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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

does anyone get ‘V for Vendetta’?

[crossposted at Geek Philosophy]

Or should I be asking myself, What color is the sky in my world? Is it me? Am I the crazy person here?

The reviews for V for Vendetta are running 75 percent fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes, but even the positive reviews don’t seem to really understand the film, its mythological underpinnings, and all the really powerful, primal stuff at work in it. (Maybe I’m the one totally off-track: judge for yourself.) It’s not necessarily about not understanding comic-book-ishness, the interplay of strong imagery and metaphoric dialogue… although even with the enigmatic metaphors and verbal playfulness of the Vendetta graphic novel drastically played down, many of the film’s detractors still curse V’s penchant for florid speech.

Cuz this is pretty typical: Eclipse Magazine’s Michelle Alexandria, who thinks Vendetta is “one of the most provocative movies in several years,” says this with an apparent straight face:

This dark material is almost too perfectly suited to the duo’s warped view of the world. It’s surprising; ok not really, that Moore loathes this adaptation. This is where I have to say that I haven’t read Moore’s V for Vendetta…

I’m not suggesting one must read the source material for every movie before reviewing a movie, but surely one must read the source material if one wants to compare the two, right? Or am I the crazy person here?

Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times gets so bogged down in details that she misses the forest for the trees:

Apparently, in the future, paintings by Vermeer, busts of Nefertiti and Velvet Underground songs covered by Cat Power will be banned, but the middle classes will live in spacious, comfortably appointed apartments. Butter will be scarce, but red spray paint will be readily available to any 9-year-old girl.

Hmm. I suppose it’s just possible that an oppressive regime looking to control its populace would not, say, create an artificial “shortage” of a treat like butter. Or that the spacious blandness of white-box apartments could work as a metaphor for a cultural sterility of a society that appears not to have enough of a taste for art and music to decry its banning. But what do I know — I’m a crazy person.

A few critics get it. Colin Covert at StarTribune.com approves of director James McTeigue’s metaphoric eye:

He subtly notes how the homes of average citizens are stripped of all cultural artifacts except a flat-screen TV and a portrait of Sutler, yet he stages the film’s action set-pieces with the flamboyance of a satirical cabaret act.

But who cares about comic-book-ishness and metaphors and such when you can misunderstand politics? Like Kevin Carr at 7(m) Pictures:

Trying to make a significant message “V for Vendetta” has vendetta against modern conservative politics. In the middle, things turn out to be more about the oppression of homosexuals (a blindingly obvious dig at the recent gay marriage issues that have gone down in flames) than about politics. I would imagine a heavily fascist government would more interested in detaining and arresting radicals and subversives than someone who has a copy of the Koran or the lesbian couple living on their own.

I guess Kevin doesn’t understand that conservatives are generally pro small, unintrusive government, and that the oppression of gays is political, that, in the appropriate political environment, deviating approved norms of sexuality and religion and lifestyle is radical and subversive.

Kevin also suggests that “rather than being anti-fascist, ‘V for Vendetta’ comes off as being pro-terrorist,” and he’s not alone in this bizarre conception. “A terrorist as a hero?” asks the headline of SeattlePI.com’s review, by William Arnold… and he likes the film (I think):

There’s also a perverse fun — and suspense — in never being quite sure just how far down the road this movie is going to travel in sanctioning terrorism and making us pull for an al-Qaida-like renegade who wants to destroy an edifice that is one of Western civilization’s most beloved symbols.

As it turns out, the movie goes pretty darn far down this road. And while this will strike some people as, at best, irresponsible, and, at worst, treasonous, it struck me as a subtle, cheeky way to make us look at just how seductive the psychology of terrorism can be when you’re sure you’re in the right.

Treasonous? Isn’t that what King George and his lot said about George Washington and his lot? For all the reviews complaining about the supposed obviousness of the philosophies of the film — like the idea that history is written by the winners, who get to decide who gets labeled a terrorist and who gets labeled a freedom fighter — it’s clear that not everyone is familiar with these “obvious” ideas.

My new pal Colin Covert again:

V is a terrorist, but is a government that controls its people through fear morally superior? Wasn’t the Boston Tea Party terrorism in service of liberty? When do we call terrorism heroism? Tackling such ambiguities is what will keep audiences arguing about “V for Vendetta” while most Saturday-night popcorn movies evaporate before we reach the exits.

Mike D’Angelo in Las Vegas Weekly sees an even more nuanced subtlety in the character of V:

[P]ay no attention to the sputtering of various critics and pundits to the effect that V for Vendetta glorifies terrorism. Even if you’re not inclined to giggle at V’s vociferous volleys of verbiage, it’s abundantly clear that the Wachowski Brothers… view the character with a mixture of admiration and revulsion…. V for Vendetta presents the case for violence as a necessary evil, but it also employs a patent lunatic as its mouthpiece. Only in a climate where Bill Maher is pilloried merely for saying the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards could such a stance be perceived as uncritical or irresponsible, rather than questioning.

Still, we must endure geek-haters like Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who sneers:

“V for Vendetta” is the sort of movie that elicits passionate debate on the Internet among people with user names like Lord Asriel, Killdozer, Rant Breath and DocPazuzu.

I guess that’s as good a way as any to dismiss something you can’t work up a passion for yourself.

Colin Covert again:

This rousing anthem to defiance — political, personal and philosophical — also defies a longstanding rule of comic-book movies. Action blockbusters usually value artful explosions more than incendiary ideas. The gripping, intelligent and innovative “V” overturns that tradition. It refuses to be a trivial thrill ride.

At least I’m not alone in my crazy-person-ness.

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