Friday, March 10, 2006

W for Wolcott

(Yeah, I'm getting rather partial to this naming scheme. Among other things, it's easy.)

I've linked to some critical (if not overly compelling) reviews of V, so it's only fair to link to James Wolcott, who was absolutely enamored of it.

A paragraph:

V for Vendetta may be--why hedge? is--the most subversive cinematic deed of the Bush-Blair era, a dagger poised in midair. Unlike the other movies dubbed “controversial” (Fahrenheit 9-11, The Passion, Munich, Syriana), it doesn’t play to a particular constituency or polarized culture bloc, it’s working on a deeper, Edger Allen Poe-ish witch’s brew substrata of pop myth. Cultural conservatives will loathe it without seeing it (they love not having to leave their houses to lament the latest installment of civilization’s decline and fall) once they hear of and read about the movie’s disturbing political parallels (a fascistic TV host with a witty resemblance to Berlusconi, fertilizer explosives a la Timothy McVeigh; torture, renditions, and subway bombings; black hoods that will be forever associated with Abu Ghraib). Yet lots of cultural liberals with educated tastes will find it anxiety-producing and irresponsible too, not only because they’re more comfortable with humanistic stories and documentary techniques than with pop spectacle (as Kael discovered whenever she praised upstart movies like DePalma’s Carrie or The Warriors and received letters from profs and Ph.D couples complaining about her soiling the New Yorker’s space on trash), but because V for Vendetta doesn’t just depict a 1984’s dystopia--it advocates radical remedy, and illustrates what it advocates with rhapsodic, operatic, orgasmic flourish. It follows the course of its own logic to its Kubrickian conclusion, but this isn’t a clinical exercise, like Kubrick at his most voyeuristically detached. This movie is fully engaged. Its masked, caped vigilante is both Batman and Joker, nocturnal enigma and nimble trickster, the Count of Monte Cristo, Zorro, and the Phantom of the Opera tucked into one suavely tormented frame, the antihero’s secret lair a gothic sanctuary equipped with its own Wurtlizer jokebox on which Julie London’s Cry Me a River sultrily plays. The river of tears is the Thames, on the bank of which sits London’s House of Parliament, the movie (based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel) drawing its inspiration from Guy Fawkes and the foiled Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament on November 5th, 1605, a day celebrated annually in Britain with fireworks and parties. In V for Vendetta, monochromatic tyranny so oppresses, represses, and depresses Britain in its totalitarian condition that the only proper way to honor the memory and insurrectionary spirit of Guy Fawkes is to finish what he started. V for vendetta, v for violence, v for vindication. The return of the repressed with a vengeance.
You know how I can tell he really liked it? Because any writer that good who writes paragraphs that breathlessly lengthy is really, really, really excited.

What the controversy about this movie is really about, though, seems to be dodged by all. It's a movie about a conflict between a repressive regime and a violent, terroristic anarchist. The film clearly sympathizes with the latter, and (if it is at all like the graphic novel) provides plenty of good reasons to do so. The problem is that there are rather a lot of people out there who cannot and will not accept that a terrorist could be right; either because of trauma over 9/11, or because they're apologists for power, or because anarchism's leftish elements bother them, they feel compelled to criticize those who create the scenario rather than accept that someone whose position and tactics they loathe could be a sympathetic character. The scenario long predates the current situation; even a note-for-note adaptation of "V" would be anarchistic, so it's not that "V" should be condemned as a reaction to Bush, the WoT, or the Iraq war; "V" would have the same message, no matter what.

The problem, though, is that sometimes the powerful are wrong, dangerously so; and sometimes they aren't easily identified Germans with funny mustaches, but people that belong to your own society and who appropriate your own traditions for their own ends. Tradition is no guarantee of morality (witness slavery), and neither is enjoying a governmental or quasi-governmental bully pulpit. It is that that makes this movie subversive towards conservatism; not the attacks on over-the-top fascism, but the idea that maybe, just maybe, traditional positions of power may not be the source of legitimacy they want to believe they are.

No comments:

Post a Comment