Saturday, March 18, 2006

Well. Beauty and the Beast movies. Why does it seem as though reality bends to the course of my blog?

I wasn't planning to, but, since scads of people were having interesting discussions about it last night, I went off to see V for Vendetta.

The comic book, V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, is not a Beauty and the Beast story. The movie, directed by James McTeigue, is.

To put it simply, V for Vendetta is about someone in a Guy Fawkes mask, overthrowing a totalitarian British government in a future world that has been horribly ravaged. In the comic book, the use of nuclear weapons has unforeseen effects upon the world's climates and Britain is brought to a state of desperate, vicious disorder before a group of conservative parties band together. They place the populace under the control of a fascist, but far more secure, regime. In the movie, Britain's ecological woes are brought about by that same conservative party, as a supremely underhanded means of taking power. Robyn pointed out this is likely meant as a reference to the Bush administration's involvement in 9/11.

I came out of the movie feeling good. Like I'd had a good time. For a few moments, I may have even forgotten that what I felt after reading the comic book a year ago was more like awe, mingled with sorrow and love. And it was also a lot of food for thought.

It's hard to know where to begin here. I was excited by the movie, by the fact that it had wordy, lovely dialogue spoken, seemingly at every turn, by yet another great British actor--look, there's John Hurt. And wouldn't you know, Stephen Fry's in this too! And of course Hugo Weaving . . . You don't get dialogue like that in your average big, blockbuster special effects film. And boy, I was grateful for it. And the scenes left essentially intact from the comic were tasty explorations of morality, or simply beautiful. I was very pleased that the story of Valerie, the woman incarcerated and tortured for being a lesbian, was taken almost verbatim from the comic.

There were things during the movie that rang false, or too easy, though. Even though my memory isn't the most reliable, and a year between me and the comic had gone some ways to making detailed recollection foggy (though I've been poring over it this morning). For example, in the movie, John Hurt was apparently directed to play Chancellor Adam Sutler (Leader Adam Susan, in the comic), as a two-dimensional, hateful caricature. While the people of London were shown as apparently oblivious, amused, or barely tolerant of this silly tyrant. In short, it seemed everyone in town not working for the government wouldn't have minded the people up top getting toppled--they just hadn't quite gotten around to doing it themselves. Furthermore, the meagre, broken-down dystopia of the comic book is replaced by something that looks very like a modern movie metropolis, filled with a hiply dressed middleclass in decent jobs. Basically contented. Occasionally, perhaps, they ponder why the man in charge is so silly and angry.

It is made clear that homosexuals have very good reason to fear this government. But no mention is made, as it is in the comic, of the fact that the government also exterminated all non-whites in the country. Perhaps because this would imply some complicity on the part of the populace in this barbarism, and would tarnish the angelic image of them we're given by the movie.

Actually, the difference between the movie and the comic can be perhaps most simply stated by saying that the comic was, in part, about the moral complexities involved in the change of social order while the movie was almost completely unmitigated propaganda. That I happen to agree with this particular propaganda allowed me to enjoy the movie.

But now I come to Evey, the other central character of V for Vendetta. In one of the starkest examples of the difference between the society of the book and the society of the movie, the movie Evey is a reasonably well-off intern at a television studio, apparently in her early twenties. In the book, she's an impoverished sixteen year old who, as the story opens, is attempting to become a prostitute, as her living situation has seemingly left her no other recourse. You may wonder what difference this could really make.

Well, this is where the movie is the Beauty and the Beast story that the book is not.

Movie Evey is a sort of everywoman who's there at first to be the avatar of reasonable reactions to extreme circumstances, particularly those initiated by V. But in another stark deviation from the book, she also becomes V's love interest. V is her somewhat monstrous protector, who sees it necessary to be a sort of beast in order to ignite a necessary revolution. But he cannot be this beast, who is meant to be an animated ideal of freedom, while also loving her in the traditional romantic sense. He must shed all aspects of personal identity and become the face of the human heart, and its need to violently overthrow those who would numb it to death. But his mortal love for Evey sees him slipping.

This dichotomy is complicated a bit when he creates a simulated environment where Evey believes she's been captured by the government, tortured, and is made to realise that the "last inch" of her, her integrity, is more important than whether or not she lives or dies--here, by the way, is another key difference between movie and comic, as the Leader in the comic is a man who believes suppression of freedom is preferable to death and V believes life in security is meaningless without freedom. The Chancellor of the movie doesn't seem to have anyone's interests at heart but his own.

Sore kara, in the movie, when Evey discovers V is actually responsible for her suffering, he pleads with her to understand that it was so she could reach a point where she could live without fear--though, it's interesting to note that, in the movie, she'd never seemed a particularly frightened person before, and after this experience does not seem to be an especially different person.

Anyway, how would you feel about a person who has romantic feelings for you deciding to imprison and torture you? It just might get in the way of the lesson he's trying to teach you.

Actually, those reading who aren't familiar with the story may be wondering how in the world that could work in any case.

This brings me to what I believe is the biggest and most tragic difference between the comic book and the movie--the character of V.

In the movie, he's a disturbed, fascinating, and charming character, due in large part to Hugo Weaving's performance and dialogue taken from the comic.

In the comic, he's something much more interesting. The idea in the comic seems to be; what if the man responsible for the changing of the world were very like a writer or artist, and the country like his canvas? V of the comic has from the start already become the walking abstract, the representation of ideas at work. He's a mutant, who's been experimented with by the government--the movie mentions this, but never explains exactly why that makes him different. I believe in the comic, Alan Moore means to suggest that V's superpower is that he is a sort of genius who is removed from human connections as no normal human brain is capable of being.

So Evey the child, the would-be prostitute, is frightened and looking for a father. And V, like an artist, thinks; what would make this character become the great, independent and strong adult I need her to be for her part in this tale? And like a writer, he draws from personal experience to create a situation for her that might do this.

V, you see, is not Zorro. He's more like Gandalf. And he is that way not only with Evey, but with the society he's trying to save. In the movie, he hijacks a television station to talk with the people about how there's something wrong with the government, how the government needs to change. When he hijacks the television station in the comic, he talks to the people as though he's talking to all humanity. He adopts the manner of a boss talking to an employee about his poor service record. He mentions human accomplishments like the wheel and agriculture, but says these are contrasted by horrible crimes, not only on the scale of nations, but also domestically, in the form of spousal abuse.

He says, "and it's no good blaming the drop in work standards upon bad management, either...though, to be sure, the management is very bad."

He goes on to say, "But who elected them? It was you! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you!"

It's not the sort of character a popcorn chewing audience is probably interested in having as a movie's central protagonist.

As an action oriented comic book movie, it's pretty good. V looks great. The final battle is a curious fusion of the climactic fights of both A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo.

The sound design was a little dull.

But overall a fun, and at times beautiful movie. But the comic book was brilliant.

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