Yesterday I went to see V for Vendetta , the new movie by the Wachowski Brothers of Matrix fame. It was not a bad movie, certainly an entertaining two hours. Plenty of people will say it causes them to, you know, really think . And with good reason; after all, here I am.
The movie exhibited the same central quality that ultimately ruined The Matrix Trilogy for me: it takes a really interesting and complex idea and makes it beat-you-over-the-head simple. In the Matrix, it was the Jesus theme. Now I have no problem with intelligently wrot allusions to religious themes and Bibilical personages; this can be done really well to great effect. The only similarity between Jesus and Neo, however, is that they both die to save humanity. That’s it. Perhaps that is why, sensing the lack of similarity, the Wachowski brothers thought it was necessary to have a white light in the shape of a cross glow from Neo’s chest as he dies. Thanks for the hints, fellas. If it weren’t for your subtle guiding I’d never understand The Matrix, what with all the witty dialogue.
Anyway, there is a similar simplification and a similar heavy-handedness in V for Vendetta . So, V, the main character, sees himself as a modern day Guy Fawlkes, orchestrator of the “gunpowder plot,” and so plans to blow up the British Parliament in an act of rebellion against a tyrannical government. We learn that this government has conspired in various plots, creating, testing, and distributing a nasty virus that kills 80,000 and blames it on religious extremists, in order to inspire fear in the masses, thereby allowing them unilateral control. They perpetuate this fear through by instituting a police state complete with panoptic surveillance and carefully spun media, a paranoid and brain washed citizenry.
Now, here is where the simplification happens.
In the face of this oppression, V is established as the hero revolutionary, killing various heads of state apparatus he has a personal beef with, rallying the republic, and blowing up some statues. He is cast as a victim, a suave dilletante and lover, a passionate, stead-fast defender of human rights, and, of course, a savior. In short, he is good, the state is bad. But revolution is not that simple. My girlfriend brought up the point that V’s ultimate plan, blow up Parliament, was equivalent to the current regime’s atrocity in that both work though fear. As I think of it now, who knows how many died in the explosion of Big Ben, all that schrapnel, hunks of big building, no one was standing well clear, not army not crowd of V impersonators. Other of V’s methods are suspect as well. Kills plenty of military personal, several ‘baddies’ for whom he served as judge and jury. But what I found more complicating was his treatment of Evey (try to look past the name connotations if you can).
SPOILER COMING UP.
He kidnaps her, tortures her, and manipulates, some might say brain-washes, her. Then we get the scene of cinamatic genius in which the Wachowski brothers have to spell out the comparisons between V and Evey for us by splicing their ‘birth’ sequences together. As an audience member, I am insulted. The worst part, however, is still to come. After all that brainwashing, steeling her to his side, he puts her in charge of pulling the lever that sets off the bomb, stating that he has learned that he can’t make decisions for people and he wants ‘the people’ to decide. And this is supposed to be the scene that makes V a concrete character. His ‘change’ or ‘development’ is to allow the person he has ‘made’ in precisely the the same way he claims he was ‘made’ by the current government, the person in whose arms he dies while saying he loves her, to represent the people in her decision to throw the switch.
Anyway, here is my point. Revolution is not as simple as blowing up a building and killing the ‘baddies.’ That was, in effect, what the regime had done, killed people in a symbolic event and brainwashed with fear to create unity. If V’s revolution goes down and the government is overthrown, in this system the next government will suffer a central and important similarity, it will be built on an organizing binary that casts otherness, however it is constituted, as inferior or evil. Note that V quotes almost exclusively Shakespeare, the font and symbol of Western civilization and culture, and never once refers to any theorists of revolution like Marx perhaps. There is a good reason for this, besides the Red Scare. Marx knew that revolution can’t happen with an explosion; it happens gradually, dialectically, emerging from the structures of capitalism itself. But, of course, no one wants to watch that, so we blow some shit up, makes some appeals to common sense, and keep our logocentrism in place. Going just a bit further, i find it hard to resist drawing a comparison between the puppet media the movie tries to criticize and the all-too-present and insistent hand of the Wachowski brothers, guiding us through critical points in the plot. Zizek is drooling as he watches this movie.