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V for Vendetta

Movies | You know the film has gone far astray when writer Alan Moore, a self-confessed anarchist, criticizes the film's politics

Issue: "History speaks," April 1, 2006

In Alan Moore's graphic novel, V for Vendetta, the Guy Fawkes--masked protagonist is introduced in a section titled, "The Villain." In the big-screen adaptation of Mr. Moore's work, no such moral ambiguity exists. Originally conceived as an extreme, anarchistic response to an extreme, fascist government in the near future, V for Vendetta has been translated, with a terrorist hero at its center, into a vicious, thinly veiled attack on American conservatives and Christians.

Said hero in V for Vendetta (rated R for strong violence and some language) acts on this premise: "Blowing up a building can change the world." V, as he's known, is a lone outsider hidden behind an impassive mask in a not-too-distant future London. The United States has disintegrated and England is under the dictatorial rule of a conservative and religious madman. Nazi symbolism abounds, but unmistakable reference points suggest a deeply distorted 21st-century America more than 20th-century Germany.

Political prisoners are whisked away with black bags slung over their heads. Homosexuals and Muslims are persecuted or killed-it's illegal to own the Quran or express romantic interest in a same-sex partner. The government spies on its citizens and wholly owns and controls the media. "The Church" is in league with the corrupt government and is full of hypocrites and pedophiles. Etc., etc.

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V (played by Hugo Weaving, although the actor's face is never seen on screen) makes his first strike on Guy Fawkes Day by blowing up London's Old Bailey. It's an unannounced attack that most certainly would have taken a heavy toll in civilian casualties, but the film avoids depicting any "innocent" deaths resulting from one of V's terrorist acts. After commandeering the state-run television network, V makes a promise and a plea: One year later to the day, V will blow up Parliament (it was at this task that the historical Guy Fawkes failed), and he urges the citizenry to be there for the show.

A reluctant witness to this first attack is the young Evey (Natalie Portman), a television network employee who is unwittingly implicated with V. She becomes an even more reluctant disciple and partner in crime to V, and, for a time, acts as a voice of reason and moral conscience in the film.

But after a brutal imprisonment and torture sequence (and heart-to-hearts with two kindly homosexuals) Evey is on board with V's terrorist vendetta. By the end of the film, Evey has planted a kiss on V's plastic lips and sent his peacefully arranged dead body on an Underground train full of explosives rolling toward Parliament.

So, in another divergence from the film's source material, the audience is treated to the sight of Britain's ancient Parliament building exploding to the triumphant strains of the 1812 Overture, as thousands of Guy Fawkes look-alikes stand in solidarity before the apparently bloodless attack.

Normally, a critic should and would balk at describing the ending of a film so explicitly, but it's important to understand just how vile V for Vendetta truly is, and how little nuance exists in its myopically dystopian world. V is without question presented as the film's hero-he's witty, charming, and smart; likes music and art; is in possession of a well-founded grudge; and is very, very good with knives and bombs. But lest his advocacy for terrorism be understood as the ravings of the mad victim of government-sponsored genetic experiments, writers Larry and Andy Wachowski (creators of the Matrix trilogy) make sure that it's Evey, the film's most sympathetic character and true voice, who with self-conscious determination starts the chain reaction to blow up Parliament.

Mr. Moore, the author of the source material, forced Warner Brothers to remove his name from the film. You know the film has gone far astray when Mr. Moore, a self-confessed anarchist, criticizes the film's politics. "It's been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country," he told MTV. "It's a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values [standing up] against a state run by neo-conservatives-which is not what V for Vendetta was about."

You won't hear much criticism like this in the mainstream press. Most critics will pretend that the film is "provocative," "challenging," or simply an entertaining "fantasy." V for Vendetta might be those things, but there's nothing wrong with seeing it for what it truly is: an apologetic for terrorism in a world turned upside down.

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