V for Vindictive
The Wachowski Brothers’ fear and loathing of the Bush Administration, or, Neo regresses.
I think this article correct in stating that the fascist elements of the movie are statements about Bush’ reaction to 9/11. But I think that movie takes bigger leaps than these. It implies Bush’ preaction in 9/11 where the falling of the towers doesnt compare to V’s parliment demolition, but rather to the disseminating of the virus(read as fear and uncertainty after the fall of the towers) and selling the antidote(selling the middle eastern wars) and gaining fascist control(Patriot Act and Homeland Security)
Ooh…that’s really cool. Now I wish I’d thought of that myself…
PS if you like this article, scroll down a bit—I also wrote the Wallace and Gromit article.
I was expecting an analysis of the film, not a comparison with what it should have been to keep up with the Matrix Trilogy and what it was “according to Jim Rovira”.
Apart from that the article was well structured, even though I could not agree on many parts.
Take this for example:
“V for Vendetta gives the adolescent boy the ending he wants and consequently takes a big step backwards into silly political melodrama.”
First of all the story is yes predictable and yes it is banal in a kind of way, but you did not consider the original context in which the story was written. It’s not merely about the Bush administration, 9/11, war in Iraq, it goes far beyond.
Alan Moore wrote it between 1982 and 1988, the film is loosely based in the sense that it takes only certain parts and obfuscates the rest, but the point is still vividly presented as the original comic. It’s 1984 more than anything else, I realised it when I re-read the Orwell classic. I had the left eye on the V comic and the right one on 1984 for about a week, and the similarities were more than evident.
Of course Joel Silver’s simplicistic comments did not help the film, which made Moore to distance himself from the film sight unseen, but it’s wrong to compare it directly with the Matrix, in my huble opinion, here’s the reason:
“The Wachowski brothers were fans of V for Vendetta and in the mid-1990’s, before working on The Matrix, wrote a draft screenplay that closely followed the graphic novel. During the postproduction of the second and third Matrix films, the Wachowski brothers revisited the screenplay and offered the director’s role to James McTeigue and Pedro Esteves. All three were intrigued by the themes of the original story and found them to be relevant to the current political landscape. Upon revisiting the screenplay, the Brothers set about making revisions to condense and modernize the story, while at the same time attempting to preserve its integrity and themes”
Thanks much for the response, Frederico. Admittedly, I haven’t read the original comics, so can’t comment on the film’s faithfulness to its source material. Vendetta is, however, very clearly a WB product, and as such can be understood within the context of other WB products. Since the film does attempt to make a socio-political critique, it is well within bounds to compare this film’s critique to a similar critique in other WB films—which in this case is only the Matrix Trilogy (Bound is thematically on the outside compared to other WB films)—and that is all my article attempted to do. I never claimed to be attempting a full analysis of the film, so I’m not sure why you read it with that expectation.
Your quotation and observation of the fact that the WBs changed an original screenplay that closely followed source material to make it more “relevant to the current political landscape” actually supports my thesis rather than undermines it. That’s precisely what I said they were trying to do (even in approximately the timeframe I said they were doing it), and in doing so they took a step backward from comparatively more sophisticated critique.
So, thanks for the further documentation. It actually makes my case for me far better than the documentation I provided myself.
And yes, that is the story according to me, but why would I present anything else?
However, even without reading the original source material, I can certainly see the sense in a comparison to 1984, and should I ever attempt a full analysis of the film I would indeed be remiss to ignore either Orwell’s novel or the original comic.
Thanks again for the response—though you disagreed, it was instructive for me.
No, thank you.
I was having what is sometimes called a “transitional day”, hence my comment was not really appropriate. To be honest, it was more like I was typing random words with some sporadic sparkle of intelligence, but with no real connection between my mind and the keyboard, hence the inadequacy of my first comment.
Therefore I find myself in the position of thanking you for not taking it the wrong way, instead you tried to most comprehensive, and shall give the credit.
Furthermore, the essay is itself well thought and presented, and I had no justification in expecting something else, I simply did not have the right to do it, this is your essay, not a review. Which, I guess, is the whole spirit behind metaphilm, the idea that lies underneath.
About what you said:
“I never claimed to be attempting a full analysis of the film, so I’m not sure why you read it with that expectation.”
Very vividly verum. Not only you never claimed it, but also I did not have any justification for expecting anything like it from you, I guess I was too in love with the film and I read too may Matrix‘s comparison over the years that I was kind of disappointed in not being able to read a critique about V for Vendetta with no Matrix contaminations one that stands on its feet.
