Saturday, May 26, 2007

Couch-Potato Review: V for Vendetta

As I'm able to catch these movies now on fabulous high-def rebroadcast, I'm able to finally digest and think about what's fascinated me about some of them. Here's some thoughts about tonight's viewing: V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta tests the theory that the hero of a film can be morally ambigious and still presented as a hero.

Or maybe this review tests the theory that one man can misread a movie, when so many others seem so sure that they 'get it.' And is that man right? Or wrong? That would be your call.

But I persist. Verily, V vexes the verisimilitude of valor, the viscicitudes of the vanquished versus the victorious. But here, I have alliterated in vain - and missed the point.

Why, does no one ask, do we have a major motion picture where the hero, throughout the picture, acts his way behind a mask? Does this not seem a tad...unconventional? And not in the Team America, puppets on a string kind of way. This is a "serious" melodrama thriller, not the type of movie typically prone to take avant-garde risks.

V, needless to say, is a cipher. His absence, his super-human non-humanness, places him outside the action. The mask and Hugo Weaving's wonderful articulation make us pay attention to his non-sensical alliterative ramblings in a way most films would envy. But V is no more than this: a device, albeit an extended and exhausting one. Evie and Finch, however, are the characters. V is but undiluted id that drives all men to violent action: the wounded child, the revenge-seeker, the poet. He is an incomplete X. We need no more backstory than this. He is merely meant to swash-buckle his way onto the screen, and into E-V's heart, and Finch's curiosity.

For indeed: violence in the name of political expediency is romantic. And facinating. This is where most critics have lost (or been lost by) the story of V. He may rouse this sleeping Britain from its slumber, but he is, after all, a bomb-maker and a murderer. After might argue that even the momentary hope of a nation rising out of a fascist pact with the devil is hardly worth the destruction of a historical relic such as Big Ben. The story does not shrink from the unpleasant facts of V's actions. He may be romanticized: but we are, like Evie, given a choice: do we also romanticize this evil/heroic V...or do we eye him with a bit of skepticism? Thus the real story of V is not V but the story of EV - the child who comes to face her fears - and Finch, the bird that flies the coop.

No doubt, the symbology of Sutler's Britain is a bit paper thin and obvious. But, my dear fellows, this is a cartoon. Someone has to play the part of the boogeyman. It may be a bit old school, but it never cesses to be enjoyable having religious conservative fascists to cheer against.

The climax of V is not the fireworks at the end but the domino demonstration that proceeds the third act. The point of the movie is simple: one man, with enough directed anger, can inspire a mob. A mob of angry voters? Or a mob of destructive rioters? Yes, the movie plays lightly with such moral distinctions. But this is not a movie about subtlety: it is a movie of symbols. V is not the hero but the anti-hero: V is for Violence, and Violence is the man behind the mask. E-V is us, the children of history who must decide whether violent action with historical purpose is worth the moral cost. At a time when our timidity has been turned into a self-reinforcing fetish, at a time when we are asking young men to go to war, this movie dares to offer a symbolic narrative of how violence imprisions as well as rouses a truculant populous. It may be a simplistic political parable - and it may be more ambigious than the initial easy distinctions between "right" and "left" - but it's also refreshingly brave.