Dystopia – Final Word

Well, after many, many suggestions on how my list of dystopian franchises could be augmented – this mainly consisted of poeple asking me “what about (blank)?” – I decided there were a few that I really couldn’t proceed without mentioning. This will be my last tour of the dystopia factory, lord knows that place gets depressing after awhile! But one thing at a time. Here’s my final installment in dystopian science fiction series, a hybrid list of novels, graphic novels, and movies!

A Clockwork Orange:
This dystopian novella was originally written in 1962 and was adapted into film by the great Kubrick almost a decade later. In addition, it was adapted into play after the author realized he didn’t like how the adapted movie ended. Having experienced all three, I can tell you that the movie was probably the best. In addition to the rather ingenious ideas presented by Anthony Burgess, it also benefited from Kubrick’s directorial genius and the superb acting of Malcolm McDowell.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the story revolves around a British youth named Alex who is growing up in a world permeated by youth violence. He is the leader of a group of thugs known as “The Droogs”, young men who go about committing acts of “ultra-violence” which consists of them beating up homeless people, random strangers and other gangs, as well as committing theft and gang rape.

In time, Alex and his friends go to far (even for them!) and an innocent woman is murdered during a break-in. His friends, who are already angry over his bullying and strong arming of them, decide to betray him and leave him to the police. Once in prison, Alex decides to cut his sentence short by undergoing a radical government experiment – an artificially created conscience through Pavlovian conditioning!

The result of this conditioning is that Alex is no longer capable of committing any acts of violence. In fact, even the mere thought of violence produces a reaction so strong that he breaks down and is overwhelmed by nausea. This renders him benign, but also helpless. And in time, all his past crimes begin to catch up with him and he is nearly killed. Once he wakes up in the hospital, he discovers the conditioning has worn off, and he can either resume his old ways, or strike out on a new path…

Another interesting side effect of the conditioning is that he can no longer listen to Beethoven without getting sick either. This has to be one of the most curious and intriguing scenes in the movie, where a restrained and helpless Alex begs the doctors to turn off the symphony because he can’t stand the idea of not being able to listen to it. Much like everything else he does, it speaks volumes of his sociopathic nature.

Ultimately, the movie differed from the novel in that the final chapter was omitted. Immediately before this, we see how Alex is now freed from the conditioning. He also seems intent on blaming the current government, which will oust them from power. But beyond that it not quite clear what’s going to happen. However, the following chapter shows how Alex has realized, independently, that he doesn’t want to live a life of violence anymore. Human freedom, he’s determined, is the ability to make choices for oneself, free of persuasion and operate conditioning.

As I said, I truly think the movie was an improvement on the novel, which is a rare thing with adaptations. Still, it is was in the film that the point of the story really came through, thanks to Kubrick’s usual attention to detail and subtlety. Whether it was through those long, close-up shots of McDowell and his crazy eyes, the combination of wide angle action shots in slow motion, or the way that it played to the tune of Beethoven, you really got a sense of the odd combination of genius and madness that is the anti-hero Alex. The reliance on white, sterile settings also helped to punctuate the sociopathic nature of the story – how underneath the veneer of domesticity, brutality and violence can exist! And last, by leaving the ending a mystery, the moral was more ambiguous, which made for a far more effective dystopian feel!

A Scanner Darkly:
Next up, we have Philip K Dicks seminal novel about drug abuse, self-destruction and the various hypocrisies arising out of America’s war on drugs. In this near-future scenario, which takes place in California in 1994 (seventeen years after it was written), a new drug has hit the streets known as Substance D – or SD, which stands for Slow Death. This powerful hallucinogenic is a great high, is violently addictive, and can render users brain damaged after too much use and abuse. And as a result of its popularity and impact, society is gradually becoming a full-blown police state, where cameras – or “Scanners” – are on every street corner and in the home of every suspected dealer.

Written from the point of view of an undercover narcotics agent, the story follows his descent into addiction and his eventual inability to tell reality from fantasy. Through repeated use of Substance D, he gradually becomes brain damaged himself, is released from the police department, and must go to a privately run recovery-center known as “New-Path”. There, he discovers that these centers, which operate like franchises, are actually growing the plant that Substance D is synthesized from. An interesting twist in which we learn that the people profiting from the side effects are the one’s providing the drugs. A stab at strong-arm governments or the pharmaceuticals industry, perhaps?

