Saturday, March 18, 2006

Johnny Rotten's Favorite Film

or Anarchy in the UK

Mike is staying in my guest room while he is closing up accounts here before deploying over to the Gulf. My first houseguest. After work, we joined Steph & Aaron to see V for Vendetta. I enjoyed it, though I wouldn't describe it as subtle or truly subversive. It borrows from Phantom of the Opera a great deal, though it's also in keeping with the sub-genre of "What if it Happened Here?" See Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, A Clockwork Orange, a little Fahrenheit 451, and most importantly Nineteen Eighty-Four for other examples.

There are a few things I find interesting about this movie. First, the filmmakers place some characters in morally grey areas, but not as many as they might have. The structure of the movie drives you to root for a terrorist. That is, someone who uses asymetrical threats to wield fear as a weapon against his enemies. Is this an inherently immoral action? What if it is in service of freedom, against a totalitarian state, a righteous cause? The movie comes down pretty firmly on the side of yes, it is justified. But doesn't everyone see their cause as righteous? I thought the movie missed a real opportunity by exploring this from only the protagonist's point of view. The villians, the fascists, also use fear as a weapon, also see their cause as just - and justifying their actions. Explore that duality, and the movie becomes much more interesting. But the villians are clearly identified as capital-E Evil, only interested in holding on to power. I think portraying them as evil men who genuinely believe what they are doing is right and for the greater good would make a better, more complex film. Real villians don't sit around twirling their mustaches and kicking puppies. They think they are the heroes.

Another interesting thing I noted was that the main characters were not quite so central. That is, the main character played by Natalie Portman doesn't actually do much. Things happen to her, and her character evolves, but she doesn't do anything until the very end, really. And the other lead, played by Hugo Weaving, is unstoppable, sees obstacles in advance and easily avoids them, and is generally flawless in the execution of his plans. Hell, his expression doesn't even change, since he wears a mask throughout. He does quite a bit, moving the plot forward, but doesn't really change. He has his plan and sticks to it. Cool to watch, but not an especially compelling character arc, because there isn't one.

I thought the most interesting character was the Chief Inspector, played by Stephen Rea. He begins as a supporter of the villians and their fascist regime, and ends by aiding the heroes. He does plenty, piecing together the mystery of the hero's background, which in turn reveals the Big Lie behind the villians rise to power. He has a compelling arc, and is a realistic portrayal of a flawed man who supports an evil government not because he is evil, but because he has believed the Big Lie. Watching him come to terms with the truth is interesting, and I found it to be the real heart of the movie.

So, I wouldn't call it a great movie. And on the surface, it doesn't ask the big questions I wish it would, about the morality of violence, the true nature of evil and how it's followers truly believe they are doing good. It tries to, but doesn't quite make it. But it does serve as a gateway to these questions, and they are interesting questions to me because I don't have the answers.

After the movie, things got much simpler as we went to Hard Times in Old Town. Mike was a good Catholic and only had fish, and Steph stuck to they veggie side of flexetarianism. But I think Aaron really enjoyed his chili cheeseburger, and I know I enjoyed my order of coneys. It was a really fun night, I'm glad we were all able to get together.

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Kelly said...

I hope your first house guest is going better than mine went!! Mine was my friends husband who wanted to cuddle and when I was in the shower the next morning he stuck his hand in the shower and said "my hand got a free show!!" and proceeded to sit on the tiolet and talk to me until I was done. No joke! Let's just say, I am not too fond of him. The best part, my friend/his wife thought it was hysterical.

Dan said...

Wow. Yeah, I absolutely cannot complain about any houseguest I've ever had, since they were all much better than that.