Monday, April 24, 2006

V For Vendetta

Last Friday Mary and I saw V For Vendetta. What a complicated movie. Although I had a good time watching it, I think I ultimately had a lot of problems with it.

1. The England Issue. V had a rough time at the box office in England, and was pretty mercilessly savaged in the press, even the left press. This is completely understandable, and not just because Natalie Portman can't do a British accent to save her life. As the Guardian review notes, it is a particularly American movie, and setting it in England feels very wrong. Not that the U.K. doesn't have bad political problems, and that anti-fascist critiques of the U.K. aren't useful--see the British punk movement circa 1983. But this movie feels very off, as if a bunch of Americans came to town, blew up half the city, killed off most of the inhabitants, all to make a point about American politics. Which leads me to...

2. The Violence Issue. I don't have a problem with the parable of using violence to overthrow a government. But I did have a rather visceral reaction to one tiny little clip. Near the end of the movie, there is a montage that shows the history of a terrorist biological attack on the country. A disease was spread in a school, in the water system, and in the tube system. Fake news clips were shown of each location, but for the last, the attack on the underground, I'm pretty sure that the director used actual clips from the bombing of the London underground last summer. I'm not positive, and it was a very short clip, but I'm pretty sure that I remember that specific clip. This ties in to my point above--the makers of this American film use particularly-European iconography to portray a climate of fear. That's a displacement I don't really like.

But there is more to this. As my loyal readership knows, I was living in London during those attacks last summer. So when that little clip flashed on, I was immediately transported back to that moment, and I remembered my own fear at the time. Now, the movie makes lots of big points about fear, and about how bad it is, and how it is responsible for right-wing political movements that promise security in exchange for freedom. The transformative moment for Natalie Portman's character comes when, after being tortured, she learns to live fearlessly.

I just don't like that. First, I find it sanctimonious on the part of the movie. But more importantly, I think that fear is just a necessary part of living with other people. And it is part of living under globalization, and under postmodernity, or basically in any kind of proximity to people who are different from you. Not to get all academic, but the Wachowski brothers have always struck me as hopelessly modernist and old-fashioned--everyone gets off on the fact that they showed a character reading Baudrillard in The Matrix, but the instant Neo takes the pill and finds out that there is a real meta-narrrative behind the simulation, you realize that they have probably never actually read Baudrillard. And remember, totalitarianism is an essentially modernist concept. And if there is one good thing about postmodernism, I do think it produces a world so hopelessly fragmented and mixed-up that totalizing meta-narratives like fascism become impossible, in a way. There are still political challenges, and horrifying social situation that need to be acted upon, but an old-fashioned critique of fascism and fear no longer feels relevant to me. To face the problems of postmodernity, we can't pretend we are still fighting Big Brother.

1 comment:

Violet Vixen said...

Some of this also has to do with the split allegiences of the movie. The comic book was written in the 80s in England as a response to the Thatcher government, so in a lot of ways it has more similarity to the '80s punk movement than it has relevance as a response to the terrorist attacks of the 2001 and 2005. What they were doing, (and I'd like to point out that the Wachowski brothers were the producers, not the director) is taking a historical issue and and trying to make it contemporary in a way that doesn't entirely work. Personally, I like the ways in which the movie was troublesome, but I'm not sure it's a necessarily appropriate choice in terms of historical sentiment. And I agree that the whole conceit of torturing Evey to teach her is certainly problematic. But the whole point of the movie is to be a bit sanctimonious, really, and sometime's that's not entirely a bad thing, in my opinion.