V for subVersive

Like every other geek, I saw “V for Vendetta” this weekend. (I’m not kidding – I went to go see it with 2 other game developers, and we ran into another one coming out of the theatre. Someone should have passed the hat for Jack Thompson’s legal aid fund or something.)

I’ve noticed a common theme among some liberal blogposters – that V will “wake up the sleeping public” to the evil that Bush’s men do and, hopefully, the aroused electorate will show up to the ballot box next election in Guy Fawkes masks voting a straight Democrat ticket.

Well, I don’t tend to agree – among other things, I suspect if that happened, said suddenly enlightened electorate would be pretty disappointed at the almost identical results they’d get – but I do think the movie had some pretty important things to say at the margins.

Not so much the overt stuff; just as an example, I never read the graphic novel but I’m given to understand that the movie inherits its bludgeon-like “THOU SHALT NOT BE MEAN TO GAY PEOPLE” message from Alan Moore’s belief in the 80’s that Margaret Thatcher was trying to drive out homosexuality from Britain a la St. Patrick. With Britain being among the most tolerant of Western societies towards gays, that whole subtext just rang a bit wrong for me, and I’ve never even been to the UK. And like anything else the Wachowski brothers have written, most of the plot points don’t hold up to much thought. I know if *I* were a secret policeman the first thing I’d be doing is running down some leads on who bought 12 million Guy Fawkes masks and then signed for all of them to be overnight delivered. But hey, I’m annoying that way. And the entire surprise theme midway through the movie (which I won’t discuss further to avoid spoilers) just rang entirely hollow; even though it too was in the graphic novel, it made no sense to me from any perspective, dramatic or rational.

Where the movie actually delivers is in the imagery and messages being delivered subtly from the margins. The raw manipulation of truth in the mass media by those in power being the most obvious of these (news flash to those not paying attention – that part isn’t science fiction any more, and hasn’t been for some time), but also the appropriation of iconic images from Iraq and Guantanamo, paired to equally iconic images of concentration camp victims, is as frankly subversive a message as I’ve ever seen in a movie. And this is a good thing. When our society collaborates in the toleration of evil, it’s the artist’s duty to point and decry. Paired with the constant barely-below-the-surface “Threat Level Orange” alerts and the apparently literal outlawing of the Muslim faith, the filmmakers very much wanted to communicate “This is where we are going, if we don’t do something. Stop.”

Taken this way, the closing scenes of the masses going all Tienanmen on the government’s soldiers (who I’m sure through no accident wore American-style uniforms) were frank wish fulfillment, and it was wish fulfillment that by that point I shared. Screw the whole blowing buildings up thing – by that point it was simple anticlimax; backdrop for more fireworks. And I think that too was the message being sent – the real victory was in waking the people up to watch, not in the act of terror.

Some reviews can’t get past the whole “OMG the good guy is a terrorist! Does not compute!” I’d recommend those reviewers read up on their Thomas Jefferson. Because of late the tree of liberty seems to be a bit parched.