Sunday, February 26, 2006

8. V for Vendetta

by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd

I hate being the kind of person that reads a book just because a movie is coming out, but Alan Moore’s oeuvre has been on my reading list for months now and, not wanting this movie to influence my interpretation of the book, I had to rush out and read V for Vendetta right away. Because those previews look awesome and there’s no way I’m not going to see the movie.

Simply put, V for Vendetta is an amazing story. Set in a post-World-War-Three-esque London, English citizens keep on the straight and narrow by obeying Fate – a governmental system comprised of the Finger and the Eyes, among other body parts, and, most importantly, the Voice. It’s through the Voice of Fate that regular public addresses are given and signs proclaiming “Strength through Purity, Purity through Faith” adorn the city’s walls. Starting with a literal big bang, a vigilante blows up the Houses of Parliament, creating unrest in an otherwise controlled population. This is where we first meet the character known only as “V.” In a black cloak, gloves, conical hat, and perpetually smiling Guy Fawkes mask, V is the charismatic antihero leading a single-handed revolt against the extreme conservatism. Evey is the young girl at his side through which we learn of V’s history and madness.

Two great literary forebears are readily apparent in this story. Like the movie Equilibrium, I immediately thought of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 when introduced to the controlling government and the absence of what we recognize as culture. The scene in which V first brings Evey to the Shadow Gallery and reveals the classic texts lining his walls and plays music that is foreign to the girl’s ears descended straight from similar scenes in these other books. But unlike Equilibrium, which offered nothing original to these ideas, Alan Moore does them justice by creating an engaging back-story that, though written in the 80s and set in the 90s, remains relevant today. Under conservative rule, all the disaffected citizens, i.e. the blacks, the gays, the non-Protestant, etc., are rounded up and sent to resettlement camps. A number of these prisoners were subjected to an experiment, receiving doses of a chemical that drove all of them to ruin, save for the one man locked in room Roman Numeral Five. The experimental drug made the man stronger and more intelligent and, seemingly, insane, resulting in the present-day V. He’s not just out for revenge, but for complete revolution. The idea seems completely fictional, but when you take a look at history – the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, racial profiling, the present ban against gay marriage – it’s frightening to realize that Moore’s apocalyptic tale isn’t so far from the truth after all.

I have to say that the whole Guy Fawkes thing went completely over my head and it wasn’t until I read the short behind-the-scenes passage toward the end of the book that I realized the mask represented anything in particular. That’s the problem with being so American, which was something I recently discussed with a friend. He commented that in the movie previews the signs say “Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith,” which I think has to do with making it slightly more Americanized and taking away the religious tone of “Purity.” But we can’t be expected to know who Guy Fawkes is, can we? Do the British know about Memorial Day or Thanksgiving? Is my ignorance, in this respect, okay?

The one part of the story that I didn’t particularly like was Evey herself. I’m glad that Natalie Portman is playing the character in the movie because she’ll lend her a maturity and sophistication that’s absent in the book. I know that Evey’s only about sixteen, but with what she’s gone through – loss of parents, near enslavement, poverty – you’d think she’d have grown up a little bit. Instead she acts like a whiny girl through most of her time with V. Maybe that’s just my reading of her, but I would roll my eyes when she would continuously ask V to reveal his master plan and I cringed when she asked him if he didn’t want to sleep with her. I can understand Evey falling in love with V, with his intelligence and ambition and mysteriousness, hell I even have a little crush on him, but being solely concerned with his sexual attraction to her seemed really juvenile. I have faith that Natalie Portman will make the attraction more about his ideals than her body and I’m glad that the directors didn’t pick a more typical young starlet who wouldn’t have been able to do this role justice. Scarlett Johansson would have also been a good pick.

I’m really excited to see this movie because A) the action sequences look fabulous, and B) we haven’t had a good anti-totalitarianism, anti-fascism, culturally relevant movie in some time. Moore creatively honored his literary predecessors in this book; let’s hope the movie can do the same thing.


Blogger Jim said...

Moore is brilliant. I haven't seen the previews. I'm glad to hear that it sounds pretty true to the spirit of the book, unlike the hackjob of a movie that was From Hell.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Janice said...

I've seen previews for the movie,it looks pretty good :-)I would like to read the book now too

From Hell was alright but I haven't read the book.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Well, From Hell did have Heather Graham in it. That never bodes well. I definitely want to read the comic, though.

2:10 PM  

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