Going back to the original form of my comment:
” I have to admit, watching Parliament blow up gratified the adolescent boy in me?—why else do we watch action films?—but the act was ultimately meaningless and dumb; meaningless because Parliament is no longer a seat of power, and dumb because V mistakes symbolic significance for real significance, for physical power. A little Baudrillard is being taken much too far. The hundreds of thousands witnessing the destruction of Parliament take off their masks when Parliament is destroyed and in doing so recover their individuality, their subjectivity. England is liberated when a building is blown up.
If only life really were so simple. “
NB: This is the second part of the somment, see below.
I believe the act of blowing up the parliament is misunderstood. The act is itself a meaningless, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that V’s act was dumb and a mere gratification for the adolescent. If the the act is instead contextualised, if you follow the story-line in its depth, it becomes meaningful. And I am not talking about the mere plot, I am referring to V’s geniality in his insanity. V’s personal character is best portrayed in the comic (for obvious reasons), and if you watch the film again after carefully reading Moore’s masterpiece you’d realise how this part was not omitted by the Wachowski, they left
some hints on the path so that some will pick the up on their way to understanding what V for Vendetta really means.
V is a real genius, and while he was locked in room V, he developed extraordinary intelligence capabilities, as sort of Tyler Durden of Fight Club, dealing mostly with explosives. He was able to the cultivation of roses as a diversive, so that he could blow up the whole concentration camp. At first the doctors did not understand what the bleach and chemical fertiliser in his cell were for, it did not make any sense to anyone, except him. In his mind, he saw a perfect pattern long before it happened, and the same situation repeats itself with the Parliament. The metaphorical scene of the domino sequence is simply a piece of art. IN the original comic it was much less effective, and in a five minutes scene is summed up all the significance of the film. All the pieces carefully places over the years, then when the time has come the first piece starts to fall, one domino after the other follow the same phate, leading to a chain reaction, until everything is reduced to a single element, an anomaly. Evey is the single piece from which V depends, he’s also in love with here. Therefore his whole agenda will break down if she refuses to help him.
See, my point is that the explosion of the parliament is not as banal as it may appear…
By the way:
“V for Vendetta is, videlicet, Andy and Larry Wachowski’s vindictive vituperation vindicating vapid hysteria about presumably venal, venomous vermin violating veritably holy verisimilitudes of vestal . . . ummm . . . democracy.”
Was simply brilliant.
“Reddite ergo qué sunt Césaris, Césari”
Thanks…that’s all pretty cool Frederico. You’re making me want to read the comic sooner rather than later.
I would say, in the film, blowing up Parliament was dumb in the sense of the effect it seems meant to achieve. But that’s different from seeing the act as a natural trajectory of V’s own character. The domino scene was a good one—but it seemed a bit more limited to me when I first saw the film, largely signifying a chain of events in which effect follows cause inexorably. But then, V set the dominoes up, eh?
So I have to read the source material. I’ll check it out soon.
“But then, V set the dominoes up, eh?”
Yes. There are no coincidences, only the illusion of them
Additionally, one domino is out of control, there is always the anomaly. The One, Neo, the systemic anomaly, 1/3=0.3333333….. just to keep it real.
BTW, this detail was non existent in the comic.
Ah, but the anomaly is itself the “predictable outcome of the equation,” which was known to be slightly unbalanced. What I think keeps it real is the Oracle.
The WBs assume that power in one way gives rise to power in another direction, so a fascist gov’t would require, eventually, an equally strong insurgency. If the fascist gov’t is centered on one individual (as they are), then the insurgency is as well, hence, Agent Smith vs. Neo, and the Fascist Guy in Vendetta with V.
Interesting comparison, but a bit stretched, if I may say so.
If the fascist gov’t is centered on one individual (as they are)
The equally strong power is not as strong as in the Matrix, in which Smith is a real alter ego of Neo. Additionally, Smith is the insurgent that spreads in the system, hence the comparison may work for the agents in general (Jones and the other typical American serialised names…) or Smith until he was still wired into the system.
After the first part of the trilogy Smith becomes the other side of the anomaly, so you could refer to the Architect as the source of fascist government, not Smith. They said is themselves. The Matrix is control, and so is the fascist government. In the original comic the Leader’s personality is very well explained, whereas in the film we kind of understand that what he really wants is what he stands for, that is control.
“Moments such as these are matters of faith. To fail I is to invite doubt into everything we believe and everything that we have fought for. Doubt will plunge this country back into chaos. And I will not let that happen. Gentlemen, I want this terrorist found. And I want him to understand what terror really means.”
