A for Anarchy, E for Execution

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Left:
V for Vendetta Poster, Right: Phantom of the Opera Poster

V for
Vendetta
Directed
by James McTeigue
Screenplay by the Wachowski Brothers, based on the Graphic Novel
illustrated by David Lloyd and published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Produced by Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, William Rookwood, Stephen
Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, and Tim Pigott-Smith

According
to the official Warner Brothers’ website, V for Vendetta
is:

Set against
the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain [and] tells the
story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN)
who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man
(HUGO WEAVING) known only as V. Incomparably charismatic and ferociously
skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution
when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and
oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about V’s mysterious background,
she also discovers the truth about herself and emerges as his
unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom
and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty.

If I had
to encapsulate my review in a single sentence, I would say that
V for Vendetta gets an A for Anarchy, but an E for Execution.

Politically,
the filmmakers deserve five gold stars. They had the audacity
to send a unapologetically incendiary anarchist political message
to movie audiences throughout the modern world, one that most
people in the left/right, liberal/conservative political mainstream
may not want to hear, but need to hear.

Technically
alas, the filmmakers deserve to wear a dunce cap and sit facing
the corner. They committed a critical blunder depressingly common
among “auteurs.” They became preoccupied with “style” at the expense
of story. In doing so, they weakened the enormously valuable message
they were sending.

A for
Anarchy


 

Left:
V for Vendetta Circle V, Right: Anarchist Circle A

The
A for Anarchy in a circle, usually in red and spray-painted on
the background, is one of the most successful images among political
symbols. It was created during the 20th century and is therefore
a much more modern symbol than the classical black flag of anarchism.
Its origin is not known, but there is evidence that the symbol
was used by some anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and later
by the Belgium organization AOA (Alliance Ouvriere Anarchiste).

The Circle
A is said to represent Proudhon’s maxim that “Anarchy is Order.”
The “A” is for anarchy and the circle is either a symbol of order
or represents the “O.” But the Circle A is also said to be a symbol
of unity and determination, forwarding the anarchist ideals and
the inevitable rebellion against the rulers. Anarchists are devoted
to the re-establishment of freedom for everyone and the importance
of the cause cannot be affected by outer restraints. The circle
is therefore, to some extent, a shield against the oppressive
society surrounding the sovereign anarchist.

The Circle
A also lends support to the idea of international anarchist solidarity,
where the circle encompassing the “A” for anarchy could be interpreted
as a representation of the world. Anarchists are committed to
the abolishment of all rule, coercive hierarchy and oppression – no
matter where it exists. The unavoidable anarchist rebellion takes
no prisoners and thus no tyrant is safe when the rebellion has
begun.

No matter
the origin and the true meaning of the symbol, the Circle A
is a very powerful symbol of anarchism world-wide. It is very
often seen spray-painted on walls and under bridges or on the
background of a black flag of anarchism.

~
Anarchism.net, The Well-Known Symbol of Anarchism, the Circle
A

It should
be abundantly clear to anyone that the red on black Circle V symbol
in V for Vendetta was derived directly from the red on black Circle
A symbol of the Anarchist movement. Just eliminate the horizontal
stroke in the Circle A symbol, rotate it 180 degrees, and you
have the Circle V. In case anyone imagines the nearly identical
visual symbols are mere coincidence, consider the following voice-over
from the film:

EVEY (V.O.)

“Remember,
remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”
Those were almost the very first words he spoke to me and, in
a way, that is where this story began, four hundred years ago,
in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament. In 1605, Guy Fawkes
attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He was caught in
the cellars with enough gunpowder to level most of London. Sometimes
I wonder where we would be if he hadn’t failed. I wonder if it
would have mattered. I suppose the answer is in the rhyme. More
than the man, what we must remember is the plot itself. For in
the plot we find more than just a man, we find the idea of that
man, the spirit of that man, and that is what we must never forget.
This, then, is the story of that idea, of that spirit that began
with an anarchist’s plot four hundred years ago.

