V is for Vaseline

21. March 2006

Saw the movie, read some of the reviews, and the “verdict” for “V” is somewhat complicated.

Caution: there be a spoiler or two here.

If one looks at the story without considering the source material, I tend to agree with Butler Shaffer that it’s one great libertarian flick (although not the greatest — I still think Serenity holds that title). The movie demonstrates clearly how ambitous politicians use fear, with the help of a compliant media, to manupulate relatively free people into giving up their freedoms. And it very pointedly demonstrates that only by overcoming fear can one be truly free.

Based on that alone, I would say this movie is worth seeing, and sharing with friends, or one’s older children. That, plus the fact that Natalie Portman turns in a terrific performance as Evey Hammond, (who is really more the central character of this story, than is the titular hero “V”) and that the overall production quality is very, very good.

And yet. And, yet.

The movie also explicitly illustrates the importance of integrity — something all too cheaply sold, yet the one thing which thugs can’t take away unless you give it up — and of ideas in shaping a society. “You can kill a man, but a ideas are bullet-proof,” or words to that effect.

An idea cannot be killed, but it can be suppressed, and as this movie demonstrates, it can be date-raped.

Now we come back to the original source material. While most of the plot points from the graphic novel are carried into the movie, certain critical ones have changed or gone missing. For a fairly thorough review of what was changed, go see William Alan Rich’s review on SciFiDimensions.Com. I will touch on two points here.

Firstly, in the original book, the new tyranny grew from the ashes of Britains two larger parties — Conservative and Liberal Labour (a leftist party associated with the Socialist International. At the time the original book was written, Britain also had a “Liberal Party” but it was marginalized and now merged with the Social Democrat Party to become the Liberal Democrat Party — thanks to Gene Berkman who clarified this for me). In the movie, it’s just “the Conservative Party.” This would seem like a rather small change on the surface but in fact it’s huge.

This change basicly lets leftists, or “liberals” as we call them this side of the pond, off the hook. It lets them point their fingers at “conservatives” as being fascists-in-sheeps clothing while retaining their own cover of respectability. It also lets conservatives dismiss the story as a shrilly defamatory partisan screed.

I think this was best demonstrated by America’s favorite liberal-in-conservative-drag, Stephen Colbert. Citing this movie as one of several “Movies that are Destroying America” he declares that the chief villain, Chancellor Sutter, is really George Bush, Evey Hammond is really Cindy Sheehan, and V is really Michael Moore. Que audience laughter.

But the fact of the matter is that liberals are just as much on the hook for our current state of affairs as are conservatives. In Britain, it is the Labour Party which is in power, and which is fervently destroying what’s left of British liberties. In America, only a tiny handful of liberal politicians have stood against the Bushevik onslaught, while the majority have voted to renew the so-called PATRIOT Act twice.

One of the biggest obstacles to free-ing up society is this tribalistic rivalry between liberals and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans. You point out to a liberal the hypocracy of his heroes, and he’ll just say that conservatives are worse. If you point out to a conservative the hypocracy of his leaders he’ll just say that liberals are worse. And with each change of the political winds, the bar for “tolerable despotism” gets set lower and lower.

My second point: This story’s original author, Alan Moore, is not a liberal. He’s an anarchist. We may differ on certain points of economic theory, but on the basic point that no one is fit to be another one’s master, and that all governments are basicly gangs of thugs cloaked in pseudo-respectability, we are in agreement. And on the point that the real “political axis” is not conservative versus liberal, but fascism (I would call it “statism”) versus anarchism, we are also in agreement.

As Rich explains in his above-referenced review, Moore was quite explicit in the original novel about his anarchism. For the uninitiated, anarchism is not chaos. It is an entirely alternative way for individuals to cooperate in a social context, in which everyone has equal moral status — including especially those who may be employed for the task of protecting life and limb from criminal or atavistic violence.

Moore’s anarchism is made explicit in the original story. Early on, V addresses the statue of Justice atop the Old Bailey and declares the story’s major theme: I loved you (liberalism) once, but you betrayed me, so now I have a new love — anarchy. Later, as the totalitarian government begins to lose its grip and a crime wave sweeps London, Evey asks V, “Is this anarchy?” and V replies “No, this is the time of take-what-you-want. Anarchy comes later.”

