Reasons for watching it: Various people were ethusiastic about the film when it came out last year, particularlyrysmiel.
Circumstances of watching it: I have had a very weird few days. I thought I was better from the annoying cold I had last week, and indeed I have no more specific cold symptoms, but I am very, very, very tired. Going into work Thursday and Friday was probably a mistake; by early afternoon I was really struggling to keep my eyes open, let alone concentrate. So Friday afternoon I came home early and spent most of the afternoon asleep. In spite of about 15 hours' sleep between Friday and Saturday, I was still dead tired on Saturday. I dragged myself to synagogue, just, as I'd promised to read the section from the prophets and to go to lunch with ploni_bat_ploni afterwards. PbP fed me ever so well and looked after me during the afternoon, and I was starting to think I might be getting my energy back.
That was until I tried walking a few hundred yards to a shopping centre. That short stroll left me falling over exhausted; I had to lean on ploni_bat_ploni to avoid collapsing in the street! She pointed out, quite rightly, that I was in no possible state to go to a party as I had planned that evening, and invited me instead to spend a quiet evening curled up in her bed watching a film.
Caveat: I've tried to keep spoilers out of my review, but the comment discussion is full of spoilery Mcspoiler spoilers of spoileriness
I enjoyed V for Vendetta; it's very dramatic, and it had me hooked from the opening sequence until the end. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting is top-notch. I particularly liked Rea as the police inspector, and some of the minor characters as well as the two leads. The plot is original and clever, and the major twist is impressively twisty; I really didn't see it coming.
However, I didn't like the way that the twist was followed up. Or rather, the way it wasn't; there was this amazing revelation about the central character, V, and then it's just diluted away in absolutely standard soppy Hollywood love story. The soppy stuff annoyed me partly because it was out of place; the film was a political thriller for the most part, with no real development of a romantic relationship. But mainly it annoyed me because it was used as a smoke-screen to avoid dealing with the moral implications of that central hinge of the story, so that V could continue to be framed as the hero despite his distinctly unheroic behaviour.
The other thing that annoyed me was that it was too unsubtle. I can think of many ways that a society can slip into a fascist dictatorship, but one that uses explicitly Nazi iconography seems implausible. I appreciate that it's not meant to be a realistic film, but even for the larger-than-life setting, the villains are too melodramatically evil; it's not enough that someone is a high-up official in a dictatorial regime, he has to be a paedophile as well. Similarly, a lot of the dialogue is overly explicit; nobody hints at anything, they explain the whole backstory in a kind of as-you-know-Bob way. For example, when someone is threatening another character, he describes in detail the nasty things that he intends to do if the person doesn't cooperate, and describes in detail that the victim had better do such-and-such if he doesn't want that to happen. This is a very unusual complaint for me to make, because I find films hard to follow in general, so for something to be too blatant even for me it must be really, really blatant.
Against that, there are a lot of little details that are kept in the backround, and which make it just right. For example, the brief clip of someone watching a stupid TV show where an evil Arab is torturing a screaming bimbo very subtly conveys the islamophobic aspects of the War on Terror. PbP and I argued about whether the film is right to emphasize gay people as the victims of persecution, rather than other minorities such as Muslims. I think the homophobia angle is right for the film, but there are enough instances of people being hurt by the police state that there could have been some variation. I am glad there are no Jews in the film at all though; that would really have made it too obviously "facism is bad, mmkay".
Probably the coolest thing about V for Vendetta is the way it handles the mask and the superhero theme in general. In that way it really goes against genre expectations, and Weaving's acting is absolutely superlative in the way he conveys a range of emotions without showing his face.
ploni_bat_ploni is such a great host! Yesterday involved pancakes, and a girlie shopping trip, and lots of good conversation as ever. But in spite of my best intentions I didn't set off for the lab until nearly 6 o'clock. I looked after my cells, wasn't awake enough to start any actual experiments at this point. But the weather had changed overnight with the result that I had to come home in driving snow, wearing the clothes I'd put on for 10 degrees and sunshine on Saturday. That was an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
Today I simply could not wake up, finally dragged myself out of bed at around midday, and couldn't focus enough to do even half a day's work. I'm thoroughly sick of being sick, I can tell you.
