Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sci-Fi Summer #2: V For Vendetta (2005)

The pop dystopia of V For Vendetta builds and builds until is exhausts itself into a hollow spectacle. Based on the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore that was written as a response to the reactionary Thatcher regime of the 1980s. The film version came out of the post-9/11 era and there are numerous references to the rhetoric of Cheney/Bush. Never boring and full of imaginative imagery, V For Vendetta feels like Orwell's greatest hits filmed as a big budget MTV video.

The influence of Orwell's 1984 almost overwhelms the source material in this adaptation of V For Vendetta. John Hurt, who starred in a previous film adaptation of 1984 as Winston Smith, plays a Big Brother type leader who rules futuristic England with an iron fist. We learn the world has fallen into chaos and Great Britain's been ravaged by plagues and political violence. The regime is extremely conservative and targets anyone who challenges traditional values. One of the strongest sequences follows a female couple who were forced into a concentration camp for being open with their sexuality. The film does deliver a potent depiction of what a modern Fascist state might look like.

The story begins with Evey (Natalie Portman) accosted by two members of the secret police until she is rescued by the mysterious V (Hugo Weaving). V then proceeds to blare the "1812 overture" over loudspeakers and blows up the "Old Bailey" (criminal justice building) in London. He lives underground and listens to his jukebox and spends hours reading literature. Charismatic and gentlemanly, he forms a beauty and the beast type relationship with Evey. Portman and Weaving both deliver strong performances, especially Weaving who is masked for the entire film.

The film remains aloof to what exactly V wants to accomplish. Is he an anarchist? A prophet? An agent of Satan? An agent of God? V appears to see himself as a catalyst for liberation from tyranny. Questions of terrorism are raised. Does an evil and repressive ruling class deserve a violent overthrow? When does a system get so corroded to the point where a revolution is necessity? Now that we are closer to this scenario in 2019 as opposed to 2005 the film remains relevant and unsettling as reactionary forces are now having their way in the West. V For Vendetta never provides a satisfactory answer to these questions, but does ignite a cinematic scream into the abyss. 

*** out of 4

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