In the movie, the only time “anarchy” is mentioned is during this same time-frame, as a robber jubilantly shouts “Anarchy in the UK!” while firing his gun through the ceiling.


As I commented to Alan Moore’s friend and fellow comics-writer, Warren Ellis, “Hollywood always fucks with its source material. But in this case, they used Vaseline and cooked breakfast in the morning.”

But despite its flaws, is the movie still worthwhile? Does it contribute, at least a little, to understanding our current problem and suggesting a solution? Judging by how statists have reviewed the movie, one might think not. But these people may be gripped by fear of losing their cushy jobs if they go radical. Or it may take time for the message of this story, however corrupted, to sink in.

And what of the Wachowski Brothers, who are responsible for the screenplay adaptation? One interesting bit in the movie is that a very popular television commedian decides to tweak the government by portraying Chancellor Sutter as a buffoon, complete with Benny Hill riffs. A few hours later, the government’s goons come to bag our liberated commedian, and he is later executed.

This never happened in the original story. Perhaps the Wachowski Brothers were trying to tell us something.

I also told Ellis that “I would not be embarrassed to have my name associated with this film.” Obviously, illustrator David Loyd wasn’t embarrassed, because he’s in the credits, and he’s also getting what would have been Alan Moore’s share of both the book’s and the movie’s royalties. So if he’s troubled, he can easily afford therapy.

But as soon as I sent that message off to Ellis, I started having second thoughts. I’m still not certain what I would do were I in Alan Moore’s position. Yes, he’s given up a lot of easy money, but he not only still has his integrity intact, despite the fact that his name has been removed both from the book and the film, everybody in the entertainment industry still knows he wrote that story. And this will likely, sooner or later, afford him the opportunity to do really great things in the future.

According to Ellis, the movie’s $26.1 million weekend opening was a disappointment for Warner. They were expecting at least $30 million. Ellis speculates that Moore’s interview in the New York Times, published just before the opening, wherein he castigates DC Comics and parent company Warner Brothers for their sordid business practices, may have cost Warner that $4 million margin.

I hope it did.

Because writers should not be afraid of their publishers, publishers should be afraid of their writers.

And yet, I plan to take Son the Elder to see this movie next weekend, and then I’m going to buy him a copy of the graphic novel. Because this story is important. And as Son the Elder also aspires to be a cartoonist, the meta-story of how Moore’s work was corrupted is likewise an important cautionary tale.

Kategorie anarchy, comics, Free speech, movies, Posts | 5 Kommentare »

5 Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag

  Sunni schrieb @ March 21st, 2006 at 2:25 pm

Excellent commentary, Scott. I was so pleasantly surprised that the hardcore anti-state theme was left in that I didn’t make a huge ruckus about the anarchy ideas getting dropped, although I did mention it. Your perspective on the Alan Moore back story is greatly appreciated, too.

  Kristopher schrieb @ March 21st, 2006 at 3:14 pm

Yep. Some ideas can punch through any amount of socialist crap.

Still worth watching, even after the Wachowski Bros. screwed with it.

  Tom Ender schrieb @ March 21st, 2006 at 9:42 pm

Great review Scott. It builds well upon the base you laid last week with your prior comments.

Like you, I enjoyed the movie, and its quality will probably easily exceed anything else I’m likely to see this year in the theater, but as you say, it lacks the explicit anarchism of the book.

Many “liberals” seem to associate the tyranny with only “conservatives.” You’re spot on about Colbert. I admit it: watching The Daily Show has led to watching Colbert also.

Argh, two TV shows now….

  jomama schrieb @ May 3rd, 2006 at 12:39 pm

To me, “V” was all about power and the eventual paybacks.

The players, the political parties and all their sycophants, are irrelevant.

  Adem Kupi schrieb @ December 8th, 2006 at 2:40 pm

The comedian scene is actually very important, and is indeed sending a message to those who know the comic book. It is two fold:
1 – we altered this under duress
2 – humor is a very powerful weapon, one of the most powerful we have left.

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