For the sake of adapting the movie to film, director Richard Linklater shot the entire thing digitally and then had it animated through the use of interpolated rotoscope. The effect of this was to render every single image in a vivid, almost cartoon-like format, which could only be interpreted as an attempt to mimic the effects of hallucinogens. This animation also came in handy with the rendering of the “scramble suit”, a sort of cloak-like device that PKD invented to ensure that undercover agents in his story could completely disguise their appearance, voice, and any other identifying characteristics.

In addition to being science fiction genius, these cloaks were a clear allegory to the anonymity of undercover agents and a faceless system of justice. While responsible for infiltrating and busting up the narcotics subculture, PKD clearly understood that this sort of profession can lead to an identity crisis, especially if the agents in question find themselves using drugs and becoming over-sympathetic to the people they are spying on. This, of course, is precisely what happens to the main character in the story!

In short, the novel was a commentary on the dangers of recreational drug use, but also on the reasons for why such subcultures come into existence in the first place. In addition to ruining lives and causing crime, repression, domestic surveillance, and other extra-legal practices can become quite commonplace. All of this mirrored PKD’s own experiences with the drug subculture and the law, which is why he dedicated the book to all the friends he had who succumbed to drug abuse and died as a result. Very sad!

And let’s not forget the name, a play on the words from the Biblical passage, 1 Corinthians 13:12 : “Through a mirror darkly.” In this day and age, where “scanners” are the means for monitoring society and police officers spend hours looking at their feeds, the scanner has become a sort of means through which people attempt to gaze into other peoples’ souls. But, as with the Biblical passage, this title is meant to refer to how, when we look at the problems of drug use in our society, we are seeing it all through a haze, the result of our own prejudices and preconceptions.

Akira:
How the hell did I forget this one last time? I mean seriously, this is one of my favorite movies and one of the most inspired Mangas of all time! Not only that, it’s a pretty good example of a dystopian franchise. And yet, I forgot it! WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! But enough self-flagellation, I came here to talk about Akira! So, here goes…

In 1988, famed Japanese writer, director and comic book creator Katsuhiro Otomo undertook the rather monumental task of adapting his Manga series Akira to the big screen. Though some predicted that a two hour movie could never do justice to the six-volume series he had written, most fans were pretty pleased with the end product. And the critical response was quite favorable as well, with the film being credited for its intense visualizations, cyberpunk theme, its post-apocalyptic feel, and the exploration of some rather heavy existential questions.

To break it down succinctly, Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, a massive urban center that was literally build up from the ruins of the original. According to the story’s background, WWIII took place in 1989, and after twenty years of rebuilding, the world once again appears to be one the brink. However, as we come to learn, the destruction of Tokyo was not the result of the nuclear holocaust per se. It’s destruction merely heralded it in after the world witnessed the city’s obliteration, assumed it to have been the result of a nuclear attack, and starting shooting their missiles at each other. The real cause was a phenomena known as “Akira”, an evolutionary leap that scientists had been studying and lost control of…

Quite the story, but what I loved most about the adapted movie and the manga on which it was based was the level of detail. Set in 2019 (the same year as Blade Runner, coincidentally!) this series incorporated a lot of concepts which made for a far more intricate and interesting tale. First off, there’s the concept of a post-apocalyptic generation that is filled with unrest and angst, having grown up in a world permeated by the horrors of nuclear war. Second, there’s the ever-present element of gang warfare that has sprung up amidst the social decay. Third, there’s a government slouching towards dictatorship in response to all the protests, unrest and chaos that is consuming the city.

Into all this, you get a secret military project in which the Akira phenomena is once again being studied. Though motivated by a desire to control it and prevent what happened last time from happening again, it seems that history is destined to repeat itself. Once again, the survivors must crawl from the wreckage and rebuild, their only hope being that somehow, they will get it right next time… A genuine dystopian commentary if ever I heard one!

