Saturday, March 18, 2006I've always loved the V for Vendetta comic book series, and I was extremely excited when I learned about the movie - so excited that I sprung for IMAX tickets on opening night. And while the work lost something in translation - as is almost inevitable - I still enjoyed the film a great deal.
Which is why I was so surprised at the harsh criticism the film received from the NYT and Washington Post movie reviewers (as usual the Onion was closer to the mark). They though the film was boring, unoriginal, typical big-budget action/adolescent power fantasy fare. Yes of course there are flaws in the movie - that some of the dialogue was overwritten and that there were some annoying hollywood flourishes. But on the whole I believe that the film remained true to the spirit of the original.
One thing should be clear to anyone who really watches the movie: it is most decidedly NOT about teenage rebellion. And it's only partially about resistance to oppression. The emotional core of the movie lies in the reading of the "Valerie" letter, where Evey Hammond (Portman) realizes the importance of personal integrity. The criticism of V's cartoonish inhumanity are wildly off base. He is supposed to be inhuman, because he is personifying an ideal - the movie goes astray when they make V too human, not too abstract.
And the political message, while superficially attacking tyrannical governments, is in reality directed at the citizenry themselves. When V assigns blame, he does not place it with the leaders, but with the people who gave them the power. Like Evey, they had let fear get the best of them. V's task both for Evey and for his countrymen is to teach them that fear need not control their lives - and that if it does, it is no one's fault but their own. It is the this refusal to let people off the hook, either for their own personal fear or for their collective irresposibility, that makes the ending of the film so powerful - superior, I believe, to the comic version.
V is an ode to popular rule and personal responsibility, to the idea that as individuals and societies we are are ultimately responsble for our own destiny. It's the stoic insight that while we may not be able to control the events in our lives, we are entirely free to choose how to respond to those events. There is only an inch between what happens to us and what we choose to do, but "within that inch, we are free."