIAL changes to the order of events or some small details that they have made.

Although these change the NUANCE of the story (and generally tend to WEAKEN some of the impact) you can understand that they felt it was necessary to trim back some of the – admittedly SPRAWLING – plots and subplots of the novel in order to make a movie-length movie!

Mr Will has also written about this movie but as someone who has not read the original, so he has a more independent perspective.

I, however, have had had my fluffy nose stuck into daddy's copy of the novel all day and will tell you a LOT more about the book and the film measure up!

The movie concentrates on the MELODRAMATIC thrust of the novel: the actions of a masked man known only as V that lead to the overthrow of a fascist regime that has seized control of England.

(For once, Hollywood has an excuse for it being "England" and not Britain, because the novel explicitly separates the land ruled by the dictatorship, mostly around London, from a Scotland riven by civil war. Not that the movie remembers to mention this!)

V himself is, of course, mad as a concrete fruit corner. On toast. But if it’s madness then it’s the madness of the world he inhabits.

In the movie, his obsession with the letter V comes at you in a rush in the opening scenes and makes him seem almost completely gibbering (though in fact I think he is in fact quoting rather a LOT of the chapter title from the novel!). But in the book it seems that the whole WORLD is obsessed with the letter V or the number 5 and that V’s madness is really the only SENSIBLE response you could have to this!

The movie concentrates (and not UNFAIRLY) on the central idea that is defined by V's quote:

"People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people!"

In doing this, though, they leave behind the novel's theme of TRANSFORMATION.

The main change is to the character of EV. She is older than in the novel and works in television not the munitions factory and is less desperate than the novel has her. There is no hint that this EV might try to earn money for food by working as, er, a lady of the night! Unfortunately, this is slightly to miss the point of EV's character arc.

She is transformed by the events of the novel from a child – V even reads children's stories to her in book one – into a woman capable of being her own agent.

She starts with a childlike understanding and obedience – but she is also INNOCENT, in the true sense of "without knowledge of GOOD and EVIL" and thus she is almost the only character in the novel not CULPABLE (by V's rules) for England's dictatorship. V makes it a part of his mission to confront her with the full EVIL of that dictatorship and by doing so AWAKEN her to adulthood and LIBERTY.

By making her "stronger" at the beginning, the film makes her WEAKER at the end: she ought to share the guilt for letting England BE a dictatorship, for accepting her part in it as an adult. And because she is not free of that guilt, she isn't the right person to inspire the rebirth that V wants but cannot be a part of.

A SUBTLER change is to Adam Sutler, who is called Adam Susan in the book – and given that this was first written when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and as a largely anti-Mrs Thatcher piece, there is some significance in the fact that Mr Susan has a woman's name.

The film makes Mr Sutler RESPONSIBLE for the terrorist crisis (note: this is a GOOD update of the original idea that makes the movie MORE topical!) that got England into a dictatorship in the first place. This makes him CORRUPT – he has used evil means to MANIPULATE the people. In the novel, Mr Susan just TAKES ADVANTAGE of the chaos and disorder after a nuclear war (that Britain didn't take part in) to seize power. He is HONEST – to the extent that he truly and HONESTLY believes in fascism. This shifts the BLAME for the dictatorship from the "evil man" to the PEOPLE! It is the people's UNWILLINGNESS to take control and responsibility in their own lives that make this an opportunity for him.

The film (perhaps necessarily for a HOLLYWOOD STORY) has him executed in V's presence as part of a CLIMACTIC BATTLE scene; the novel sees him broken when V's actions reveal that all his power is a TRAP, and he is left alone and loveless. He is assassinated by a MINOR CHARACTER, almost a nobody, as just another near random part of the web of chaos that V has precipitated.

He is transformed from central VILLAIN into just another VICTIM of the dictatorship.

Again, this is a difference of NUANCE. It was very nice to see them use the dramatic IMAGE of V setting up a huge pattern of dominoes in order to see them all topple when he upsets the first. But they do not seem to have realised that this is also a dramatic METAPHOR for the way that his actions destroy the dictatorship INDIRECTLY. V takes away the POWERS of oppression and so sets the people FREE: to an extent he almost does not CARE how the destruction that follows is acted out, certainly he does nothing to DIRECT IT – that would be ANATHEMA to him.

The Hollywood version is too LINEAR for this – the enemies must confront each other at the moment of climax. But in the book, Mr Susan is NOT V's enemy. Mr Susan is just a symptom and a victim of V's enemy.

There was one subtlety of the novel that I was SAD to lose. Although the SECRET POLICE are referred to on and off as "FINGERMEN" it is never made explicit what this is supposed to MEAN!