But what was also so awesome about the series, at least to me, was the underlying sense of realism and tension. You really got the sense that Otomo was tapping into the Zeitgeist with this one, relating how after decades of rebuilding through hard work and conformity, Japan was on the verge of some kind of social transformation. Much like in real life, the characters of the story have been through a nuclear holocaust and have had to crawl their way back from the brink, and a sense of “awakening” is one everybody’s lips and they are just waiting for it to manifest.

A clear allusion to post-war Japan where the country had been bombed to cinders and was left shattered and confused! Not to the mention the post-war sense of uniformity where politicians, corporations and Zaibatsu did their best to repress the youth movements and demands for social reform. Well, that was my impression at any rate, others have their own. But that’s another thing that worked so well about Akira. It is multi- layered and highly abstract, relying on background, visuals and settings to tell the story rather than mere dialogue. In many ways, it calls to mind such classics as 2001, Clockwork Orange, and other Kubrick masterpieces.

Children of Men:
Made famous by the 2006 adaptation starring Clive Owen, this dystopian science fiction story was originally written by author P.D. James in 1992. The movie was only loosely based on the original text, but most of the particulars remained the same. Set in Britain during the early 21st century, the story takes place in a world where several subsequent generations have suffered from infertility and population growth has dropped down to zero. The current generation, the last to be born, are known as “Omegas” and are a lost people.

What’s more, the growing chaos of the outside world has also led to the creation of a dictatorial government at home. This is due largely to the fact that people have lost all interest in politics, but also because the outside world has become chaotic due to the infertility crisis. Much like in V for Vendetta, the concept of “Lifeboat Britain” makes an appearance in this story and acts as one of the main driving forces for the plot.

In any case, this also leads to the birth of a resistance which wants to end the governments tyrannical control over society, and which comes to involve the main character and his closest friends. In time, the plot comes to revolve around a single woman who is apparently pregnant. Whereas some of the rebels want to smuggle her out of Britain and hand her over to the international Human Project, others want to use her as a pawn in their war against the government. It thus falls to the main character to smuggle her out, protecting her from resistance fighters and the military alike.

Naturally, the movie drew on all the novels strongest points, showing how society had effectively decayed once childbirth effectively ended. It also portrayed the consequences of impending extinction very well – chaos, withdrawal, tyranny, etc. However, when it came time to adapt it to the screen, Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron (who brought us such hits as A Little Princess, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), also used a variety of visual techniques and sets to convey the right mood.

For example, most of the sets were designed to look like near-future versions of today. In Cuaron’s estimation, all technological progress would have ceased once the implications of the crisis had fully hit, hence all cars, structures, weapons and gadgets were only slightly altered, or used sans modification. So while the billboards, newspapers and signs were all updated and carried messages appropriate for the period, cars, guns and other assorted background pieces looked entirely familiar.

In addition, much of the movie is shot in such a way so that the images are grey and the light effect seems piercing. This conveys a general mood of drab sadness, which is very accurate considering the setting! Last, Cuaron and his camera crews made many continuous action shots using wide angle lenses in order to capture a sense of crisis and how it effected so many people. Never was there a sequence in which you only saw the main actors and their immediate surroundings. The focus, like the scope of the story, was big and far-reaching.

Ghost in the Shell:
Much like Akira, this franchise comes to us by way of Japan and is cyberpunk-themed. In addition, it also came in the form of a manga, then onto a film, but with a television series to follow. And in many respects, it qualifies as dystopian, given that it took place in a dark future where technology has forever blurred the line between what is real and what is artificial. In addition, it also tapped into several cyberpunk trends which would prove to be quite apt (i.e. cyberspace).

Again, this story takes place in Japan in the early 21st century, a time when cybernetic enhancements and technological progress have seriously altered society. The main character is named Motoko Kusanagi, a member of a covert operations division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission known as Section 9. She is affectionately known as “Major” given her previous position with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. And did I mention she’s a cyborg? Yes, aside from her brain and parts of her spinal cord, she is almost entirely machine, and this plays into the story quite often.

In addition to facing external threats, Kusanagi and her companions also face conflicts that arise out of their own nature. These deal largely with issues relating to their own humanity, whether or not a person and their memories can even be considered real anymore if they have been replaced by digital or cybernetic enhancements. These questions were explored in depth in the movie, where events revolve around a sentient program that was developed by the government, but which has since gone rogue and is seeking an independent existence.