Control, the perfect State. That sounds a lot like the architect…
You’re right about not only the architect but the mainframe itself as being the ultmate controlling force in the Matrix trilogy. But remember Smith was speading to the point where he was threatening the mainframe as well. And notice how Smith spread—he continually reproduced -himself-. The mainframe produced a very large number of discreet selves that it controlled, within reason, for its own purposes. These selves had freedom and choice—they had it within the boundaries of these overall purposes, but they still had it. This was the statistical anomaly that kept giving rise to Zion.
But Smith was pure self-replication. There were no other selves, only Smith, and he wanted to be the only self left in existence in both the human and the machine world.
Now, this is why I say Smith is a parallel to the Leader in V rather than the mainframe—at the end of V, all of society was divided into either replications of V or identical looking soldiers. Again, pure self replication; there was no individuality. This isn’t control without boundaries (that is what all real gov’t does—the boundaries just shift), but something far beyond that, a level of control that erases indivdiuality.
This is why I said blowing up Parliament was “dumb”—when it blew, everyone took off their masks. Everyone’s individuality was restored. Had Parliament been a real seat of power in the culture of V, this would still have been a rather wistful, romantic ending, but it would still have made sense. But it wasn’t even that. It was pure symbol, and the destruction of the -symbol alone- (and not even a symbol that has any meaningful relationship to real power structures) is what is supposed to have emancipated everyone.
It could be argued that this too is an extension of the WB’s reading of Baudrillard’s “On Nihilism” in Simulacra and Simulation, in which the wry grin at the end of an impassioned speech invalidates the whole speech.
But, I’m not buying it :).
Thanks much for the continued discussion, Frederico.
Even if I grant you the parallel betwenn the Matrix’s machines and V’s fascists (which I don’t, not totally), the conclusions start to look a little ridiculous. If the movie, as it currently stands, is a regression for the WBs, what would constitute an advancement of their socio-political critique? A compromise between the people of Britain and their fascist dictator? The Architect, at least, was interested in reaching out to Neo to sustain the dialectic; fascism, by its very nature, is not much given to compromise. Come to think of it, President Bush isn’t much given to compromise, either, and seems to eschew the few dialectic-maintaining measures that are actually built into our democracy: checks and balances, for instance, or court orders, or the Bill of Rights. The way I see it, the critique in V for Vendetta is right on the money.
If maintaining a dialectic is really what we’re after in V for Vendetta, I’d say we’d better leave the film as it is. A compromise between complete freedom (i.e. anarchy) and fascism would probably be…democracy. And in the world that the movie portrays, the only way that this could be accomplished, given dictators’ reluctance to give up power once they’ve gained it, is through destruction.
Which, I guess, is just another way to read the film. The beginning of the film portrays a world out of balance—it’s all freedom, no control. The people are not holding up their part of the dialectic; they’ve sold their freedom for a little bit of security. V’s anarcy is just what’s needed to restore the balance. In this way, his destruction of Parliament is neither meaningless nor dumb—symbolic gestures may not do much, but they at least inspire the people to be little Vs, little anarchists, to hold up their part of the bargain.
At the end, the people resume their half of the dialectic, collide with power, then take off their anarchists masks. Fascism + anarchy = democracy. Thesis + antithesis = synthesis.
First, I thought you were comparing the machines to fascists. I didn’t intend to make that comparison. Perhaps I misunderstood you? My comparison was only between Agent Smith and V’s fascist leader, in their aims and their effects.
But this does reveal that half of our disagreement has to do with our differing perceptions of the current situation. Bush is about as close to being a fascist as Pee Wee Herman, as his disregard for rules is consistently being checked by court cases and, more importantly, as he’ll be out of office in just about a year and a half and become irrelevant. There’s really no comparison here.
An advancement in the socio-political critique of V would take the form of a more realistic representation of reality, one more rather than less complicated. This is the difference between drama and melodrama, or between tragedy and high school romances. I can’t envision this within the plot/structure of V as it stands, because its whole world would have to be revisioned.
Realistically, yes, the only way to bring down a dictator is to destroy his gov’t, but destroying empty buildings has nothing to do with this. Killing the Leader and his entire cabinet, except the police chief, is where the real revolution happened.
Also realistically, but not acknowledged within the context of the film, the bringing down of a dictator does not produce democracy and freedom but chaos—just another kind of unfreedom. It takes time and, yes, force and power to restabilize a society whose head has been cut off—just look at Iraq for a real world example. In V, the WB’s seemed to think taking out the bad guy is all that is needed, and this is sheer adolescent fantasy, ultimately of the same kind that made someone think taking out Hussein would solve problems.
