Monday, 18 January 2010

V for Vendetta (2005)


V for Vendetta is an efficient, exciting, and often spectacular slice of doom laden dystopia. It is only nominally science-fiction, offering as it does an alternative but instantly recognisable parallel society to our own. It works chiefly within the conventions and rules of the comic book/graphic novel form, which itself is now a sub-generic category of its own. The majority of these adaptations however rely primarily on the tropes of science-fiction. The chief trope in this example being its allegorical underpinnings. The graphic novel holds far greater potential for creativity than its comic book brethren. There is far greater scope for characterisation and the sort of attention to detail that is often skated over in the ongoing adventures of a comic book character. They do not rely on prior knowledge of plot and character, and are far more accessible to those beyond the fan community. The result is a form which has a greater opportunity to address cultural anxieties in a more thoughtful and intelligent manner.

Perhaps it is the intelligence of V for Vendetta that has led to its critical marginalisation and the general ignorance of the fan community. The film creates a very satisfying narrative world within which to explore resonant socio/political themes and rather bravely opts for spectacle as a secondary strategy. The manner in which it wears its influences proudly is endearing rather than overly post-modern or self-conscious. The obvious model here is George Orwell’s 1984. A novel that forecasted the fate of the world if it followed the logistics of a fascist regime. Orwell used allegory in a devastating and propagandist fashion (see also Animal Farm) and whilst this might have limited the novels literary ambitions, the message is stark and terrifying. V for Vendetta pretty much works through the themes of Orwell’s text, but reboot’s them for the post 9/11 age of terror.

V for Vendetta visualises a future British society asphyxiating beneath the yolk of surveillance culture, and the subversion of the media as a device to circulate myths in order to propagate a political ideology. It also raises the questions of how far those in the political sphere are willing to go to achieve their aims. The politician in this case is represented by the looming ‘Big Brother’ face of John Hurt. He makes aggressive threats and claims on massive television screens, before being reduced to a blubbering mess when faced with his imminent demise. Hurt plays a Hitler like figure who is willing to exterminate 100,000 people in order to engineer a social change that will his ideology to reach fruition. He is surrounded by fearful doubters, ambitious sadists and grovelling sycophants. V for Vendetta is quite firm in its view of the political class.

The subversive nature of the film is further expanded by a highly theatrical, cultured and intellectual mask wearing protagonist, who just also happens to be a terrorist. What separates V from political terrorists is his need for personal vengeance. In some ways this makes his goals more palatable and acceptable. The character is brought to life by the silken tones of Hugo Weaving, and he is rather wasted amongst the dreary performances that populate the rest of the film (Stephen Fry and John Hurt excluded). Natalie Portman is the token American lead and romantic interest, she has a very dodgy accent and spends half the film looking like a concentration camp victim. The chain of narrative events and motivations that lead her to this state is one of the few flaws in the film. The film is stylistically cohesive with a more subtle approach to CGI than most summer blockbusters. The fate of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament become iconic cinematic sequences which shows that in the right hands CGI can be particularly effective. The film also works well as a straightforward action vehicle, given it a durability that should aid its lasting appeal. This is a paradoxical film that is both highly conventional and subversive, and whilst it does feel like 1984 with lots of special effects, it avoids mere pastiche through an intriguing and enigmatic central character whom a franchise could easily have been built around, if he’d been able to escape his tragic fate.

© Shaun Anderson 2010

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