However, another thing that makes Ghost in the Shell a possible candidate for the category of dystopia is the setting. Whether it was the manga, the movie, or the television series, the look and feel of the world in which it takes place is quite telling. Always there is a dirty, gritty, and artificial quality to it all, calling to mind The Sprawl, Mega City One, and Neo-Tokyo.

As in these settings, things look futuristic, but also rustic, poor and improvised, hinting at extensive overcrowding and poverty amidst all the advanced technology. This is a central element to cyberpunk, or so I’m told. In addition to being futuristic, it also anticipates dystopia, being of the opinion that this “advancement” has come at quite a cost in human terms.

Logan’s Run:
Considered by many to be a classic dystopian story, Logan’s Run takes place in a 22st century society where age and consumption are strictly curtailed to ensure that a population explosion – like the one experience in the year 2000 – never happens again. In addition, society is controlled by a computer that runs the global infrastructure and makes sure that the all the dictates of population and age control are obeyed.

In any case, the story revolves around this concept of an age ceiling, where people are monitored by a “palm flower” that changes color every seven years. When they reach 21 – on a person’s Lastday – the crystal turns black and they are expected to report to a “Sleepshop” where they will be executed. Those who refuse to perform this final duty are known as “Runners”, and it falls to “Deep Sleep Operatives” (aka. Sandmen) to track down and terminate these people.

The main character – Logan 3 – is one such operative. On his own Lastday, he is charged with infiltrated the underground railroad of Runners and finding the place they call “Sanctuary”. This is a place where they are able to live out their lives without having to worry about society’s dictates and controls. However, in time, Logan comes to sympathize with these people, due largely to the influence of a woman named Jessica 6. In the end, the two make plans to escape together for Sanctuary, which turns out to be a colony on Mars.

Right off the bat, some additional elements can be seen here. In addition to the concepts of Malthusian controls and ageism, there is also the timeless commentary on how rationalization and regimentation can lead to inhumanity and repression. Much like in We or Anthem (by Ayn Rand), people do not have names as much as designations. All life is monitored and controlled by a central computer, and it is made clear towards the end that the computer is in fact breaking down. I can remember this last theme appearing in an episode of Star Trek TNG, where a planet of advanced people are beginning to die off because their “Custodian” is malfunctioning and no one knows how to fix it.

Metropolis:
A true classic of both film and expressionist art, this movie also has the added (and perhaps dubious) honor of being a classic of dystopian science fiction! Created in Weimar Germany in 1927 by Fritz Lang, this movie tells the story of a dystopian future where society is ruled by elites who live in vast tower complexes and the workers lives in the recesses of the city far below them where they operate the machinery that powers it all.

This physical divide serves to mirror the main focus of the story, which is on class distinction and the gap between rich and poor. To illustrate this artistic vision, director Fritz Lang relied on a combination of Gothic, classical, modern and even Biblical architecture. In an interview, Fritz claimed that his choices for the set design were based largely on his first trip to New York where he witnessed skyscrapers for the first time. In addition, the central building of the futuristic city was based on Brueghel’s 1563 painting of the Tower of Babel (right>).

The theme of class conflict is further illustrated by the fact that the workers who live in the bowels of the city are also responsible for maintaining the machinery that makes the city run. One is immediately reminded of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the divide between the Morlocks and the Eloi. This comes through even more when the workers decide to revolt and begin ransacking the neighborhoods of the elites. Ultimately, it is only through the love of the two main characters – Freder and Mariah – that the gulf between the two is sealed and order is restored, a fitting commentary on how society must come together in order to survive and achieve social justice.

In another act of blatant symbolism, we learn early on in the movie that the workers have taken to congregating in a series of tunnels that run under the city. It is here that they meet with Maria, their inspirational leader, and makes plans to change society. So in addition to tall, Babel-like buildings illustrated the gap between rich and poor, we have workers who are literally meeting underground! Wow…

In addition, several other dystopian elements weave their way into the story. The line between artifice and reality also makes an appearance in the form of the robot which the movie is best known for. This robot was created by Rotwang, a scientist who is in the service of the main character’s father – Joh Fredersen, the master of the city. Apparently, this robot is able to take human form and was created to replace his late wife. Once this robot was released into the city, she began sowing chaos amongst men who begin to lust after her, and is the very reason the workers began revolting in the first place. She even causes the character of Rotwang to go insane when he can no longer distinguish between the robot and the woman she’s impersonating.