There you
have it, an explicit admission that the film is a manifesto for
anarchism.

As the patriot
movement in America likes to say, “No Justice, No Peace!”

As protest
signs waved by the 500,000 to 1,000,000 strong crowd demonstrating
against the ruling DPP’s March 19, 2004 shooting hoax and March
20, 2004 election fraud declared: “Guan bi min fan, zao fan
yu li!” (Officials have pushed the people too far, Revolution
is justified!).

But where
does the “V” in V for Vendetta derive from? As V explains:

V

A Latin quotation.
A motto. “Vi veri veniversum vivus vici.” “By the power
of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.”

Proudhon
was wrong about property. Property is not theft.

But Proudhon
was right about anarchy. Anarchy is Order.

Anarchy is
not disorder. Anarchy is not chaos. Anarchy is merely “the absence
of government.” The absence of government does not equate with
disorder. The absence of government does not equate with chaos.
Quite the contrary. The absence of government is the blank slate,
the tabula rasa, on which a spontaneous social order can emerge
naturally and flourish.

Government,
not the absence of government, is the source of social conflict.
As Bill McKay, the idealistic candidate in Michael Ritchie’s 1972
political satire The
Candidate
, observed, governments invariably “play
off black against white, young against old, rich against poor.”
They always have, they always will.

Governments
in “advanced democracies” work only to the extent that a pre-existing
social order permits them to work. Social order is not a benefit
conferred upon society by government. Government is a disruptor
of the spontaneous social order that emerges naturally in the
absence of government.

As the great
Chinese sage Laozi observed:

The way [the
"Dao" or Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand"] never acts, yet nothing
is left undone. Should lords and princes be able to hold fast
to it, the myriad creatures will be transformed of their own accord.
After they are transformed, should desire [the statist compulsion
to micromanage] raise its head, I shall press it down with the
weight of the nameless uncarved block. The nameless uncarved block
is but freedom from desire [liberation from the controlling statist
mindset]. And if I cease to desire and remain still, the nation
will be at peace of its own accord.

E for
Execution

People
rarely say exactly what’s on their minds … Especially when
bringing up something painful, people often talk in circles
until the other person figures out what they’re trying to say.
Good screen dialogue should avoid being “on the nose.” Avoid
having … characters cut to the meat … unless it’s a climactic
scene, and even then, load your words with hidden agendas. There
almost always wants to be tension between what your character
is literally saying, what your character intends to communicate
and what your character is thinking.

~
Alex Epstein, On the Nose Dialogue
Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog

V for Vendetta
is rife with “on the nose” dialogue, or perhaps I should say,
on the nose monologues. In scene after scene, V talks up a storm,
glibly explicating exactly what’s on his mind, even though he
is supposed to be an angst-ridden tragic hero haunted by his dark
past.

This groan-inducing
syndrome is exacerbated by V’s Guy Fawkes mask, which covers his
entire face, including his mouth. As V rambles on endlessly, we
don’t see his lips move. All we see is his totally opaque, utterly
static Guy Fawkes mask.


 

Left:
V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes Mask, Right: Phantom of the Opera
Mask

The credits
tell us V was played by Hugo Weaving, the talented character actor
who portrayed the dastardly Agent Smith in The
Matrix
(1999, written and directed by Andy Wachowski and
Larry Wachowski). But how do we know? We never see Weaving’s face
once during the entire 132 minutes of the film. For all we know,
V was played by a stand-in, and Weaving dubbed the voicetrack
afterwards. Given that the Guy Fawkes mask covers the actor’s
entire face, including the mouth and chin, the voicetrack wouldn’t
even need to be lip-synched!

One could
write a Saturday Night Live skit based on V’s Guy Fawkes
mask. The “Pathological Liar,” played by Jon Lovitz, assures a
casting director that he, Tommy Flanagan, actually played V in
the movie:

“I was Weaving’s
stand-in. In fact, I was V. I was the star of the movie. That
was me behind the mask. Yeah, that’s right. Weaving got sick the
first day on the set … from … the catered food. The shrimp
was bad. I didn’t complain because Weaving and I were in Vietnam
together. He sa … I saved his life … twice. Yeah, that’s the
ticket!”