Perhaps I misspoke a little bit with my “machines and fascists” statement—I was trying to refer to the parallel that you seemed to be drawing between the systems of control in both movies. I think you wrongly conflate the system of control in the Matrix with the oppressive political system in V. You say that the WBs are degenerating in their socio-political critique; I’m not sure if they’ve made a socio-political critique in the Matrix trilogy at all. To apply a political meaning to the Matrix’s system of control is a bit simplistic—it has religious, philosophical, and existential elements as well.
As to your comment about the futility of destroying empty buildings, and where the “real” revolution lies, I refer you to George Orwell, whose Winston Smith realized that someone could overthrow Big Brother, but that the real revolution would be brought by the proles, the masses: “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” V may have destroyed the political powers that be, but a true revolution cannot take place until the masses become conscious, and a purely symbolic act, although practically useless, emotionally can accomplish just that.
As to George Bush’s fascism—we’re in agreement there, but in political fiction, social satire, and dystopian fiction, oversimplification has always been the rule, from the Oresteia to Catch-22.
And as to your comments about realism, the overthrow of dictators and subsequent chaos—yes, I agree again, but I think we disagree on the basic role of art. If you want a complex discussion of nation building, get a subscription to The New Republic. V for Vendetta is not tightly argued, it does not back up its claims with evidence, and it does not qualify or clarify its statements.
But it doesn’t have to. It’s a movie, not a political treatise. What it does do is communicate—it doesn’t necessarily make an argument based on logic, but it does communicate something about what it feels like to live in a world where you fear terrorists but don’t much trust your government. And it also entertains, distracts the people who feel that way for an hour or two, gives them a place to put that frustration.
Eh, if I had said that the Matrix was -only- a socio-political critique, then you’d have a point. I didn’t. It is indeed all that you said it is. And you’re right, neither is V -only- a socio-political critique—I acknowledge that it’s a very fun futuristic action film all in its own right in the opening paragraph of my essay. As a film that’s fun to watch is ranks very highly in my book.
Do I identify the system of control in the Matrix with the fascist leadership of V? No. I draw parallels on specific points that hold up very well. But I also acknowledge differences and, to be honest, the machines in the Matrix are more human than the fascists in V. This, again, is a function of the WBs devolving into hysterically paranoid melodrama in V.
But to say a socio-political critique isn’t there in either film is to simply close your eyes. But then if you acknowledge that the WBs make a critique, then it’s completely fair to draw a distinction between a smart critique and a dumb one.
And V’s is a dumb critique. There’s no use hiding behind the fact that it is art and not reality—Orwell’s 1984 is art, but it’s also a smart critique. The Matrix Trilogy is art, and it’s a smarter critique than V.
Part of my response to the film is that it does attempt to depict an “interior” (emotional, volitional) liberation via the destruction of a symbol, but again, this is part of what I’m saying is a dumb socio-political critique. The destruction of the WTC symbolized a great deal but didn’t emancipate anyone, emotionally, intellectually, or otherwise—all it lead to was chaos in the Middle east and a lot of support for that chaos back at home, at least initially.
Now if you can give me a reason for this hope, great, but the mere assertion of it in the film and in your response to me just isn’t enough.
it occurs very rarely (or even “it never occurred before” I might arrogantly say) that I cannot make a plausible counterpoint to a civilised discussion, so you achieved something quite impressive.
To be honest, after a prolonged time and several readings of the discussion, I do not really identify whether there should be a counterpoint at all. Maybe it’s the fact that you found the V’s symbolism “dumb” compared to the one of the Matrix.
Indeed you are right, it is dumb if compared to that particular masterpiece, but not dumb in absolute terms. I was merely too fascinated by the photography of the film at the time I wrote the comments that my position was obviously affected by that.
It was interesting having this discussion with you, though.
Post Scriptum. Please Jim, My name is Federico, not Frederico (I know it comes natural for a Anglo-Saxon-derivative-language speaker, but ...)
Thanks for your comments and for the correction on the spelling of your name.
I guess that is where we disagree: I do think the socio-political element of V for Vendetta is dumb in absolute terms.
But let me think about that a bit. Perhaps not. I don’t think the element of critique in the film is dumb. Even the most horrible things that happen are plausible to me, and I have the same attitude toward them that the WBs do.
What, to me, is dumb is the mode of liberation in the film: symbolic action. This is dumb because symbolic action has never liberated anyone at any time in history.
Liberation always requires real bullets and real bloodshed and real death.
But it did in the film too—symbolic action wasn’t enough. The entire fascist leadership, with the exception of the police chief, were killed.
