Violence, Victims, Vaudeville, Vengeance, Victory: V for Vendetta.

v cover“The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die. The freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow that freedom? I think not. I think not.”

-Adam Susan, leader of Fascist England

* * *

“Her name is anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel.”

-V to a statue of Madam Justice

* * *

Note: Spoilers. If you haven’t read the book/seen the movie, and you don’t want the ending to be spoiled, stop reading. I’m not promising not to reveal anything important.

I recently finished reading V for Vendetta for the first time. A remarkable graphic novel. I think the idea that stood out the most for me, the idea I’m still pondering a few days later, is the concept of identity.

First, Evey, the first girl that we see V rescue. He takes her back to his home (lair? headquarters? whatever), and throughout the book, she becomes his accomplice, of sorts. They experience a separation when she no longer wants to be involved with V’s plans, but then, in the end, she once again subscribes to V’s ideals and eventually takes his place after he is killed.

eveyHer name, though, Evey, alludes to Eve, the first woman in the Bible, Adam’s companion. In fact, her name is Eve, which she calls herself infrequently. More often, she adds the -y to the end, a derivational ending that implies, perhaps, innocence and youth. In the fascist world in which they live, V is trying, in a twisted way, to save the citizens of England from the political slavery they are enduring. Eve is his hope for future reconstruction, his legacy, the one to even assume his identity after V is gone.

We also have an Adam–Adam Susan, the fascist leader of England. In this tale, Adam and Eve are not on the same team.

Then, of course, in regards to identity, we have V. This is an assumed identity, named for the room in which he was held in a concentration camp (the Roman numeral V). It really frustrated me at first that we never find out who V really is. I wanted desperately to know–was he Evey’s father? A high official in the fascist regime? Why could we not know? The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that we never could know V’s true identity. V was a constructed identity, borne out of the torture from the concentration camp, the vicious, mind-altering drugs that were pumped into his body (the drugs that killed everyone else involved in the experiment). V is who this person became–whoever he was before ceased to exist. Knowing the face behind the mask would give us readers no knowledge or power. We must accept V is a construction, with a brand-new identity.

v2This constructed identity, in fact, is what makes it so easy for Evey to step forward after V’s death. She then becomes V. Without knowing his original identity, it is easier for her to don the mask and take his place, to continue his plan of terrorizing England in hopes of destroying fascism. And because no one else knows who V really is, as well (he’s killed them all off–or driven them insane–at this point), then no one has to know that the original V is dead (if he is indeed the original–who’s to say he didn’t assume the identity from some predecessor?).

Beyond identity, this graphic novel also explores the idea of freedom. The first quote from Adam Susan reveals that fascism took hold in England because the leaders believed that freedom only leads to tragedy–poverty, death. They could only see the negative effects of freedom. V, on the other hand, believes “justice is meaningless without freedom.” Enslaving the citizens means that justice is a null concept. When people have no free will, no choice, then we have removed any concept of right and wrong. When people are not free to choose, then we cannot exact justice. We cannot discipline and lead them in the right direction. We can only punish again and again, as if they are no more than brainless lab rats.

The worst part about the fascist regime is, perhaps, that weak, fallible humans are the ones mandating what is right or wrong. And they screwed it up. Badly.

While reading, I definitely felt like this book had an empty, God-less feel. But God is not absent. I won’t make the argument of V being a Christ-figure (because it could really be argued either way). But in exploring the idea of freedom, one can’t help but draw correlations to slavery and freedom in the biblical sense. If Christians are enslaved by the law–by a set of rules (do this, don’t do that) supposedly governing our faith–then we cannot be fully free in Christ. And I think the enslavement of the British citizens–the hopeless, empty lives they lead under the fascist regime–is a good depiction of not fulling accepting that Christ is the only method of salvation.

Another good image that comes out of the book is this: when V hacks the equipment and turns off all the video feeds across the country, people experience a measure of freedom that they had not seen in years. And a girl on a bicycle stands below one of the malfunctioning cameras and spraypaints “Bolucs” (misspelled, of course) onto the pavement. She then leaves V’s signature mark on the wall. She embraces the freedom to question authority, and even to misspell a word. Did she use that freedom in an appropriate way? Perhaps not. Still, she was free in that moment.

* * *

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. Watchmen is still my favorite, but this one was really engrossing and thought-provoking, as well. I’m eager to see the film now–I’ve been waiting until I finished the book.

On a side note, my mom called me a comic book nerd after I launched into an elaborate explanation of comic books vs. graphic novels and a long-winded summary of the book. I fear she might be a little bit right. 🙂

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You will risk all their lives and their souls.

watchmen1I saw Watchmen tonight. Before I attempt to organize my thoughts about that film into any readable blog, I need to set you up for why I love the book so much.

I never thought I’d be a fan of graphic novels, really. But Watchmen (actually the third graphic novel I read) transcended all my expectations. It made the short list of Books that Rocked My World.

As Myron, Russ, and I stood outside the movie theater tonight, debating the merits of the book versus the film, Myron and I (like always) moved into a discussion of why we love modern and postmodern literature (including Watchmen). Books written in these time frames are (usually) so real, so raw, so unguarded. When they’re good, they strip away all pretense and get to the core of what’s wrong with society, and sometimes (even simultaneously) what’s good about society (example: The Kite Runner).

