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V for Vastly Overrated

I saw V for Vendetta last week, and I went in prepared for the anti-Christian boilerplate that passed for one of its main lines of its political criticism, hoping that there would be something to make it worthwhile and worthy of recommendation. The anti-Christian nonsense was all there as expected: the fascistic Chancellor is made into a super-religious Tory, which is probably a contradiction in terms; the symbol of the regime represents nothing so much as a Russian Orthodox cross; we are made to believe that there is a lascivious bishop Conservative Party member closely involved in the goings-on of the regime, which is plainly absurd: bishops in the Church of England nowadays are about as likely to be sympathetic to the Tories as Gordon Brown, and perhaps less so, so we can only imagine how much more implausible it will be in 15 more years (the film is set in 2020, I believe).

Given some of the more hostile reviews I had seen I was pleasantly surprised by how much better the film was on the whole than I anticipated. However, this is not to give it an endorsement. Ross Douthat's review might be a bit too harsh, but not by much. It came nowhere close to the amazing and wonder-inducing movie that James Wolcott dreamt up or the amazing cinematic accomplishment imagined by Butler Shaffer at LRC Blog. Few people are calling this "one of the best films" they have seen, as Mr. Shaffer did, but then maybe Mr. Shaffer does not see many films.

A good movie should be like a good meal in a restaurant. The flavour of the food, the ambience and the service should all come together in well timed coordination and balance. You shouldn't have to brace yourself for some very watery soup or force yourself to ignore the blaring music coming in from the bar. Enjoying a film should not resemble an exercise in cultivating great depths of patience and longsuffering as you slog through scene after scene of the implausible and the simply ridiculous. Unfortunately, the Brothers Wachowski have evidently both mangled their original material and managed to import plot points so, well, pointless that someone who would have really liked this to be more interesting and well done is left struggling to see its virtues once the initial enthusiasm has dissipated.

Instead of V (Hugo Weaving) quoting Shakespeare and wielding knives to deadly effect, which are the few really bright and interesting spots in the film (without Weaving's presence, the film would be anemic), we are treated to scene after scene of the transformation of young Evey (Natalie Portman) into radical opponent of the regime and the terrible oppression of Muslims and homosexuals that followed upon the nebulous "Reclamation." Oh, yes, and something about state-sponsored bioterror, which was probably the most plausible element of the story. That the original writer of the "graphic novel" has dubbed the entire project "rubbish" should tell us all we need to know about all of this. To their credit, Portman, Weaving and Stephen Fry (playing the persecuted homosexual TV show host) all deliver fine performances, and I am even more puzzled why several reviewers gave Portman poor marks for her acting here. But they cannot save a film that was already expiring in the first hour.

The Wachowskis have made tremendous amounts of money off of the one idea they have ever had: fight the system. But they seem to have no clear idea why the system should be fought (except to make the world safe for Qur'an appreciation hour and homosexuality), or who is actually in control of it. Besides, predicting a super-religious reign of terror in the Britain of the early 21st century is about as far wrong as you can go.

Furthermore, they have revealed their hand in this movie: "Artists tell lies to reveal the truth, and politicians tell them to cover it up." These are the supposedly profound words of Evey's dead father, a political activist and victim of the new regime, whose maxim V applies quite frequently, including against Evey herself. The Wachowskis have told us that they are lying to us, but because they are doing the lying for our edification it is supposedly all to the good. They are reviving a curious form ofthe Noble Lie, which some impute with great enthusiasm to the neocons, whose lookalikes are the pillars of the regime in Vendetta (here Ben Miles gives a decent performance as minister for propaganda). But there are no noble lies. Guy Fawkes' descendants, if he had had any, ought to sue the producers/screenwriters for character defamation.

Daniel Larison | March 26, 2006



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