For those of you out there who loved Brokeback Mountain but wished Ang Lee’s gay-friendly opus had featured a bit more butt kicking than butt ramming, and who felt the stifling period atmospherics of Good Night and Good Luck’s First Amendment defense could have been enlivened with a dash more future-goth posing and David Strathairn speaking truth to power from behind a Guy Fawkes mask, then, finally, at long last, ye olde Reverseblog has a film for you:
V for Vendetta had all the makings of an LOLocaust along the likes of which the world had never seen: a shorn Natalie Portman (snigger), the aforementioned ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask (chuckle), graphic novel source material (heh heh), and worst of all, an effete swashbuckling hero with killer bangs, who peppers his speech with quotations from Shakespeare and words that start with the letter “V” and inhabits an art-filled tower hideout in which a rotation of classic torch songs and anonymous chick-folk stream from a classic jukebox (Oh dear god, make it stop…)—this looked a promising contender to knock the eye rape that was Ultraviolet off its perch as my worst of ’06 thus far. V for Vendetta couldn’t be good, right?
And, cheesy as it is, it may not be, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get more than a little bit swept up in the agit-prop fervor of the work, one whose good intentions far outweigh and surpass its execution. This is not to say that V for Vendetta is poorly made—on the contrary, James McTeigue’s direction is, refreshingly, a far cry less flashy than one would expect from a Wachowski brother protégé, hewing closely as it does to a scope of action delineated by actual corporeality that avoids wading too deeply into the waters of bullet-time or extensive CGI work. It’s rather that, given the politics the film endorses, and how surprising their appearance in a blockbuster was, I left wishing that V for Vendetta might have been just a few notches more ingenious. Though, given the relative paucity of free-speech and pro-gay-mongering found in the majority of high-budget action movies, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. I hate to burden ostensible popcorn entertainment with the mantle of "relevance," but well....V for Vendetta may be among the most openly pro-gay blockbusters ever.
I’ll go out on a limb: packaging this kind of rhetoric in with a rip-roaring (or close to it) actioner is a more important and valuable gesture than the sum of Brokeback Mountain and Good Night and Good Luck. Are those films better? We can leave that up to personal preference (for my part: yes to Brokeback, possibly to GN&GL). But I think that the dissemination of the ideals that these films share may stand a better chance at long term success in the places where they really need to be heard when not worn so openly on the sleeve. Radical polemic is important (though none of these films really are that), but there’s something to be said for the subtle, gradual absorption of unfamiliar ideals engendered by the lulling confines of a blockbuster narrative. As duly noted in the only salvageable sequence of Thank You For Smoking, Hollywood images have power over their audiences: There’s a reason why this shit works, and I dare any homophobe out there to sit down with V and not feel a twinge of outrage in the face of the neo-Fascist government’s persecution of homosexuals—the way this is framed in the narrative, against the backdrop of an unexpected, sun-dappled coming out tale parked three-quarters of the way in allows no other response. They say classical Hollywood manipulates, and well if these are the ends, the means might well be justified.
Joe Arkansas wasn’t buying a ticket to Brokeback no matter how many awards it won, how much money it made. But he might buy a ticket for V for Vendetta and end up confronting some ingrained assumptions—perhaps the, admittedly over-baked, combination of a Fascistic government, societal suppression and the castigation of minority groups might be eye-opening. Perhaps not. It’s all so obvious that part of me did chuckle at V for Vendetta until I stopped to think just how long it’s taken people to come around and realize how fucked we actually are under Bush II. Call me a Northeastern, elitist liberal, but when history weighs in with its assessment of this presidency, I’ll wager a twenty that I get the last laugh. Still a few steps away from the full-on superhomo outing that would have upended the apple cart entirely, V for Vendetta is, nevertheless, surprisingly watchable idea-porn that’ll square well with the lefty set (who among those this administration has alienated doesn’t occasionally wish for a lone hero wearing a Leon Czolgosz mask to enter stage right and correct society’s wrongs?), but I wonder if its effects might not be more widespread. Not quite the head-on confrontation with Conservativism that Brokeback was, though never seemed to really want to be, we may all look back on V with the benefit of hindsight and find it to be the more indicative of, and influential on its time.