Joseph Campbell said that society is mutating so rapidly, our artists can’t develop any myths. How, then, to account for Batman? And now, how to account for "V"? The film V For Vendetta is based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. They created their protagonist, called "V," from a witches’ brew of Faust, the Count of Monte Christo, the Phantom of the Opera, and Zorro, but with a political conscience that feels fresh. He is an insurgent in a black cloak, sporting a wicked set of throwing knives, and wearing the white plastic grin of a Guy Fawkes mask. The actor playing him is Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith from the Matrix movies. We never once see his face without the mask; but his magician’s voice and careful poses suggest a compelling character.
"V" lives beneath the streets of London in a lair he calls "The Shadow Gallery," filled with thousands of works of literature, painting, and music. All that art has been blacklisted by the fascist government, headed by John Hurt’s Supreme Chancellor as a bellowing demagogue usually seen on a thirty-foot television screen. In this near-future world, America, we learn, over-reached with foreign wars, and collapsed. A vicious plague crippled London, killing nearly 100,000 people. The fascists rose to power on a wave of hysteria, with the promise of order and safety. Now, the people live under curfew and constant surveillance, sedated by censored media that fabricates the news, hemmed in by posters and monitors that shout: "All of this is for your protection."
"V" rescues a young woman, Evey (Natalie Portman) from an attempted rape by the secret police. She watches from the rooftops as "V" blows up a government building to the 1812 Overture. Evey is now a marked woman, and "V", her only protection. In the Shadow Gallery, his longing for beauty and her fear of the beast take a surprising turn into darkness, then back into light.
Because he wasn’t consulted on the script, Alan Moore removed his name from the credits. That was silly; the Wachowski Brothers, who wrote and directed the Matrix movies, wrote an interesting fable that builds steadily to a satisfying conclusion. If anything, they should have been less faithful, and dropped the fuzzy sub-plot involving a coup. As producers, they made one near-fatal choice: they swapped roles with James McTeigue, their second unit director on the Matrix movies. McTeigue has no idea where to put the camera, resorting to close up most of the time, and he can’t conjure a believable future.
Still, V for Vendetta is a nicely subversive broadside against Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Patriot Act. Its most pungent line of dialogue is that freedom isn’t stolen from above; we give it away because we are afraid, or we aren’t paying attention, or we have never learned what privacy and free speech are worth. Consider that we can say, on film and on the radio, that George W. Bush is the worst president in American history, without a black bag going over our heads.
V for Vendetta is playing at Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WTIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.