Director: James McTeigue
V for Vendetta is one of the most talked-about new movies of the year. So why am I talking about it? Don’t I usually champion the overlooked film, the ancient film, the foreign film that Americans don’t want to read? Of course I do, and that’s why I’m not going to give you the kind of review of this film that other outlets have. Forget all the fanboy details about who wrote what and who disowned what. Forget about the Ebert/Academy Award for the message film that “may just change the world.” If V for Vendetta has a message to deliver, it’s that we just love a down and dirty game of good cop/bad cop.
First off, I want to say that I liked V for Vendetta. I thought Natalie Portman was convincingly scared as Evey, and the shaved head showed off her lovely, swanlike neck. Hugo Weaving showed a surprising range of attitude and emotion even though he spent 100% of his time behind a mask. But I liked Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), too, also set in London and, perhaps not coincidentally, also starring John Hurt. Hurt played the rule-breaking minion in a totalitarian society in the latter film; in V for Vendetta, he plays the rabid dictator. See what I mean? Good cop/bad cop.
The biggest difference between these films is the existence of the superantihero V. The new film was made from a comic book, I mean graphic novel, after all. V is a cross between the darker version of Batman and the accidentally power-endowed Spider-Man. V means to get revenge on the people who disappeared him behind prison walls and tortured him, Josef Mengele style, in the name of science. He also wants to bring down the world his tormenters have created, a world of surveillance and fear. The parallel with the Bush Administration certainly couldn’t have been lost on the liberals who flocked to this film, but what of the conservatives? They just wanted to see things get blown up and blood spurt out of people’s necks. Truth to tell, so did the liberals.
I note that Roger Ebert in his backhanded three-star review of V for Vendetta thought that blowing up Parliament was a real shame because it’s such an historic, old building. Some other reviewer thought the scene was in poor taste given the somewhat-recent London subway bombing. I say, “It’s an imaginary building on a flat screen, and V took care to ensure that no one would be in the building anyway.” Watching explosions is very entertaining. That’s why a planned building collapse shows up on the TV news whenever one occurs. Notice the cheers that follow the implosion. We like destruction.
But I do think a lesson can be learned from this movie. Terrorists, insurgents, rebels, freedom fighters, whatever you want to call them, are made in the forge of state cruelty. V was made in a government prison, and he made Evey the same way, ending her conversion with a baptism in the rain. It is important to remember that governments make terrorists who work for them every bit as much as they make terrorists who work against them—they are called soldiers. Good cop/bad cop. If you think force is sometimes necessary, make sure you know what you’re fighting against and why—because cruelty started by a state never really ends. It just grows a few more Vs. l