So I would say the socio-political elements of V are absolutely half dumb :) I suspect you’ll still disagree, but I guess that means we’ve whittled down this discussion to a fundamental point of disagreement beyond which we can’t progress.
Unless you want to shift gears and talk about how cool an action film it was :).
You lost me at “The Matrix Trilogy” and “adult”, but I’ll have to agree with “dumb in absolute terms” or at least the implausibility of “not dumb in absolute terms” regarding the title film. Still, I can’t see The Matrices as other than a franchise, not after the Oracle was replaced with a palpably different black actress in the mold of Days of Our Lives, not to mention the bevy of forgettable characters including a villain with a dastardly French accent, an earnest token Asian, and Trinity’s anemic sex life considering she can walk on walls.
Heh…so the problem isn’t that I dissed V, but that I didn’t sufficiently diss the Matrix Trilogy?
Ah, you’re right, but the Matrix films had some charms to them too. My point is that the final Matrix film resolved the war by compromise with machines which were seen to have significantly “human” qualities at the end. This is more of an “adult” move than we see in V, in which all the bad guys are irredeemably bad and all the good guys unquestionably good and all the bad guys are killed in the end. V is an exception, but that’s because of our ambivalence toward vengeance, vendettas, etc…
The heroes in V, as well as Harry Potter justify murder to reach their “good” ends. Their “victory over evil” comes at a cost. The greatest fear of leaders born by the sword is someone else using violence against them. This pushes them to try and preempt such aggression. When powerful people are driven by fear and believe they have the right to kill anyone they perceive to be a threat to them… the casualties are potentially endless.
Our world today and history are filled with examples:
Sadaam, Hitler, Mau, Stalin, and yes Bush. (The french revolution, the spanish inquisition, darfur and most other wars.) “Munich” is a film that shows the impact of murder-even when it seems far from senseless or dumb. There are deep, powerful and ongoing repercussions.
Reconciliation and forgiveness must to be valued more highly than murder. Gandhi says, “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” and Jesus says, “Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself…Love your enemy and pray for those who hurt you.”
With great sound and fury these films perpetuate the same attitudes which create the problems they’re trying to fight in the first place.
Thanks for the response. I think you accurately represent Ghandi’s views but of course not every Christian is a pacifist and most have traditionally support some form of just war theory. The question, of course, is are these teachings of Christ intended to govern the activities of government or just of the individual? Since Paul said in Romans 13 that the ruler “does not bear the sword for nothing,” it seems clear that at least one very early interpretation of Christ’s teaching is that violence and retribution are forbidden to the Christian but not to the state.
Needless to say this position has its difficulties too.
It’s hard for me to believe the W brothers were advocating some kind of Ghandian pacifism since it seems clear from within the film that V’s violence was necessary for the emancipation of Britain. Since he died in the end and relatively non-violent characters survived, it could be they share your moral judgment against violence, however.
Sorry if I was unclear there. I wasn’t saying the W brothers were advocating pacifism. I’d hoped to bring attention to a different path seldom tread.
You raised great questions. Their answers are very difficult to discern since each situation is different and people’s inner motivations may change.
There are always things which make us feel threatened, it just seems problematic to me that violence is the base setting for dealing with these feelings. Even in a utopia those feelings have a habit of returning. What then? And what if we inspire those feelings in others?
If we just replace one kind of fundamentalism with another is that really freedom?
(Persepolis is a good study on this topic playing out in Iran.)
Fantastic review and comments. Thanks. I enjoyed both very much and agree with your insights.
Ah, yeah, but not all who use violence are fundamentalists or dictators. That’s a terrible misperception. For that matter, not all who use violence want to use it or resort to it as a first, rather than last, solution. If you accept that violence is at times necessary, then you have to acknowledge the necessity of violence in any given case.
The main distinction I make is between those who use violence because they have to and those who use violence because they love it.
While it is fair to say that this is the Wachowski brother’s response to Bush, we have to also remember this is NOT an adaptation of the Count of Monty Cristo, this IS an adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic book of the same name, itself a reaction to Margret Thatcher’s Great Britain. It is hardly a faithful adaptation though it is a good one, but for the most part they never took the liberty of adding major characters who did not exist within the context of the graphic novel, so somehow it seems unfair to compare this film with the Matrix as you have, perhaps if you compared them in terms of their mode of self expression instead? This is not a Wachowski brainchild, its characters and events are for the most part (though completely out of sequence) taken directly from Alan Moore’s novel which is ENTIRELY about politics and rarely about action.
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