V for Vendetta
Some reviews after the US release of V for Vendetta accused the Wachowskis of making the movie in present circumstances. Accordingly, a film apologetic to violence as a means to achieve good, and along with terrorism, a pathway to sociopolitical revolution, would be “dangerous.” There is nothing subversive in V for Vendetta, however, quite the opposite. Every consideration of these issues is conventional and unsubtle, except for a few touches here and there (at least they decided to keep London as the setting). There is no question that it is an ambitious movie: it is based on a comic by none other than Alan Moore. Perhaps the problem was indeed in adaptation, or even giving credit to it, Larry and Andy Wachowski sign as “The Wachowski Brothers,” which sounds to me the same as “Blues Brothers.”
I won’t defend Moore and bash the Wachowskis based solely on their resumes, and simply say that what is good about the movie is due to Moore’s “original” vision, simply because at the time of this review I haven’t read the comic (or graphic novel if you will). I don’t know who had the idea of having V as a superhero, but it only serves to justify fight scenes. Actually, it connects it to the comic book tradition, since V is a kind of reactionary Batman, looking for revenge not only by his own hands, but by the hands of the people. The sequence introducing his is pure Batman, where V saves Evey (Natalie Portman) in a dark alley, as well as pretty much all the action scenes. Whereas Batman dresses like a figure of his subconscious, V wears Guy Fawkes masks, a figure of the historical (sub)consciousness of the nation. It is against the development of these ideas, such as Guy Fawkes, historical amnesia (people must know the past to understand the present, etc) that the cliches start to take over, such as the government official sympathizer (mainly because he dislikes his boss) and serves to expose most of the backstory, always with absurd dialogues and monolgues. There are also the infamous torture scenes, for which Natalie Portman had to shave her head, Ripley-style, and a subplot that despite its corniness, it’s very effective.
The Wachowski’s conception lacks vision. A few scenes, such as the opening, origin flashback, and the ending sequences with the emblematic domino and revolution, are definitely on the right track. But those are exceptions. Most of the movie is conventional and even banal in terms of production, editing and mise-en-scene. The Wachowski’s legacy is very well referenced with the V-version of the bullet-time effect from Matrix: “knife-time,” managing to drain all the life out of a good action sequence.
If the critics are right to accuse the movie of being “dangerous” at all, is because it doesn’t portray V and his cause with any sense of irony or detachment. V proposes the destruction of a dictatorial system (that censors everything from mega-subversive Renaissance paintings [!] to butterflies, but movies such as The Count of Monte Cristo shows often on TV) that rose to power fighting terrorism. Almost nobody questions the position of the Chancellor (John Hurt), and those that do, do it by having secret chambers in their apartments with paintings, books, and movie posters. The only sign this society has indeed lost touch with its culture and expressiveness is that the people watch TV all the time. More educated citizens quote Shakespeare every so often, quotes passed down from father to son. It is hard to conceive that V’s final plan, as ingenious as it might be, would work. There is a great gap between the stupor of the people in the beginning to the proactiveness of the ending. Evey’s transformation is plausible and done as to mirror social change, but it’s more justified and fulfills other dramatic purposes. The government uses violence and the media to create fear and paralysis, and whereas V uses the same methods to instill chaos and revolution, he does not offer any solution or a better paradigm. What’s next?
The movie begins and ends with Evey’s voiceover on a blank screen, remembering V and how he changed her life and her world. If this is an avoidance to show the consequences of the revolution, and the voiceover, ironic in its ingenuity, there’s hope. But maybe that would be too good to be true, and incongruous to the rest of the movie. But most of all, too smart for the Wachowskis.