Today we went to Haight Street for lunch, and no matter how many times I go up there I’m still struck with how ridiculous the whole place is. It’s as if all the hypocrisy of San Francisco is laid bare — the “summer of love,” rampant commercialism, poverty, empty promises of “counter-culture,” the head shops with signs warning you that you’ll be ejected for saying “bong” or “weed.” I was making a joke that we should go into the Anarchist Collective Bookstore and ask for a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Mac went one better and suggested we ask for The Rules.
All the “free love” and “anarchy” and “counter-culture” stuff doesn’t even seem offensively hypocritical anymore; it’s just laughably quaint. So maybe it’s true that “there are no coincidences,” like V says in the movie, because on the same day we went to see V For Vendetta.
Not to say that the movie is quaint or laughable or as empty and meaningless as Haight Street — it’s really excellent. Very well done in presentation, emotion, and intellect. (And it kind of pains me to say that, considering how much I dislike The Matrix and was ready to hate this movie). It does a remarkable job of updating the comic book, working as a big-budget action/thriller movie, and making a statement. In fact, it’s causing me to re-think some of the political opinions I’ve formed over the last decade, formed out of either apathy or the sense that it’s “not my problem.” Balk at changing political opinions based on a big Hollywood comic-book movie all you want; I think that as long as the message gets out, that can’t be a bad thing.
But it’s not perfect, and that’s where the Haight St. connotations come in. Like I said, the movie does a great job of updating the source material, but that’s really the source of my two biggest problems with it. The original comic book (which I haven’t read in 15 years, so my memories of it are vague at best) was very much a product of England under Margaret Thatcher. The movie holds on to too much of that, which is my first biggest problem with it.
My second biggest problem with it is that the movie is very much a product of the US under George W. Bush. While the relevance of the movie couldn’t be more clear (which is a good thing), it also means that it saps any sense of timelessness out of it. It’s going to be dated soon, and it’s already too-easily dismissible. The original comic you can dismiss as a muddled, reactionary bit of propagandizing by a pompous-but-empty old-fashioned anarchist. In attempting to be faithful to the source, the movie keeps all the faults at the core of the original.
The movie’s attempts to update the source, you can dismiss as typical homo-loving liberal anti-Bush sentiment. Fox News already does that, in a positive “review” that still manages to miss the point and obsess on the Wachowski’s personal scandals. As do other imbeciles who can’t get past teh ghey, and blowhards who want to pat themselves on the back for being above pop cinema. The movie does pave the way for that kind of criticism, and that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because there’s a message in there that’s valuable and, yeah, I’ll say it: profound. It’s about the power of people to overcome fear, and fear disguised as apathy, to truly affect change. It says that the core of a person is stronger than any weapon, any government, any political agenda.
Unfortunately, the movie has the baggage of a ton of other mixed messages, each one inviting it to be dismissed as totally irrelevant. In the same breath it talks about the strength and power of a person, it glorifies violence against people and has plenty of scenes in which the ends justify the means. As it says that ideas live longer than people, it also says that ideas are more important than people.
As it shows how easily a government can abuse its people by using fear (which is, of course, extremely relevant to the US under the Department of Homeland Security), it holds on to that most asinine of conspiracy theories: that AIDS was manufactured by the government for societal control. It also takes the predictable and too-easy route of showing the bad guy as a blatantly Hitler-like leader, instead of more realistically showing how a totalitarian government would be likely to come into control these days.
In its efforts to show the horrors of a totalitarian regime that stifles any dissent and racial impurity, it focuses pretty much solely on how it affects homosexuals. There’s mention of outlawing the Koran and expelling muslims (and we see a comically stereotypical Arab villain in the background of a TV show), but the only people that we see affected are a gay man and a lesbian. While it would be chilling in real life to see a world (especially London) where everyone is white, this is a Hollywood movie, so it barely registers as unusual.
And one of the main plot points held over from the comic book, concerning Evey’s imprisonment (which is a spoiler so I won’t describe it more detail), is typical Alan Moore nonsense. Characters in Moore’s stories exist only to drive his plots; outrageous things happen to them for the sake of The Message, and they react not as humans would react, but as The Creator Dictates. I’ve seen plenty of analyses/defenses of V for Vendetta (the comic) which describe the layers of meaning in it, but I think it’s banging the reader over the head and coercing the plot to make the point. And the point’s an indefensible one (again, that the ends justify the means).
Still, even with all of that, there’s a solid movie there. Just about every big dramatic moment worked for me, from the first explosion to the Hollywoodized-but-still-genuinely-moving finale. Even the comedy works. It just remains to be seen whether fifteen years from now, the movie’s seen as a quaint relic of 2006 America.