A few weeks ago, the British House of Commons passed a law banning the “glorification” of terrorism. This proposal is viewed as frighteningly broad, as the word “glorification” could have many interpretations and definitions. Obviously, this lack of clarity brings with it the potential for tremendous abuse of authority.
The timing of this measure is grimly ironic given the impending release of V FOR VENDETTA, an incendiary film that passionately renounces such lawmaking, and constantly reminds us that the obliteration of freedom – both personal and broad – tends to start in simple, subtle, and apparently well-intended ways.
At its heart, V is not a terribly complicated story. It’s the journey of three characters. One towards vengeance, one towards awakening, as the third tries to understand the slipstream of destruction left in their wake – ultimately finding himself enlightened by the journeys of the other two. Save for a few twists and turns (which aren’t particularly twisty or turny), VENDETTA’s plot is so simple that it hardly merits regurgitation:
In a totalitarian Britain, where asking questions equals dissent & citizenry/press know that their government has over-consolidated its power, an “every person” (Natalie Portman’s Evey) chances into a firestorm of dissidence unleashed by a man called “V” (voiced and performed by Hugo Weaving, although he is never seen.) Evey’s eyes are slowly opened to the truth about, and the dangers of, power. How easily it can be attained, and how fully it can misused. More importantly, she learns that the most potent word that can ever be spoken by anyone, anywhere, is a simple word with only two letters: “No.”
The movie is almost ridiculous in its simplistic structure. But “structure” isn’t what V FOR VENDETTA is about. It’s about essence, and meaning. V is very much an allegory for human events: The Nazis of yesterday, the insidious dangers facing our world today, and what our failure to recognize such patterns means for the world of tomorrow. Notions like the United States’ Patriot Act, Britain’s increased video surveillance of motorized traffic, America’s pre-knowledge of (and possible inaction towards) 9/11, and the movement to dilute the legal sanctity of homosexual relationships are all pointedly evoked. More subtle, but equally dangerous, trends are also touched upon (“If you’re not for the war in Iraq, then you don’t love our country!”); their dangers are vividly (and viscerally) illustrated here.
This is a far from perfect film. The pacing in its final quarter feels decidedly less urgent than the material that came before it, and the movie leaves are about ten jillion questions unanswered – some of which are better left unanswered. Despite such quirky shortcomings, V FOR VENDETTA is a frequently potent, consistently stirring product whose greatest impact rises not from the story it’s actually telling, but in its relationship to the world we live in. In the reality the filmmakers urge us to create, their movie would probably never exist – because it would not need to exist. If only we were there, and if only that were so.
But in the here and now, V is a constantly chilling and sometimes humbling wake-up call. A rather brilliantly considered one at that: It’s certainly possible to argue the artistic merits of the film. But if one argues what the film is saying, then we effectively becoming one of the very people the film is warning us against…much like the dynamic forcibly created by V himself.
It’s challenging to accept that the ideas worth dying for are not always the ideas our governments tell us are worth dying for. It’s even more uncomfortable to swallow the notion that we, as a populous, are responsible for the actions of our government simply because we put The Powers That Be in office. “If you want to see who is responsible…” intones V, “Look no further than a mirror.”
After the movie, I looked in the mirror. I’m not sure I liked the person I saw – as a citizen, or as a father. This being said, my twelve year old understood this movie. He felt it. He got it.
Maybe I didn’t do such a bad job after all. Maybe there’s hope for us yet…
Merrick thinks this movie would be really cool in IMAX!