V for Vendetta

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I just saw V for Vendetta. I’m having a hard time determining what I thought of it. The following ramble will give away all the good bits, so if you’re going to see the film I’d suggest doing so before reading further.

First, some background: I just read the comics a few days ago, and loved them — right up there with Watchmen, in my book — so obviously my take on the film is somewhat distorted. But all the same, I have to major objections to the film version, and I think they’re more-or-less valid.

First, there’s the politics. The comic is in the aftermath of some sort of global thermonuclear exchange, resulting in extreme climactic changes and widespread chaos; following a few years of miserable anarchy, a group of proto-fascists take charge in Great Britain and start to build their sort of society — which, incidentally, has very little room for ethnic or religious minorities or homosexuals.

The movie throws all that out the window. The ruling party in the film version brought itself to power by engineering massive biological attacks on their own soil, fostering a climate of fear in which their leader — a devoutly religious man, as the maddening omniscient voiceover informs us — can take control.

What irks me is that this change is wholly gratuitous, and servers only to provide the mandated minimum amount of thinly-veiled Bush-bashing for a modern Hollywood production. It’s hard to like a pointless alteration with no justification aside from furthering the mindless paranoid vitriol that passes for political thought in Hollywood.

My second substantive complaint concerns the ending: I know Natalie Portman has a very pretty face, and yes it would be a shame to cover it up, but for God’s sake the story needs her to don the mask! In the comic, V’s dying words instruct Evey that she, “must discover whose face lies behind this mask, but [that she] must never know [his] face”. Of course, Evey soon realizes that this statement isn’t a puzzle but a riddle, and dons the Guy Fawkes mask herself to lead the masses in their final assault on the corrupted government. Evey, of course, slips out early — to save a young stranger and bring him to the Shadow Gallery in much the same manner as she herself began.

The obvious suggestion in the comic is that this young man will eventually become the next V when Evey’s part of the task is complete — and also leave the reader wondering whether V is really the first V, the original victim of room five. What truly galls me is that this question is really a closed one in the comics — the issue is definitely settled when V fulfills the dying wish of the female doctor and shows her his face. That dying wish is missing in the film, giving me an hour of elation until the ending and the crushing realization that change was not the setup for an improved ending but a non-sequitur before a disappointingly straight-forward finale.

But, for all my ranting, I think it’s a good movie — as long as you can keep in mind that the politics are drivel. Hugo Weaving is probably getting to be right up there with Christopher Walken on the list of inexplicably cool actors.

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