Contrast
this with Erique Claudin’s mask in the Phantom
of the Opera
, (1943, directed by Arthur Lubin,
adapated by John Jacoby from a novel by Gaston Leroux) which covered
the upper part of lead actor Claude Rains’ face, but not his mouth
and chin. Doesn’t that make much more visual sense?

If for some
reason the filmmakers objected to using a Phantom of the Opera
style partial mask, they could have used a translucent mask. Movie
audiences would then have been able to see Weaving’s lips move
as he spoke his lines, and gotten an indistinct but queasy impression
of the horrific scars the long-suffering hero had been left with.

The gabby
“on the nose” monologues and the deadpan Guy Fawkes mask undermine
the film’s effectiveness. But they are not the film’s most serious
problem. The film’s most serious problem is its clunky use of
flashbacks.

Flashbacks
can, if used appropriately, propel a film forward. But the flashbacks
in V for Vendetta are constant interruptions that halt the film’s
forward momentum, weaken the film’s thematic focus, and diminish
the film’s emotional power.

Any device
that diminishes a story’s emotional power – its ultimate
payoff, its raison d’tre – cannot possibly be considered
a worthwhile artistic choice.

B for
Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s
critically acclaimed but grossly neglected masterpiece Brazil
(1985, directed by Terry Gilliam, written by Terry Gilliam,
Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown) did a dramatically better job
of depicting the Kafkaesque injustice of totalitarianism than
V for Vendetta.

Brazil, and
of course George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984,
of which Brazil was a highly creative variation on a theme, was
in retrospect, uncannily prescient. Consider the following dialogue
from the film.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think
that the government is winning the battle against terrorists?

HELPMANN

Oh yes. Our
morale is much higher than theirs, we’re fielding all their strokes,
running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently knocking them
for six. I’d say they’re nearly out of the game.

What does
this remind you of, but Ken Adelman’s “Cakewalk In Iraq” and George
Bush’s “Mission Accomplished?”

Brazil blew
me away. I left the theater awestruck, wondering, “How did Gilliam
do that?” V for Vendetta failed to blow me away, even though
I wanted it to and gave it every chance to do so. I left the theater
perplexed, wondering “Why didn’t the movie work better than it
did?”

See: Modernity
and Mise-en-Scene, Terry Gilliam and Brazil

People
should not fear their Governments. Governments should fear their
People

Am I telling
you not to see V for Vendetta?

No, I am
not. See the movie despite its defects. Assuming you are a libertarian,
V for Vendetta’s anti-authoritarian political message makes the
movie worth seeing and worth supporting despite its botched execution.
To turn media guru Marshal McLuhan’s famed aphorism on its head,
“The message is the medium.”

After all,
how can one not recommend seeing a movie whose tagline is “People
should not fear their governments. Governments should fear their
people.”

The American
Government, instilling Fear in the American People

Homeland
Security Advisory System, Current Threat Level:

 

 
Homeland
Security Advisory System

 
 

March 21,
2006 The United States government lowered the national threat
level for the mass transit sector in August 2005. The country
remains at an elevated risk, Code Yellow, for terrorist attack.

The United
States Government will continue to closely monitor and analyze
threat information and share that information, together with guidance
for protective measures, with state, local and private sector
authorities as well as the general public as part of the sustained
national effort to prevent terrorist attacks and protect our homeland.

Recommended
Activities:

All Americans,
including those traveling in the transportation systems, should
continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and
report suspicious items or activities to local authorities immediately.

All Americans
can visit www.ready.gov.

April
11, 2006

Bevin
Chu [send him mail] is an
American architect of Chinese descent registered to practice in
Texas. Currently living and working in Taiwan, Chu is the son
of a retired high-ranking diplomat with the ROC (Taiwan) government.
His column, “The Strait Scoop” is published on his website, The
China Desk
.

Bevin
Chu Archives

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