V for Vendetta
*** If you haven't seen the film or read the comics, spoilers there be. Ah Warned Ye.***
I saw V for Vendetta with Pete Chattawy on Thursday night. Having recently read much about the film on Jeff Overstreet's blog and discovering that the Wachowski Bros (The Matrix Trilogy, Bound) were attached, I can't say that I went in with my hopes up. I really liked The Matrix, but its sequals were wretched and pretty much wrote the Wachowskis off as film makers for me. Still Alan Moore's comic book mini-series gave the bothers and director James McTeigue some pretty strong material to work with.
Alan Moore is one of the people who helped comics to grow up. Books like V for Vendetta, The Watchmen and The Killing Joke (great cover) all helped to introduce more serious subject matter, adult themes and literary sensibilities to a medium often derided as pulp. Others, like Denny O'Neil, had tried to use comic as a means to present and tackle serious social issues like drug addiction and poerty, but they ofetn lacked the literary complexity and credibility.
V for Vendetta was written as a reaction to what Moore and illustrator David Lloyd saw happening in Maggie Thatcher's Britain in the 1980's. It was a turbulent and volatile time of labour disputes, racial tensions and just all around civil unrest.
Moore envisioned a Britain that had only just survived a global nuclear war and from out of the ensuing choas a ruthless totalitarian state had emerged. The populace was tightly monitored and controlled, undesirables had been weeded out and eliminated in concentration camps. Out of this comes V, a victim turned vigilante. (terrorist really, but terrorist doesn't start with a "v") V's aims are revenge on the people who destroyed him and turned him into what he had become, destruction of the state. V also means to find a way to bring about the creation of something better, which I seem to recall V saying he was incapable of doing himself. This is where the character of Evey Hammond comes in. Evey disapproves of V's murderous ways, she refuses to help him on that front. Evey is the person that V passes his torch onto to help bring about a new society.
This brings me back to the film. As stated before, the Wachowski Bros. and James McTeigue had some pretty strong material to work with, but they got it all wrong. It's tough to sum up a 10 issue series in a film just over two hours long, but it should have been possible to retain some of the original ideas, nuances and spirit of the books. Also stated before, Moore helped comics to grow up and mature - the film adaption of V for Vendetta actually helps Moore's work to regress.
They seem to have completely misunderstood the motivations of each character. The V of the film, though excellently voiced by Hugo Weaving, is a gassy wind bag not concerned in the least about anarchy and the rebirth of Britain. He destroys monuments and buildings but to what end is not really clear in the film, other than the fact that the tight-assed government is bad. In fact, the makers would seem to approve of V's killings, which Alan Moore did not. Moore wanted his readers to decide for themselves what they thought of V. Was V a hero, anti-hero or villain?
The public reaction to V is drastically simplified in the film. The public seems unanimous in its approval for V's actions. He calls them to rally and they do, consequences to themselves and their families be damned. The book is much more realistic in that it realizes that people are very unwilling to do what is needed or necessary if it means possible discomfort/harm to themselves. The V of the book manipulates the public mood largely through invisible means. V isn't a symbol for the vast majority to rally around, as much as he is an object of fear.
Evey Hammond also suffers at the hands of the filmmakers. In the books she disapproves of V's murders and the chaos that ensues through his manipulations. V leaves everything to Evey, including his legacy because she is someone who can help to construct a new society. Evey in the film dissaproves of the killing, but once she has gone through her ordeal she is perfectly fine withthe chaos that ensues when V ships copies of his Guy Fawkes mask, seemingly, to every individual in London. (this does not happen in the book)
In the books, Evey questions V and wants to know if the chaos outside is the end he hoped to achieve with his precious anarchy? (I am going by memory as Pete has my copyof V) V responds that what Evey sees outside is not "the-land-of-do-as-you-please" but "the-land-of-take-what-you-want." In the movie, the aim is clearly to create the "land-of-take-what-you-want" and tacitly approves of it through Evey. Evey is not the moral centre of the film, rather she is just another drone vaccuously loaning her approval to the filmmakers visions - whatever those may be, I am not exactly too clear. The Evey of the book goes from frightened waif and cog-in-the-machine to a sort free-thinking figure maybe along the lines of an Emma Goldman?Evey over the course of the film goes from being an individual to becoming a mindless zealot along the lines of a Susan Atkins or a Linda Kasabian.
As a visual entertainment goes, yeah sure... it has it's merits. It certainly retains the qualities evoked by David Lloyd's artwork. But V for Vendetta was much more than a "visual entertainment". In many respects it is a paranoid work of borne of the fears of youth and somewhat dated by the passage of time. Still it has depth and layers that the film just is incapable of touching.