I saw a sneak preview of V For Vendetta last night, and I must admit to myself that I am an idiot. I read the book again before seeing the movie. You know the rule. With both works fresh in your mind, one will not live up to the other.
No spoilers here, I promise.
However, it wasn’t the film’s minor changes that made it an utter disappointment. No, it was the major changes to the themes. It became about democracy, about power to the people (while taking subtle jabs at the Bush administration) and uniting against a totalitarian regime. This theme is not a bad one to carry, mind you, and truthfully in most democratic societies it is a comforting one. Especially given the nature of the current geo-political scene.
No, going back to the book, the theme wasn’t about democracy versus totalitarianism. It is about anarchy (individuality) versus fascism. Both of these ideas are clearly defined in the book; fascism is explained as being about strength in unity (according to the original Roman philosophy, symbolized by a bundle of twigs – break one but the bundle is still strong). This is not dissimilar to the principles of democracy that the movie shows – uniting against a common cause. Unfortunately it boils the movie down thematically to “us” versus “them.” In the book, V’s view of anarchy makes this confrontation about “you” versus “them.”
This is an important distinction. This isn’t anarchy – “woo hoo, smoke the banana peels for the Revolution, baby.” This is, as posed in the book, about you. You are the ones responsible for your actions. You are the ones who elected this government, and you are the ones who keep them there. You are not trapped in your shitty job. You are keeping yourself there. You can do whatever you like. You can stay where you are at, or you can change, but you have that choice.
V comes to this realization in himself. Evey discovers it through her ordeal. Finch discovers it in taking LSD at Larkhill as a way to get into V’s mind (which is perhaps the most anarchist moment in the book – drugs as mind expansion rather than for recreation – and it is even more subversive when a figure of authority like Finch does it). Those who do not get it, V does not appreciate. When he addresses the people of London, his words are venomous. He will open the doors, and help show the way, but he leaves it up to the people…
...which of course means everything goes straight to hell. We’re talking about a populace which wipes their nose goblins on the wall of the bathroom stall when there is toilet paper within easy grasp.
V does not enjoy chaos. Far from it. V wants order, but he wants voluntary order through personal responsibility, which is the central idea of V’s anarchy. That means you are responsible for yourself to act appropriately. In essence, that means you don’t need a government in the land of Do-As-You-Please (to take a phrase out of the book).
Now, coming from a democratic society, this idea of anarchy, of having no government, chills me to the bone. I’m not kidding. That is some scary shit to work through right there. And that is what makes the book so wonderful. Anarchy is not something I ever would have thought about, and here it is presented in a way that really subverts everything you’ve ever been taught.
Do you see the difference? Both works have basically the same plot hitching its horses up to different themes, by which I can only assume because democracy is an easier pill to swallow. It has become “edutainment” (groan). Begrudgingly, I overheard high schoolers who were praising the movie, and in this, at least, I can see some good out of it. It is a different movie, and had you known nothing about the book, I think it is enjoyable enough. Furthermore, I know and have spoken to many people in their 20s who have never read 1984 and will probably think a bit more about their government now (speaking of, whomever cast John Hurt, touché). Additionally, the book has lost none of its power; it is the same work sitting on my bookshelf, untouched and unchanged from its original tone and format.
Nonetheless, I don’t want easy-to-swallow pills. Ever. Neither should you.
Still the saddest moment for me was the character of V. Both works say V represents an idea, but in the movie, V became a man with reservations and redemptive qualities in the face of love. In the book, V was completely an idea, and ideas are relentless, bullet proof, uncaring and unfeeling. V’s actions weren’t really about revenge, no, it was about clearing a path for him to operate. Killing his tormentors was a bonus in his mind I believe. He played his part in his vaudeville show to the end. I think that becoming an idea as presented in the book is perhaps the scariest notion of all.
Everyone who I saw the film with enjoyed it. I believe their tastes are neither ridiculous nor unseemly, so if this post has made you not want to watch the movie, I would still go see it. I myself admit that it is not a bad experience, as far as movie making goes. What I hope for is that you challenge yourselves to read the book. You can buy it here.
I don’t think I want comments on this one. I’ve heard the arguments for the changes: it wasn’t relevant, it was an older work, you can’t adapt directly from comics to screen. I believe that the age and the idea of anarchy are still relevant since it is unexplored in film in general, and sorry, but may I introduce you to Frank Miller? He did a comic and a movie named Sin City, you may have heard of it.
No, I only know what I think, and that is sort of fitting in the Land of Do-As-You-Please, wouldn’t you agree?
UPDATE: I am opening up comments for some derranged reason because people have said they want to respond to this. Don’t expect me to respond, and don’t expect to be taken seriously if you haven’t read the book. I’m not kidding; I will berate you or delete your comment unless you come correct. Since this is about comparing the book to the film, do your goddamn homework before bringing your lip in here. If this just turns stupid, comments are gone. Got it?
Good. Now that that is out of the way…
Watch. After all that, there will be one comment.
UPDATE 2: Alan Moore interview at The Beat – good reading. Also confirms a theory of mine, that V is actually for Villain.
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