Saturday, April 01, 2006

V vs V

When I heard about the production of a cinematic rendition of Alan Moore's classic graphic novel, V For Vendetta, I knew that I would have to read the book before I saw the film. Such a compulsion is in my disposition. After I read the graphic novel, I found myself wondering how exactly they could translate it into a movie, as it was so very complete, so very literary. I was certain that something would be lost in translation. Finally, tonight, I got around to viewing the film V For Vendetta, adapted to the screen by the Wachowski brothers. Ordinarily, when writing up a movie, I treat it as a typical review, focusing on the cinematics, the acting, on who was who and how did they do. For that bit of this particular piece, I will spare this much text: The movie was excellent. Go see it, but don't bring your kids. Someone brought their kids tonight, and the poor children simply didn't get it.

Instead of focusing my attention on the movie, I will focus on the story, by making comparison between the film and the graphic novel, which you should read, but again, your children, or less intelligent relatives should not. I will also warn you right now, in bold print, so I can't be held accountable if you don't read it: This piece will contain spoilers. I intend to analyse the story, and I can't do that without talking about what happens.

Of course, the main focus of the movie posters and comic book covers is the title character, the mysterious V. But the character truly central to the story is Evey, as she is very much our guide in V's world. The closest we can get to it is by living through her, and this makes her the most important character in the story. She is us, for the time we are reading or watching. In the comic, she is a sixteen year old girl whose life and experiences have left her wanting in the childhood department, so over the course of her time in V's shadow gallery, she appears to relive her childhood, perhaps even regressing somewhat to a younger version of herself. In all, she spends more than half of the book looking very young and naive. In the movie, she was portrayed by Natalie Portman, who is most definitely not sixteen, nor really the seventeen they indirectly claimed Evey to be near the beginning. She doesn't play the character as young at heart either, giving us a much more jaded Evey, who still carries that little girl's fear with her, though she buries it beneath the false face of adulthood. Over the course of both the book and the movie, Evey's demeanour is assaulted, the childlike/adult exterior chipped away until first there is only her fear, then anger, and finally conviction. After this point, the movie steps away from Evey, while the book keeps her in V's world, and allows us an insight into her new perspective. The primary difference between the graphic novel and the film is the end. In the film, we see Evey complete V's work, but remain outside of it, still something of a spectator, with a minimal influence. In the book, she quite literally takes up V's mantle, and her evolution is completed when she replaces her guardian and mentor, and becomes something other than herself. She replaces the frail flesh of a human being with the immutability of an idea. In the end, the story is as much about Evey's identity as it is about V's crusade.

England itself is a character in this story, presented by two faces: the face of the people, and the face of the government. In V's England, the balance of power has shifted to a new totalitarian regime. In the book, this regime is personified directly, its parts referred to anatomically as The Eye, in charge of video surveillance of the people, The Ear as the wiretapping and eavesdropping division, The Nose as the investigative department, The Voice as the center of propaganda, The Finger as the often brutal police force, and The Head as the controlling center of it all. In the movie, this distinction is barely alluded to, though the characters who represent those departments are still present and accounted for, and they still play their roles appropriately. In the novel, we spend much of our time watching this government, which has held power through fear and absolute control of information, begin to buckle under the strain brought on by V's terrorism. The more V does, the less they can cover up, and the less they are in control. The same rings true for the movie, but the book, with the attention to detail often possible only in literature, allows us to watch the deterioration of every individual aspect up close and personal. By the same token, we are privileged to watch the metamorphosis of the people of England, as the power of the government's tyranny slowly wanes. In both movie and book, we get to watch a people cowed by the status quo become strengthened by the demand for change, and a cry for individual accountability. One might think the obvious moral would be one of individuality. In my own opinion, both the book and the movie make the point, by their imagery, that anarchy is uniform. V makes the point that anarchy arises once chaos has run its course, and that it is not the lack of order, it is the lack of leadership. Anarchy, V says, is voluntary order. That is to say, the people will fall into their own rank and file, a natural order that is still uniform. In the book, the uniformity that is as inherent to revolution as it is to regime is only alluded to in the background imagery, of the people all standing agape, the same expression, the same colour washing over them, and likely, the same thought in their heads. In the movie, they take this image one step farther, and give all the people the face of V.

And so finally, we settle on the title role. V, the terrorist, the revolutionary. The hero or the monster. His treatment in both graphic novel and in film is masterful, but for one discrepancy. At the beginning of the movie, they make reference to the difference between a man and an idea. That a man can be broken, discredited and destroyed, while an idea, even in the form of a man, is immaculate and immortal. V is presented throughout as the idea. He is not the revolutionary, he is the revolution, and is, as such, untouchable. But in the movie, they put a crack in the facade. The relationship between V and Evey is an important one, and is a very deep bond. It could be said that Evey's relationship with V is representative of every relationship she has ever had, and as such the bond is intense. But in the movie they take it one step in the wrong direction, when they attempt to turn that bond into a romance. Suddenly, V has a weakness, and it shows. Not to his enemies, who do not know him. Nor does it show to the people, who see only what he shows them. The vulnerability of the man behind the mask becomes plain to us, the viewer, the spectator in this grand game. With one kiss, one broken mirror, and one brief conversation, the illusion is fractured. V is powerful, V is confident, V is brilliant and unrelenting. But now, V is mortal, and this mortality is shown to us mere moments before his death. In both the book and the movie, he knows death is coming for him, and he goes to meet it readily, on his own terms. But in the book, he leaves behind the shape of his idea, which manifests itself in another being, prepared, instinctively, to take his place. In the movie, he leaves behind a corpse, and the idea is spread to the wind like ashes, settling itself on all of England, and implanting itself in the people.

Concluding from all points above, the difference between the movie V For Vendetta and the graphic novel on which it is based is most clearly summed up in the ending. In one, the face of the revolution is passed on to an heir, and V continues to walk as a solitary figure at the head of a revolution. In the other, as the man who carried the idea died, the idea itself chose all of London as its face, and the revolution became the property and responsibility of the people, who were now meant to lead themselves. Which of the two interpretations is the more valid is a subject open to lengthy discussion.

Finally, there is one lesson that is carried by the story, in both media, that should not be forgotten by everyone: Do not forget fear, and do not succumb to it. Out of fear, the people of England gave up their liberties in favor of security, and they found that the fear did not go away. Out of fear, Evey retreated from the world, only to find the fear was still there when she finally stepped back outside. Only when she was forced to go beyond fear, to face it and escape its cycle did Evey learn the meaning of strength, and freedom. And only when the people of London stood up against those who held them in the grip of fear did they understand the strength of themselves, and the freedom of the revolution.

Courage, idealism and truth are the key figures of freedom. That, by my opinion, is the message being delivered by V For Vendetta. We must conquer our fear, embrace an idea and fight for the truth. I will leave you with the words V gave to Evey: Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici. By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.

Conquer fear, conquer silence. Conquer the universe: Live the idea. Be the revolution.

No comments: