Revolution Science Fiction
by Paul Benjamin
RevSF Rating: 8/10
I hope that some ultraconservative group will hear about this film and encourage the world to boycott it. That way more people will go see it.
I first read Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, about a masked freedom fighter terrorizing a fascist near-future British government, as a teenager. Having read it again a few months ago, I went to the film adaptation worried that updating the original story and pandering to current political correctness would deaden the power of the narrative. After the 2005 bombing of the London Underground, would Warner Bros. balk at antihero V’s highly destructive acts of terror? Would they let the director James McTeigue (veteran of the Matrix movies, Attack of the Clones and Dark City, among others) and The Matrix’s Wachowski brothers make V a terrorist/freedom fighter? Or would they water down the story to make him a squeaky clean hero, or to make the government seem either not so bad or horribly worse than in the graphic novel?
I needn’t have worried. It’s true that limited nuclear strikes become targeted germ warfare, bombing targets change, and riots are replaced with more symbolic civil disobedience, but this is not a neutered version of Moore's and David Lloyd’s brilliant comic. It is a focused adaptation tailored for the screen. Some of the details have changed, but the spirit remains the same. It is about a government that took power in a time of great upheaval and uses the populace’s own fear to control it.
Hugo Weaving does a fantastic job as the terrorist V, despite the mask that hides his face. This isn’t the Power Rangers-esque Green Goblin mask of Spider-Man. Subtle changes in lighting alter its expression, even though it is the same mask throughout the movie. Weaving commands our attention from his first alliterative appearance.
V befriends young Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman who comes of age as she, like the rest of England, discovers the yoke of tyranny — tyranny she barely acknowledges until V points out that people have the power to change the status quo. Portman’s performance is flawless, giving a human face to the cause of the anarchic, vengeful V.
Stephen Rea does an admirable job of portraying government agent Finch, even though it is sometimes difficult to telling the agents apart. Keeping track of the government agents is particularly difficult when reading the comic book, but the film focuses Finch, making it easier to remember who’s on V’s tail.
And what’s a totalitarian government without a figurehead to lead the people? John Hurt’s real-life counterparts may not appreciate his “keep the people down” dialogue, but he does a brilliant job of making us believe that he is a politician who will do anything to hold onto power.
V for Vendetta is no screed. If you want to see a sci-fi action film packed with explosions, gunfire, knife-throwing and a man who is more than human fighting against insurmountable odds, then you can happily enjoy this movie and ignore its political implications.
But for those who have any interest in politics, V for Vendetta is an allegory for our times, a call to arms for all those who, like Evey and V, would see the world change to become a place where the people are no longer herded like cattle along the paths the government sets forth; a world where people tell the government how things are going to be.
If anything, the greatest problem with V for Vendetta is that few of the people who should be seeing its political message will even think about seeing the movie. If you value freedom and democracy, go see V for Vendetta and form your own opinion. Then write your nearest government representative and encourage him or her to come out publicly against this film. We need a national dialogue framed around a graphic novel to continue to inform the public that comics and comic-based films aren’t just for kids anymore — and that, as V says, “People shouldn’t fear their governments. Governments should fear their people.”
Paul Benjamin screened V for Vendetta at Austin, Texas’ 24-hour Butt Numbathon in December 2005. It was the last film of the festival, and he freely acknowledges that sleep deprivation may have a played a part in his love of the film.