It really does sound like you have the same thing as my database curator had, and that I have thus far managed to avoid; you have my sympathy and I do hope it passes soon.
I was annoyed by the bolted-on love story, but I thought that the degree to which it was bolted-on, rather than pushed towards being the focus of the story, was bearable with; there's a remarkably short percentage of screen time I found actively infuriating, put it that way.
I'm quite inclined to agree with you on the levels at which it's not subtle, though it had not actually occurred to me at the time that it was being meta-unsubtle in casting John Hurt as its ranting dictator, given that he played Winston Smith in the 1984 film of 1984, and there's a certain black humour in having the symbol that goes into Nazi colours be a Free French Croix de Lorraine. It just so surprised me that the middle bit was left intact, that it did not soften or dilute V being so broken as to think torturing someone a sensible way of making the philosophical point in question; I didn't think it was smoke-screened at all, I thought it was quite deliberately setting up a tension between storytelling conventions that present V as a hero and content, particularly that whole middle section, suggesting otherwise, and left that tension very much forefronted rather than presented with a glib answer. I saw it three times on a big screen, and liked it more each time, except for the stupid last kiss thing [ and it would have been so easy to keep "Give me a Viking funeral" as V's last words *sigh* ] Coming out of it realising what exactly one has been brought to find sympathetic really impressed me.
I also love the visual details all the way through, everything from the cutting back and forth between the two principals getting dressed in the beginning on is pretty much perfect - the one that absolutely took my breath away was the empty living-room and pub at the end and how well those were set up, the dominoes though spectacular are too deliberately so. It was also nice that the opening of Beethoven's Fifth got in there. Weaving's performance was absolutely superlative, and the only thing about it that's less than perfect - which is a casting meta-issue rather than anything about the performance itself - is that V needs to really be capable of being anyone to work as the appropriate values of Everyman, and casting someone of Weaving's heft in the part, and making the decisions this film made about how to shoot him, pretty much precludes the Valerie-as-V reading that is not impossible for the source text.
V being so broken as to think torturing someone a sensible way of making the philosophical point in question; I didn't think it was smoke-screened at all, I thought it was quite deliberately setting up a tension between storytelling conventions that present V as a hero and content, particularly that whole middle section, suggesting otherwise *shakes head* To me, it read very strongly as, well, V did all these ultimately horrible things, but that's ok because she loves him. It feels like part of that awful dynamic where it's ok to do whatever your depraved imagination can come up with to women, because hey, it's kinda sexy, and women secretly like it anyway, and pain ennobles women. The soppy bit following immediately on the revelation, and the fact that Evey is so much more likeable after her traumatic experiences, together add up to a very very nasty view of gender.
I'm actually getting more upset about this the more I reflect on it; when I first saw your comment, I just disagreed, but I woke up in the middle of last night and realized why I'm seriously uncomfortable with this interpretation. It's more than just moral ambiguity; there is plenty of that anyway. It's celebrating and glamourizing a really vicious species of misogyny. And yes, I think it does matter very much that Evey is female, the more so because there is that awful bolted-on love story, as you put it.
To me, it read very strongly as, well, V did all these ultimately horrible things, but that's ok because she loves him.
I've only seen the film once, but in my memory after the revelation, Evey walks out on him, and though he gets her to promise to come back to visit, she doesn't actually do so until the very last moment; and it's not until she does so and is back in his company that she gets tangled up in her emotions for him; until that point I thought she could understand what he did, and accept it, but was not prepared to forgive him for it.
Walking out isn't very impressive if she's just going to come back and be madly in love with him after all! But it's not that bit that bothered me, it's the stuff immediately after the revelation, when she initially gets angry with V, as you'd expect, but after a few minutes, gets all soppy and tearful and all over him. The other thing is that after that scene, it's just not mentioned again; it goes back to the story about how V is superheroically fighting the oppressive regime single-handed, and his glorious plan for the destruction of the houses of Parliament.
