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For the Short Attention Span Theater-goers among you: V for Vendetta gets four BIG thumbs up from Walnut and Balls. Bear in mind that Balls is one tough customer when it comes to movies.
On to the review.
I wish I wasn't afraid all the time.
Imagine being a movie reviewer, and living in fear that someone might mistake you as a terrorist sympathizer. From David Denby's review of V for Vendetta in The New Yorker:
"V for Vendetta," a dunderheaded pop fantasia that celebrates terrorism and destruction
Okay, that's quite enough out of you, Mr. Denby. Meanwhile, around the block at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis chimes in:
Is the man in the mask who wants to make Parliament go boom Osama bin Laden or Patrick Henry? Or just a Phantom of the Opera clone who likes to kick back to the cult sounds of Antony and the Johnsons? Your guess is as good as mine, and I've seen the film.
How about that other rock of journalism, The Washington Post? From Stephen Hunter's review:
"V for Vendetta" is a piece of pulp claptrap; it has no insights whatsoever into totalitarian psychology and always settles for the cheesiest kinds of demagoguery and harangue as its emblems of evil. They say they want a revolution? Then give us a revolution, one that's believable, frightening, heroic, coherent and not a teenagers' freaky power trip.
Doesn't anyone get it? Sure -- Peter Travers in Rolling Stone:
Calling Warner Bros. irresponsible for releasing a film that rouses an audience to action is like calling the Constitution irresponsible for protecting free speech. The explosive V for Vendetta is powered by ideas that are not computer-generated. It's something rare in Teflon Hollywood: a movie that sticks with you.
I haven't done a comprehensive survey, but it seems like the mainstream reviewers want you to see this movie with a prejudiced eye. It glorifies violence. Its politics are simplistic on the one hand, confused on the other. It is, in David Denby's words, "a disastrous muddle." Yeah, I wish I weren't afraid all the time, too.
The United States lays in ruins, torn by its second civil war. In Great Britain, a biological attack killed 100,000 people, many of them children, and the autocratic Adam Sutler (played with greasy-haired Hitlerian intensity by John Hurt) took control, promising to protect the people of England from the threat of further terrorist attacks. Now, political dissidents and gays have disappeared, Chancellor Sutler's face is everywhere (yeah, 1984 is never too far from the surface of V), and the government controls all media, via both faked news stories and a Bill O'Reillyesque demagogue named Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam).
Enter V (Matrix and Lord of the Rings' Hugo Weaving), a super-fast avenger in a Guy Fawkes mask. V has a personal axe to grind with the likes of Prothero and Sutler, and a political agenda, too. He soon enlists Evey (Natalie Hershlag -- okay, okay, Portman), a young woman whose parents and brother have died because of the government's abuses. On their trail: top cop Finch (Stephen Rea).
V may call the shots here, and indeed, at times the government stooges seem to jump like marionettes at the end of V's strings, but the story belongs to Evey and, to a lesser degree, Finch. Their development provides the core of this film's message -- one of the ideas Peter Travers alludes to in his Rolling Stone review: that it is better to die free and fearless than to live in bondage, in a constant state of terror.
Back at The New Yorker, David Denby wants us to realize that he knows a thing or two about history:
It may be relevant to point out, for instance, that Guy Fawkes, who is at the emotional center of the movie as well as the graphic novel, was no liberator but a Catholic dissident who, in 1605, wanted to destroy the Prostestant aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords and killing King James I. . . . If Guy Fawkes has become a sympathetic character, it's his failure--his incompetence as a mass murderer--that has made him so.
Symbols need not be chosen with an obsessive eye for detail. Fawkes hated his government and wanted to see it change. What's so hard to understand about that? Denby also has a problem with the fact that V wants to blow up Parliament:
It's true that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but, by sticking to the blowing-up-Parliament template, the Wachowskis have stumbled into celebrating an attack against an icon of liberal democracy.
Maybe so, but V makes an interesting point early in the movie. After he hijacks the country's only TV network, he speaks to the British populace. I don't have the screenplay, so I'll have to pinch this from the graphic novel. If I remember correctly, the same essential message came across:
In fact, let us not mince words . . . the management is terrible! We've had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact. But who elected them?
It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you!
Maybe Parliament is "an icon of liberal democracy," but in the world of V, it has also come to symbolize a body of representatives who have bent over for a dictator, and have abdicated their responsibility to their constituents; it has also come to symbolize the flaccid will of the people who let themselves become sheep.
And that, my friends, is another one of V for Vendetta's simple yet oh-so-big ideas. It's not enough to topple a corrupt government. The people themselves must change.
Must grow a spine.
Must stand up and be counted.
Must put aside their fear.
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