V For Disappointing

I just saw V For Vendetta today. It was an interesting movie, and sure to prompt discussion, but I was kind of disappointed. The best review I saw of the movie so far was from The L.A. Times:

Despite all the lengthy speeches about living in fear, [the characters] are risk-takers, lane-changers and, frankly, fickle dates. Evey, an assistant at the British Television Network, is surprisingly sanguine and plucky for someone who as a child watched her parents dragged away in the middle of the night with bags over their heads. We first meet her as she primps for a date, the firebrand TV pundit Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), spewing bile in the background. Like apparently everyone else in England, Evey seems somewhat blithe about the whole brutal-regime thing. She doesn’t deny herself the pleasure of talking back to the TV, nor does she allow curfew to impinge on her social life. She has a date with her boss, Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry), a popular television personality many years her senior, and she does her best to keep it, curfew be damned.

It’s not that you begrudge Evey’s taking the opportunity to advance her career, or even to meet new masked people. It’s just that you’d think, you live in a brutality repressive state for most of your life, you look over your shoulder once in a while. Not her. Nor Gordon, who for a high-level media figure at a state-run station comports himself pretty naively. Nor even Det. Finch (Stephen Rea), who is assigned to track down the terrorist, and instead ends up confronting the truth about his leaders, daring even to ask questions out loud.

I was thinking this exactly – the world depicted in the film is not dystopian enough! If you play Half Life 2, on my short list for the best game ever made, a sense of oppression suffuses the entire game. Civilians in the game are downright terrified, and for good reason – in that world, if you sneeze the wrong way, you’re going to find yourself in a very dark place for a very long time. And of course, there are always the aliens and zombies outside the city gates that are more than happy to pick up where the police state (the “Combine”) leaves off (they are the ostensible reason for the Combine’s existence in the first place). The point is, Half Life 2 did a much better job of creating a world where fear is in the air, where the powers that be use the mass media to keep that fear in place, and where violent revolution is really the only solution. At the end of “Vendetta”, I was really thinking, “Is all this violence really necessary?”

Then there’s the big issue in the movie – the t-word, terrorism. V, the hero, is called a terrorist (both within the movie itself and by those discussing it). But I have my doubts. The reason is that it depends on how you define terrorism. Is it “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons” (American Heritage)? Or is it more “the calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimindation or coercion or instilling fear” (Princeton University, emphasis mine)? V is a terrorist according to the first definition, but not the second, since he never targets innocent civilians.

The best thing about this movie is that it will prompt discussion. And healthy discussion is the life-blood of a true democracy, that we are thankfully still in, despite what some alarmists might think.

–YY

p.s. You try coming up with a word for “disappointing” that starts with “V”. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

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