Ah, ok, so you think I was meant to have this reaction? If that's the case the scene is really effective; I didn't really take it in at the time, I was too busy being surprised at the twist. And as the film progressed and apparently dropped the subject altogether, I went back to feeling basically sympathetic towards V, although I was uncomfortable about it. But when the film ended and I started thinking about it from outside, I was annoyed that nothing had been done to follow up that revelation.
That, and your comment on it, really got under my skin and got me thinking about all the ways that the meme that "torturing women is sexy" is all over the place. So if that was the message I was meant to draw, it completely worked.
I think part of the subversion here was in the book, and may not have been directly visible in the movie (to a person who hadn't read the book first.) That bolted-on love story skewed a lot of things, including the significance of V's abuse of Evey and her responses to it. I'm going to wait to discuss it, until you either read the book or tell me you don't care about spoilers to the book. (I apologize if that seems like the nasty kind of teasing. I couldn't think of a better way to do it.)
This isn't nasty teasing at all, it's really considerate. I think I'm not going to be fussed about spoilers for a book when I've already seen the film. Sure, I'm interested to know how the book differs, but knowing that in advance isn't going to spoil reading it for me, certainly not if I already know the major plot twist. So, please do explain further?
In the book, they aren't lovers. Evey is shown younger--she's explicitly 16 at the beginning, and that's an age when someone can relate to adults as an adult, or be dependent and protected. At the very beginning, V rescues a child from rape. She depends on him completely and I don't just mean for physical needs. He turned her world upside down as soon as he took her into the Shadow Gallery. It's not a bit surprising that she develops a crush on him, and it's not a bit surprising that he discourages her like halfway decent teachers and parents do all the time. After she leaves V (due to an apparently-unrelated disagreement), she has a romantic relationship with a man who isn't her teacher nor set up as a father figure.
Then he abuses her, as he was abused years ago. He feels responsible for educating her, for bringing her up, and he does these horrible things to her because they were done to him. Are you familiar with the idea of "cycle of abuse," in child abuse? The former victims believe they're ok after being victimized, or they believe being victimized made them stronger/better/wiser and they should pass that on to their children. (Would you rather think of yourself as a helpless broken victim, or as someone who has been unhurt or made stronger by past troubles? See the temptation?) V hurting Evey was disturbing, but reasonable under the circumstances. It wasn't ok, really...it was still wrong, but she was too dependent on him to really break away. The pattern looked so much like child abuse, or like teacher/student abuse, it was very realistic touch.
I disagree with the gender component of it. Evey comes out more seasoned and more powerful, and I don't think there's a gender component to her torture. If anything, she (and the other inmates) are stripped of their gender or sexual identities. I didn't make the link with ennobling women through violence. Rather, I see it as an egalitarian statement. If a man can "toughen up" after persevering and living through trial and torture, then why can't a women "toughen up" equally, like Evey does?
The love story is bolted on, but Evey's romantic feelings start before she is tortured. If anything, the torture violates her earlier trust in V and dampens her romantic feelings. Yes, it is true that she becomes more emotionally accepting towards him, but that is rather through the shared experience of pain (even though he induced it) than because of romantic motives. The fact that the narrative of the lesbian couple united them in grim determination shows that their connection was less about romance or weird mysogynist gender relationships, and more about personal and political determination.
And we *did* have a jolly good time, didn't we? I really enjoyed it. Thanks for making my weekend so much fun!
You've seen my reaction evolve, you know I wasn't this feminist-offended at the moment when I first watched the film. And indeed it was great fun; watching a film in bed and eating popcorn instead of supper is delightfully decadent. *bouncehugs*
I think the torture is sexualized. Not as badly as it could have been, and you're right that they make a big point about the shaved head and the sack-like prison garment. Yet there are still a lot of shots of Evey distressed, shaking, weeping, a lot of focus on her huge eyes. That's not the main problem though; in a sense, no matter what happens to the lead actress in the plot, there's always some element of sexual display because that's a deeply engrained film convention.
