V for Vendetta
I finally saw V for Vendetta, and I thought it was quite good. Despite Alan Moore’s rejection of the film, and his removal of his name from the credits, I thought the film was more faithful to his vision that I could have expected. (Though admittedly it has been a good while since I read the comic). In any case, V for Vendetta pulls no punches: it doesn’t draw back from its more dangerous initial implications in the ways that high-budget adaptations of comics so often do. The destruction of the British Parliament at the end of the film is the most emphatic such endorsement of subversive terrorist action since Fight Club. More generally, V for Vendetta‘s depiction of a future fascist government is unambiguous: rather than trying to please all demographics, it identifies a deeply religious, homophobic, ultra-”patriotic,” imperialistic surveillance state as the source of oppression. (There is really no discussion of the power of Capital, which probably marks the limits of the film’s vision; but in our current sanctimonious, neocon circumstances, what we are shown will do. The film mediates cleverly between the very British setting — it was originally written by Moore during the Thatcher era — and its deliberate resonances with the current American situation). Jodi has already written about some of the ways that V for Vendetta actually embodies “key elements of Zizek’s political theory” (even though Zizek isn’t cited here the way Baudrillard was in The Matrix). I think the film does maintain a surprisingly radical stance for a Hollywood movie; but the politics needs to be framed in terms of the formal conceits of the film. I was especially fascinated by the contrast between the ubiquitous face of the dictator (many times larger than life size on an enormous video monitor as he gives orders to his flunkies) and the facelessness of V., always wearing his creepily smiling Guy Fawkes mask (with the implication that there is no face even behind the mask, but only flayed flesh, muscles, etc., as a result of the biological experiments he endured, and his searing in the fire when he destroyed the laboratory/prison and escaped). This opposition is also one of voice: as the dictator speaks in hectoring tones to his flunkies, or condescendingly on gigantic public video screens to the public, his voice tends towards the hysterical, while the obscenely magnified opening and closing of his mouth, together with his far-from-perfect teeth command our visual attention. Meanwhile, we can never see V.’s mouth moving behind his mask; and his pronouncements, often filled with literary allusions, elaborate metaphors, over-polite diction from past centuries, and frequent alliteration, seem to be coming from nowhere on the screen; it’s more like a dispassionate voiceover narration. The unlocatability of V.’s voice, and the never-changing expression of his mask, are in fact the most disquieting things about the film. I couldn’t help thinking of Mladen Dolar’s recent brilliant discussion of the ambiguities of the “object-voice” (I hope to write about this book in more detail shortly). The voice, Dolar says, perturbs the opposition between physicality (or the body) on the one hand, and disembodied language on the other, since it seems to belong to both and neither. This duality is also expressed in the way that the voice both inaugurates authority (the superego, conscience) and subverts it (an uncanny alterity, a voice that seems to come from elsewhere). Dolar writes about the role of the voice in politics (the fascist dictator on the radio, the deliberate colorlessness of the Communist leader’s voice, etc.) in ways that would seem relevant for V for Vendetta. V. opposes the lies of official authority (the voices of news commentators as well as of the dictator) with the truths enunciated in his own self-consciously distanced and alienated voice; but his facelessness and voice-from-elsewhere also put him in the same uncanny category as...
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