The novel is clear on this point: the fascist dictatorship has constructed an ICONOGRAPHY around its MASTER COMPUTER called FATE. Mr Susan represents the "HEAD" while his lieutenants are assigned to the EYES, EARS and MOUTH of Fate. Mr Finch, the detective, works for the "NOSE"! The Secret Police is the "Hand of Fate" so obviously its agents are the "FINGERS". This is a keen insight into the IDEOLOGY of "Strength through Unity": all the "organs" of the state are EXPLICITLY one body.

That V chooses this as the dictatorship's ACHILLES HEEL is also symbolic. It is revealed that he has a crucial edge over the dictatorship because he has built his own version of their master computer: he has literally CONSTRUCTED HIS OWN FATE, and through this gained power.

Mr Susan, on the other fluffy foot, WORSHIPS Fate, is subservient to it and is thus like all the rest of the people not willing to take his own decisions, and be responsible for them. The revelation that V can change Fate at will is the betrayal that breaks him.

Incidentally, I suppose it was IRRESISTIBLE to have JOHN HURT as Mr Sutler appearing before his lieutenants on the giant BIG BROTHER screen – and this is a GREAT image of the movie. But why have they gathered for a meeting somewhere where he's NOT? This is less dramatic but makes more sense the other way around – in the book, obviously – when they are in their work places and appear on screens for HIM.

The last change is for Mr Chief Inspector Finch of New Scotland Yard. He is the policeman put in charge of tracking down V and EV after they escape from a patrol of Fingermen after curfew. The novel plays strongly on the AMBIVALENT nature of this character. He is a policeman and so in favour of ORDER, but he is not a fascist, not a part of the dictatorship. They TOLERATE him because he is very good at his job; and he TOLERATES them because they let him DO his job. He is, in some ways, the ANTI-Commissioner Gordon character.

This ambivalence is further reinforced by Mr Finch's relationship with pathologist Dr Delia Surridge. When she is killed by V, Mr Finch is morally OUTRAGED because he sees her as a GOOD WOMAN who has worked long and hard as a Doctor. But then he reads her diary and discovers that she was in charge of EXPERIMENTS on PEOPLE – including, probably, V. And after that he does not know what to think.

Over the course of the book, he becomes more and more driven to find V, as though convinced that this one act of order will somehow undo the increasing dissolution of the society around him, even as he himself starts to unwind: he seeks to put the GENIE back in the BOTTLE. Finally, he resolves to go to the concentration camp where it began and like V and EV before him he passes through a rite of discovery.

He too is transformed, but from an upright figure of the law into a shambolic agent of retribution, and in this incarnation he is able to penetrate V's mindset and hence his Shadow Gallery. Thus it is Mr Finch who is able to shoot V: not the MATRIX style BATTLE of the movie, but a resolutely unimportant end.

His business done, Mr Finch has the most ENIGMATIC ending: he just walks away.

Perhaps the movie cannot cope with such UNCERTAINTIES. Although Mr Finch is in it conducting his investigation, his dénouement is handed off to the more OBVIOUSLY villainous character of Mr Cready, head of the secret police, leaving him rather like EV with little to do at the end of the story.

She pulls a lever; he lets her.

Despite the pyrotechnics, it's not really the most STUNNING way to conclude their stories. He doesn't get to become a murderer; she doesn't get to become a legend.

The movie is great fun and worth a look at, but if I were you I would spend the same money getting hold of a copy of the graphic novel which will reward you FAR MORE!



Andy said...

What do you say, Mr Elephant, to the idea that the movie, for a variety of reasons, removes Moore's message of anarchy and replaces it with Hollywood liberalism?

Millennium Dome said...

I think you are RIGHT, Mr Andy!

Although they are a LITTLE bit challenging, they reduce the story to one of goodies and baddies where notionally the goodies win in the end.

As I said, in the novel V's enemy is not Mr Susan but the system of which Mr Susan is only a part.

The novel says that people are RESPONSIBLE, even being to BLAME for the government that they have and that might be a bit TOO uncomfortable for the mass movie public.

At the end of the novel, the old order has been TORN DOWN and, in the chaos that is left behind, "V" appears telling the people that they have to make a choice between whether to begin to rebuild or just fall to bits.

At the end of the film – particularly in the "and they never forgot that day" voice-over coda by Queen Amidala – you are left with a DISAPPOINTING sense that the day after Parliament is BLOWN TO BITS everyone just goes back to work the same as always, but with happier lives because the fascists are somehow "gone".

This kind of overlooks the fact that the government of the country has just been WIPED OUT!

In some ways this "movie thinking" is symbolic.

Can you think of any examples of America "killing the bad guys" and then being a bit SURPRISED when people do not just start living happy lives while the end credits roll?