Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kalpar Lectures: Why Kalpar Dislikes V for Vendetta

Among my friends it has become a tradition to watch the movie V for Vendetta in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th. (Well, Carvan celebrate Guy Fawkes Day while I celebrate the Prussian victory at the Battle of Rossbach.) Initially I rather liked V for Vendetta, but upon multiple viewings I noticed a few problems that I personally had with the film. While it hasn't built into an all-consuming hatred for this movie, it has developed into what I would call an extreme disliking for it. And so today I'd like to talk about why I have issues with V for Vendetta and why I think it's not that great of a film. And if you're wondering why I'm posting it early, well this is so our good friend Carvan has some time to prepare his inevitable rebuttal for Guy Fawkes Day. 

Now, before I get into my issues with the movie, I want to make it clear that most of my problems are on a philosophical, and therefore subjective footing. If I were asked to say if V for Vendetta was objectively bad, I would say no. The A-list cast of Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and Stephen Fry did an excellent job, the movie's very well made, and there are even some parts which I enjoy. (Basically any part of the movie that involves Stephen Fry I like.) Furthermore, I am specifically addressing the movie in my post today, not the original comic book by Alan Moore. I am aware that the movie varies in some aspects from the comic, but as I have not read the comic yet I am unable to pass judgement on that work. All of my complaints are specifically focused on the movie and its more subjective content.

The first issue that I want to talk about, and I will admit this is my weakest argument, is that V for Vendetta uses bad history. My long-time readers should be utterly unsurprised that I simply cannot leave the history alone and must drag it into the argument, but I feel that this is a critical problem with the film. At the beginning of the movie we see Guy Fawkes and the attempted Gunpowder Plot in 1605 where Guy Fawkes and a number of other conspirators attempted to blow up King James I and Parliament. The problem with this, though, is that Guy Fawkes is depicted as a freedom fighter attempting to topple an unjust regime, much like the main character V does later in the film. However, this could not be further from the truth because Guy Fawkes was quite simply a religious terrorist. To provide more context, Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were English Catholics who had hoped that James I (originally the Scottish monarch James VI who ascended the throne after Elizabeth I died without an heir) would end Protestant rule in England and bring the Catholic Church back. James I, however, found that he quite liked being in charge of his own religion and decided to stick with this Protestantism idea. (All right, that might be a gross exaggeration since James was raised Protestant, but you get the idea.) The goal of the Gunpowder Plot was to return England to Catholic rule, rather than to topple an unjust regime. Now, I'm sure Carvan will point out that the English had extremely strict laws against Catholics at the time, but considering that the Gunpowder Plot was the third Catholic assassination attempt against James in three years, can you really blame him for not trusting papists?

My point here ultimately is that in the movie Guy Fawkes is depicted as a freedom fighter when in history he was really a religious terrorist interested in reestablishing the control of the highly conservative Catholic Church. The movie simply could not be any further off the mark with its history and we really should not accept this from our films. I am acutely aware that there will be many, many historical inaccuracies in films but as viewers we really should not tolerate such blatant manipulation of facts. When your entire philosophical premise is based upon an outright lie, as it is in V for Vendetta, it calls the legitimacy of your whole argument into question. And, just as Guy Fawkes was no freedom fighter, neither is V, despite what the movie tries to tell us.

Throughout the film V is painted as a freedom fighter intent on toppling the unjust and tyrannical Norsefire government in Britain.  I mean, look at the poster at the top of the page: "Freedom! Forever!" And really, I think we're supposed to side with V in the movie because the Norsefire government is so utterly horrific in its abuses of human rights that they can't be anything but villains. But, as far as I can tell from V's actions in the movie, his primary goal is not liberating Britain from the yoke of Norsefire rule. V instead is motivated primarily by revenge in the film and for much of the movie we watch him specifically hunt down and assassinate people who were in charge of the concentration camp where he was interred. Instead of attacking strategic resources necessary for the Norsefire government to function and maintain its despotic grip, V chooses to spend a year-long campaign attacking individuals who personally harmed him in the past. This is further reinforced by the fact that V's favorite work of fiction is The Count of Monte Cristo, a work in which revenge is a significant overarching theme and remains a motivation for the main character of Edmond Dantes. However, V tragically misses one point of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is that revenge ultimately isn't worth it. Edmond Dantes is only saved at the last minute from becoming utterly consumed in his pursuit of revenge, but in the film V is both figuratively and literally consumed in his pursuit of revenge when his body is engulfed in the explosion which destroys Parliament. Unlike Dantes, V does not learn that the pursuit of revenge is a futile and unfulfilling gesture which makes you just as bad as, if not worse than, the people who harmed you in the first place. Especially considering V tortures the character of Evie in the same manner that the Norsefire government tortures "undesirables" it's hard to say if V is really any better.

My final point is that even as a freedom fighter, V isn't really a character I can get behind. V doesn't provide any sort of ideas or structure of how things should be run after he topples the Norsefire government. Which is more or less the point because V is an anarchist and doesn't believe in any form of government control so once Norsefire is gone he's accomplished his goal. Really, this is where my inherently Lawful sensibilities come to the fore in this argument and it becomes more a matter of personal preference than anything else. On many levels modern society needs a government and even the most hardened libertarian will admit that we need a government to maintain infrastructure and protect personal property. If you got up, ate breakfast, and brushed your teeth today, the government has already affected you by making sure your cereal wasn't 90% rat shit and your toothpaste didn't contain radium. To take a modern society and completely burn down  the established order would be to condemn thousands, if not millions, to death from starvation, disease, and internal strife. Does the Norsefire government need to be reformed? Yes, very much so, but it still contains good people like Inspector Finch. To burn the entire system down is both spiteful and childish. It would have been better for V to motivate the people to actively resist and push for reform from the Norsefire government rather than to violently destroy it.

Overall V for Vendetta just fails so completely with its philosophical arguments, at least as far as I am concerned, that I cannot enjoy it as a movie. Despite the excellent job of the cast, crew, and editors I find myself frustrated by its message and assumption that anarchy is preferably to any government at all. People should not have to fear their governments, but they should be able to rely upon their governments to provide order and structure for them to thrive. I know if I had to fighting off slavers every morning before breakfast, I'd never get any blogging done, and then where would we be? Not reading Kalpar's Arsenal, that's for sure. While fascism, intolerance, and totalitarianism should be resisted wherever they rear their ugly heads, there are better ways of doing it than burning the world around you. V for Vendetta offers no such alternative methods within its content and offers a bleak future for post-Norsefire Britain.

- Kalpar

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