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Review: ‘V for Vendetta’

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." That tag line, which has a nice ring to it, s being used in some of the advertising for the new film adaptation of the graphic novel "V for Vendetta" (opening March 17 throughout San Diego). It's also a more politically overt statement than most Hollywood films these days seem willing to make.

According to Moore in an article from Warrior Magazine during the original run of “V for Vendetta” in 1983, he and Lloyd wanted to do something that was "uniquely British." In addition, since both he and Lloyd shared what he termed "a similar brand of political pessimism, the future would be pretty grim, bleak and totalitarian." The British comic served as a savage commentary on British politics and society, and through the course of its run became an indictment against Margaret Thatcher. The comic was also meant to hit a more universal chord as it calls to mind works by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury as well as more popular fare as “Judge Dredd,” “Batman,“ “The Shadow,” TV's “The Prisoner,“ and Vincent Price's “Dr. Phibes“ and “Theatre of Blood.“

Their “V for Vendetta“ offers yet another example of the fine and often provocative work being done in comics. With compelling force and intelligence, “V for Vendetta“ echoes the themes of Orwell's “1984“ and Bradbury's “Fahrenheit 451,” themes concerned with the frightening loss of freedom and identity experienced by people living under an oppressive government. These are also themes that mainstream Hollywood films -- and even independent films -- don't seem eager to explore these days.

Despite the fact that Alan Moore had his name removed from the film (as he has done with “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “From Hell,” the other film adaptations of his works), “V for Vendetta“ proves to be a grand, exciting adaptation of the source material. Sure you can quibble and complain about some of the changes and the general glossing up of the story, but the film keeps the spirit of the graphic novel satisfyingly intact. Adapted by the Wachowski Brothers (the makers of “The Matrix“ films), “V for Vendetta“ is a surprisingly daring film. Think about it. In a post-9/11 America and in the midst of George Bush' war on terrorism, it is a film that presents a main character who is a terrorist, and affords him sympathy and suggests just cause for his terrorism. It even prompts viewers to look at torture from some surprising angles. The film, however, does remove some of the complexity from the graphic novel. In depicting V's reign of terror, it doesn't examine the private and the public motivations of the characters as fully and it doesn't stir as much thought about V's methods. Whereas the graphic novel cleverly and provocatively places action thrills and serious ideas on equal footing, the film has a distinct hierarchy with pop entertainment coming first and social commentary second.

But that said, the film of “V for Vendetta“ takes some nice swipes as the media, TV news, and oppressive governments. In the futuristic world created by the Wachowskis, Britain has a totalitarian state of government, the U.S. is no longer a superpower and British leaders claim that all the restrictions on freedoms are necessary for the safety of the people. Hmmm? Does that last part sound familiar? In this world, the media is run by the government and is used as a propaganda tool to control the people. Facts are all given a political spin to suit those in power and newscasters don't question what they are told to report. The government and the media also conspire to create a climate of fear that they deem necessary to keep citizens in line. The film suggests vast government conspiracies that are truly terrifying and deeply disturbing. Not since the 70s (with films such as “Winter Kills“ and “The Parallax View“), has a pop film provoked such a sense of paranoia about the government.

As in the graphic novel, the film includes a character called Evey (played superbly in the film by Natalie Portman). V (played to great effect by Hugo Weaving who manages to emote from behind the frozen face of the Guy Fawkes mask) rescues Evey at the start of the film from some slimy government security officers intent on raping and killing her. Like Zorro, the masked V heroically appears to save her and leave behind a letter to mark his revenge. Portman's Evey is older than and in not such a pathetic state as her literary counterpart, but both get drawn into V's plans and unexpectedly fall in love with him and his cause.

James McTeigue, an assistant director making his feature film debut, directs “V for Vendetta“ with energetic flair. He may not get the grit of the graphic novel but he knows how to sweep us up in the excitement of the story. The future he creates may not be as visually dense and clever as the ones created by Terry Gilliam in “Brazil“

or on TV's “Max Headroom,” but McTeigue convinces us of the horrors and absurdities of living under government control. He uses a huge video screen for Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) to appear on during meetings with staff, and it's an ominous, oppressive image that allows him to loom over everyone. When he appears in person, he suddenly seems human and frail, and you can understand why he prefers to appear as the larger than life image. McTeigue enjoys assaulting the media and has great fun with a TV personality (played by Stephen Fry) who dares to defy censors by using comedy to mock the government.

“V for Vendetta“ received an R rating for what the Motion Picture Association of America calls "strong violence and some language." But it could have received the rating for daring to express positive views about the role of dissent in society. The U.S. likes to pride itself on freedom of speech and likes to boast that it does not censor its citizens. Yet censorship does exist in more disguised forms such as marketplace pressure, box office economics, self-imposed censorship and more.

“V for Vendetta“ is exciting not only because of the physical action of the story but also because it dares to urge rebellion against oppression, conformity, a reduction of freedoms and apathy. Based on the cheering of the crowd at the screening I attended, maybe that message is more welcomed than I thought.

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