Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: V for Vendetta

In response to my post last month on the Gunpowder Plot and September 11th, Kfluff asked whether I'd seen V for Vendetta. I hadn't. George Washington Boyfriend and I had thought about seeing it when it was in theatres last year, but it had gotten relatively unenthusiastic reviews, and what with one thing and another we didn't get around to it. But Kfluff put it back on my radar, so on one of my recent trips to Quaint Smallish City we rented the movie, not sure whether it would actually be any good.

In fact, it was awesome. Maybe it's just that we've both been in the mood for some dystopian fiction lately--in the last two months we've also gone to see Terry Gilliam's Brazil and rented Blade Runner--but I loved that movie from start to finish and I'm totally showing it to my majors next semester.

So naturally, I had to get my hands on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, which the movie was based on. Like the movie, the novel is set in a totalitarian Britain at some point in the near future, after a third world war and a nuclear holocaust have produced serious climate change, flooding, famine, and the destruction of large parts of the earth and its peoples. The government that emerged in the midst of this chaos quickly imposed order, and that order and that sense of security were so welcome that the people are now content to live in a state of constant surveillance, rationing, and low-level fear.

As the Leader muses to himself, early in the book:
I am the Leader. Leader of the lost, ruler of the ruins. I am a man, like any other man. I lead the country that I love out of the wilderness of the twentieth century. I believe in survival. In the destiny of the Nordic race. I believe in fascism.

Oh yes, I am a fascist. What of it? Fascism. . . a word. A word whose meaning has been lost in the bleatings of the weak and the treacherous. The Romans invented fascism. A bundle of bound twigs was its symbol. One twig could be broken. A bundle would prevail. Fascism. . . strength in unity.

I believe in strength. I believe in unity. And if that strength, that unity of purpose, demands a uniformity of thought, word, and deed, so be it. I will not hear talk of freedom. I will not hear talk of individual liberty. They are luxuries. I do not believe in luxuries.

The war put paid to luxury. The war put paid to freedom.
While the movie vaguely suggests that this government is racist, it's very clear in the book (where one of the most popular t.v. shows is "Storm Saxon," whose eponymous hero saves imperilled white women and children from leering Africans). The non-white races, the gays and lesbians, and political dissidents of all sorts have been rounded up, interrogated, tortured, starved, and killed.

In the midst of this state of affairs, a terrorist appears one November 5th, dressed as the original English terrorist, Guy Fawkes. His first move is to take care of Fawkes's unfinished business and blow up the houses of Parliament, and he thereafter pursues a seemingly random plan of destruction in an effort to shake up the English people and get them to take their country into their own hands. One man's terrorist, after all, is another man's freedom fighter.

I have next to no experience with comic books, so reading the novel was sometimes confusing, since I'm not entirely familiar with the conventions of the genre; I also kept forgetting which of the various worried-looking Englishmen in suits was which. But the novel is ultimately more intellectually interesting than the movie: it has a variety of subplots that paint a much richer and more disturbing picture of life in this totalitarian state, and the figure of V. is likewise more complicated than he is in the movie--he's still largely a sympathetic character, but he's also much more clearly a kind of psychopath. The story is surprisingly funny, very literate, and also very much of our time

As V says: people should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.


kfluff said...

I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed both! There is something more compelling about the novel, I think. At least in part, it seems more "gritty" to me--the film is so very glossy. Yet I still can't get over that last scene in the film, when the masses appear dressed like V. A governmental fear indeed.

From what I hear, Moore's latest piece is called "The Lost Girls" and takes up the lives of Wendy (Peter Pan), Alice (Wonderland), and Dorothy (Oz). In short, he seems friendly to the lit types.

Flavia said...

GWB was telling me about this project when I was visiting him last--he's a big Moore fan as well. Next time we come through your neck of the woods (which, actually, we *will* be doing a coupla times before next July) we should meet up, and y'all can talk paranoid anarchist fantasies!

But really, thanks again for the rec. I'm so totally buying the DVD of Vendetta and writing it off as a business expense.

kfluff said...

Come on down!! I'm always up for paranoid anarchist fantasies, but I'll refer you to Senor Fluff for the Moore expertise. I started typing out an email to you and realized I don't know the proper protocol for a blogger meetup. How's about I write your gmail address?