No, what bothers me is the whole concept that torture is good for you at all. V's torture makes him a superhero, but it also damages him horribly, and the film is quite explicit about that; if I remember correctly, Evey says something like, They treated you monstrously, so they made you a monster. Whereas Evey's torture makes her fearless and noble and cures her of being the wet annoying girlie she was in the first section of the film.
Secondarily, the fact that there is still any kind of romance or positive interaction between Evey and V after she becomes aware that he tortured her is a problem for me. If the connection had only been through the lesbian couple, or through Evey admiring V's heroic qualities and political goals despite realizing how badly messed up he is, I might have been less upset about it.
Have a read of annafdd's commentary on the film, if you will. She explains more articulately than I can why there's a real problem with this kind of trope about torture. I'm just emotionally upset, whereas she has a detailed political argument, (but she says she loves the film anyway).
Despite that serious argument, I really appreciate this comment. You know lots about film and these background and counterfactual details are really cool, so thank you.
Yeah, the Cross of Lorraine and the Beethoven's Fifth moment are really great. I also loved the getting dressed scene at the beginning. And one tiny little thing: I wonder if it's deliberate that there are no non-white people in any of the crowd scenes, or if it's just that Hollywood crowd scenes are always all-white by default. The other very clever visual thing was the way the scenes at Lark Hill were shot to recall the death camp liberation newsreels from 1945. Oh, and the shooting of the girl was very powerful and very artistic, with the shot of the Guy Fawkes mask and the glasses.
Wow, the Viking funeral line would have really enhanced the ending. I'm glad to know that that was how it originally went. Making V be Everyman and even potentially Valerie I think would be a lot harder to accomplish on film than in a book, but it's a really interesting twist, and thanks for pointing that out to me too.
It's a pity that the film didn't pick that up, because I was really optimistically hoping that it had managed to do something subtle as opposed to the rest of the "hey, look, everybody! They're really really really evil! And fascist! And evil!" level that a lot of it works at. But PbP says there are some non-white people in the crowd scenes, just not very many, so it's just casual Hollywood hopelessness about race rather than a deliberate decision, which is a shame.
Come to think of it, the other relatively small thing that I was really surprised and pleased to see the film kept was having V's first lines be a prolonged quotation from Macbeth, which is absolutely perfect for the scene, but which I really had not been holding out much hope for keeping and not being dumbed down.
There were non-white people in the crowd, though far and few between. I don't think this was done for a purpose. I am sure, seeing the politics of the movie, that it is not a racist movie. Maybe it just depended on the stand-ins they could get.
Oh, I definitely do not think the film is racist. I was just hoping that they were really subtly implying that all the non-white people had been genocided by the evil regime, as opposed to just following the usual Hollywood pattern of making all the minor and crowd characters white as a default. The actual London of our reality is extremely multicultural, so I noticed that in the film it wasn't. But if it hadn't been in the context of an evil fascist state, I might not have noticed so much, or just assumed that it was standard-issue Hollywood version of England.
You really must read the book now. It's quite a bit different, but it does address your concerns about unsubtlety. (Or, to put it another way, the film's makers chose to ignore the subtleties of the book.) I'd lend you my copy, only I haven't bought it yet. (Must remedy this.)
It's a good film, but do bear in mind that it both follows and diverges from the book on various occasions. In particular the ending in the book is somewhat different, and you really must read it.
I'm not quite sure why you think V isn't a hero. It's true that he operates as a terrorist, but then again the people he terrorises are the ones who tortured and performed experiments on him and other people. He ends up destroying a clearly fascist regime and helping people move towards recreating a fairer society - surely that is somewhat heroic.
The thing is, I'm happy with the idea that V is morally ambiguous; that's the strength of the film. It's doing the terrorist / freedom fighter issue and doing it well. But there is absolutely nothing heroic or even ambiguous about torturing an innocent person (and not even by mistake, V knew his victim to be innocent) to prove a point and supposedly make her stronger. So the way this torture and its aftermath were handled really strongly bothered me, whereas I could accept that V's quest to kill everyone involved in his treatment in Lark Hill and his violence in the name of freedom were heroic at least in the context of the story.