Watchmen is a speculation on how society could wind up. But the beauty of the graphic novel is in the details. The subplots that run parallel to the overarching plot about vigilantes trying to save the world. The minute details in each frame of the story. The extensive history (and documentation) on each of the characters that explains their motives. And the incredible, paradoxical, infuriating ending.

SPOILER: I’m talking about this film. If you don’t want to get my honest, unguarded, frustrated opinion, stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin it for you if you keep reading. This might be intense…but what could you expect from a review on a movie that I’ve been waiting months for, a movie based on one of the books that I love? 🙂

The Good

To be honest, I got to the end of the movie, buried my face in my hands as the credits started rolling, then turned to Myron and Russ with a stunned expression on my face, saying, “Oh, my God. I don’t even know!” I couldn’t have told you at that point if I liked or despised the film.

There were some good things about that movie. Phenomenal things. It must have been incredibly difficult to take a book that already has detailed, elaborate illustrations and turn it into a film. But Zach Snyder, the director, did a superb job. The characters were almost all exactly as they appeared in the novel. Laurie’s hair, Rorschach’s freckles, even the newspaper vendor…most of them were spot on, appearance-wise. Some of the effects were better than I imagined. (Example: Rorschach’s mask is an ever-changing inkblot. In the book, in each frame, the mask has a different design. It’s a long book–hundreds of masks. In the film, the features of the mask was constantly in motion, and I was quite impressed by the effects.)

The personalities, too–Dan’s hesitation, Dr. Manhattan’s stoicism, Rorschach’s black-and-white sense of justice–almost all of them came across exactly as they needed to. The one exception was perhaps Adrian Veidt. I didn’t quite buy his “brilliant, good-looking man trying to save the world” act in the beginning as much as I did in the novel. I’m sure a lot of that comes from my knowing the ending, however.

The beginning of the movie really had me hooked, too. Within the first minute, I was convinced that I’d been correct in hoping that this would be one of the best movies ever made. Snyder’s effort to make the movie resemble the frames of the graphic novel were excellent. I wish he could have carried that through the whole film without it getting frustrating and tiresome. That wouldn’t have been possible, though. But great job on the beginning!

Some of the music was great, too. I really liked the irony of playing Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” in the opening scene with all the violence of the Comedian’s death. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” was a good choice. And Simon & Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” for the funeral. Perfect! (Some of the other musical choices were not so great, as I’ll get to momentarily.)

The Bad

SPOILER AGAIN: Just in case you weren’t warned enough, stop reading now if you don’t want the ending ruined.

Ahhhh! Why change the ending so much?

Dr. Manhattan was not a scapegoat for Ozymandius’ obliteration of most of the global, urban society! The government blamed it on extra-terrestrials, not the only superhero the world had!

And the book did not end quite so happily, with everyone sure that Laurie and Dan would make it as a couple. The book ended rather shakily. When I finished reading, I felt as though part of me were ripped apart, too. I hated the annihilation of so many people, but in a sick, twisted way, it made sense, too. I don’t have Rorschach’s extreme sense of justice, which is what made the ending so difficult for me to read. I wasn’t sure if the truth would ever be told. I wasn’t sure if it needed to be told. I wasn’t even quite sure what the exact truth was…and that is the beauty of a postmodern novel.

That insecurity is there, slightly, at the end of the film, when the viewers are unsure if the newspaper reporter will reveal the evidence in Rorschach’s journal. But it’s not nearly as extreme as it was in the novel, and I think that’s an important detail that needed to be conveyed.

Also, Rorschach. The man is messed up…for good reason. But viewers of the film don’t get that–little of his history is included. You can’t get the full weight of his neurotic, dangerous, demented obsession with fighting criminals if you don’t know his true motives. I knew stuff had to be cut from the novel in order to make the film, but Rorschach’s history definitely needed to be included in greater detail.

The Ugly

First, the scene in Dan’s owl spaceship. There would have been tasteful ways to convey the intensity of that moment. I did not need an excessive, pornographic sex scene accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah,” which cheapened the moment even more. (I don’t dislike the song–it was just completely inappropriate contextually.)

And the violence. Seeing the implications of such graphic violence in the novel was one thing. Even while reading, there were parts that made me cringe and merely scan the images instead of peering closely at the frames. Dave Gibbons often provided just enough detail to make my mind do the rest of the work. That’s hard to translate to the screen, though, I’m sure. Unfortunately, the result was bloody, gory violence that almost made me get up and leave, that left my stomach lurching. And when reading a book where death is a common theme, I don’t have sounds to accompany the images. It was a hard movie to watch (or to sit with my arms wrapped around my head, trying to block out the sounds and the images).

Conclusion

So thank you, Zach Snyder, for making a film that left me wondering if I loved it or hated it (because there can be no in-between here). Thank you for making a film that evoked the same type of reaction as reading the book did–a knowledge that there were exceptionally good thoughts and concepts presented, an infuriating realization that life often cannot be divided into right-and-wrong, and a desperate wondering if it’s even possible to change a small part of the world for the better. Thank you for taking the near-impossible task of converting a beloved graphic novel onto the big screen and making it look almost effortless. (With the exception of the ending, this is one of the best book-to-film versions I’ve ever seen.)

I don’t know if I’ll see it again. Part of me really wants to–I really enjoyed a lot about this film. The other part of me loathes the very thought. I need a few days to let all of this soak in.

It’s 1 a.m.  I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get tonight. I don’t know how much my dreams will be haunted by the Watchmen.

“Never compromise–not even in the face of Armageddon.” –Rorschach

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