As the world watches the growth of the Occupy movement and its often attendant V-masked protestors, it is a good time to look at and discuss the V for Vendetta graphic novel, and whether it is still relevant nearly thirty years after its publication. (There’s a fascinating article here in which David Lloyd discusses the meaning of the mask in further detail.)
In short, V, the eponymous character, sets out to cripple and destroy the government of his day. Voted in by a terrified public after a nuclear war, the fascist Norsefire runs the country in an ongoing battle against anyone who isn’t white, heterosexual, Christian and obedient to the invasive machine. With the Eye, Ear, Mouth, Nose and Finger working as branches of the government in the constant surveliiance and abuse of the citizens, V begins his vendetta against the people who started this terrible regime. Along the way he rescues Evey, and she becomes complicit in his work. An orphan who has been battered by the regime, she becomes more than just V’s stray; she becomes instrumental.
I consider V for Vendetta to be a triumph of the potential of the graphic novel to convey themes and ideas as complex as any novel. I read it at least once a month, and each time I find something new or horribly relevant to today. Whether its priests who survey the death camps or the protestors being gunned down, the novel continues to resonate through to today. As discussed by the Guardian,
But even so, there’s no doubt that the evils of the British Tory party and Thatcherism were preying on Moore’s and Lloyd’s minds when they created the book – as they’ve both often confirmed in interviews. Here is Moore in conversation with a comic fan around the time of the release of the V for Vendetta film: “They were talking less about annihilating whichever minority they happened to find disfavour with and more about free market forces and market choice and all of these other kind of glib terms, which tended to have the same results as an awful lot of the kind of fascist causes back in the 1930s, but with a bit more spin put upon them. The friendly face of fascism.”
No doubt, V for Vendetta is compulsory reading for anyone who has ever felt disillusioned by government or pushed around by propaganda. Its more than just a call to action; it is the exploration of freedom, of choice and personal growth.
I don’t think the movie nearly approaches the level of meaning the graphic novel does; Evey’s choices and growth are very poorly handled in the movie and the ending is changed for the worse. Alan Moore has tried to distance himself from movies made out of his projects and added in another interview that he would spit venom all over the Watchmen movie when it was released. If one looks at the Watchmen and V for Vendetta movies as plain action flicks, then they deliver well. Its not the worst way to pass two or so hours (I suspect that Sex and the City 2 might be). But for those who love the novels, its very much like seeing a delicious cake, handcrafted lovingly by one’s mom, being enthusiastically stomped on by a schoolyard bully. I found this especially true with Watchmen, which was a brilliantly complex and difficult novel. The movie was just so…tawdry. Even though the actors looked exactly like their characters (which is fairly impressive), the only one who even approached the complexity of their character was Rorschach, as played by Jackie Earle Haley.
But a poor adaptation of a book is much more common than a good one, alas. (Fight Club, Sherlock and all the Roald Dahl books being exceptions to this rule.) It is especially bound to happen when trying to capture the complexity of works done by the inimitable Alan Moore. V for Vendetta has four major interlocking stories (V, Evey, Detective Finch, Creedy) as well as minor characters with substansial side stories. All of them come together in the graphic novel and each influences the other. The movie, on the other hand, was noisy and bombastic and mostly missed the point. Perhaps the Wachowski brothers felt that their work of torturing movie goers was not yet complete with the abortive failure of The Matrix Movies That Dare Not Speak Their Names. So they punished V instead.
Still. Hugo Weaving made an excellent V, which is the most redemptive thing about that film. If an audio book was an option, then he would be my first choice.