Neuromancer/Sprawl Trilogy:
Gibson is one of the undisputed master’s of cyberpunk and future noire lit and it was this novel – Neuromancer – that started it all for him. In it, he coined the terms cyberspace, the matrix, and practically invented an entire genre of Gothic, techno-noire terminology which would go on to inspire several generations of writers. His work is often compared to Blade Runner given the similar focus on urban sprawl, cybernetic enhancements, the disparity between rich and poor, and the dark imagery it calls to mind.

The first installment in the “Sprawl Trilogy”, this book takes place in the BAMA – the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (aka. The Sprawl). In this world of the 21st century, cyberspace jockeys or cowboys use their “decks” – i.e. consoles – to hack into corporate databases and steal information. The purpose is, as always, to sell off the information to the highest bidder, usually another corporate power. In addition, guerrilla tactics and domestic terrorism are often used to get employees out of their contracts, seeing as how most companies have no intention of ever letting their talent go!

picture by Maxim-Lysak on deviantArt

Also, there is the massive gulf that exists between the rich and the poor in these novels. Whereas the main characters tend to live in overcrowded tenements and dirty neighborhoods, the rich enjoy opulent conditions and control entire parts of the world. In addition, the richest clans, such as the Tessier-Ashpools and Vireks, actively use cloning and clinical immortality to cheat death, and often live in orbital colonies that they have exclusive rights to. Much like in his “Bigend Trilogy”, much attention is dedicated to the transformative power of wealth and how it affords one better access to the latest in technology.

But always, the focus is on the street. Here, jockeys, freelancers and Yakuza agents are at work, pulling jobs so they can buy themselves the latest enhancements and the newest gear. In the case of Molly Millions, a freelance lady-ninja, this includes razor nails that extend from her fingertips. In the case of Yakuza enforcer from the short-story (and movie) Johnny Mnemonic, it consists of a filament of monomolecular razor wire hidden inside his thumb. For others, it might consist of artificial limbs, new organs, implants of some kind. Whatever ya need, they got it in the Sprawl. If not, you go to Chiba City or Singapore, chances are it was made there anyway!

*Interesting  Fact: according to Gibson, Blade Runner came out when he was still tinkering with the manuscript for this novel. After seeing it, he nearly threw the manuscript out because he was afraid Ridley Scott had pre-empted him! Funny how things work out, huh?

Final Thoughts:
Gee, there really isn’t much more to say is there? One thing I have noticed is that much of modern dystopia comes to us in the form of the cyberpunk genre. Though the definition of cyberpunk appears to constantly be evolving, it is generally acknowledged that it is a postmodern form of science fiction that combines “high tech and low life.” Having sorted through several modern examples of dystopian sci-fi, I can say that this is certainly an apt description.

In essence, it assumed that the presence of high tech would entail the emergence of a dystopian society, that the endless march of progress would lead to the destruction of the environment, the devaluing of human life, the elimination of privacy, and the line between real and fake. This last aspect was especially important, embracing cybernetics, virtual reality, and things like cloning and clinical mortality. Since the 1980’s, all of these notions have infiltrated science fiction movies, television, and have even become cliches to some extent.

This genre has given rise to new kinds of science fiction as well. For example, it is generally acknowledged that a sub genre known as post-cyberpunk emerged in the 1990’s which broke away from its predecessor in one key respect. Whereas it too focused on the rise of technology, it did not anticipate dystopia as part of the process. This is best exemplified by books such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a 21st century bildungsroman which predicted vast social and political changes as a result of nanotechnology.

Other sub genres that have emerged in recent years include “Steampunk”, a literary form that combines Victorian era technologies with the punk genres noire sensibilities. Other derivatives include Dieselpunk, Nanopunk, Biopunk, and even fantasy-punk crossovers like Elfpunk. Yes, like most things in the post modern era, it seems that literary genres are becoming fragmented and tribalistic!

But alas, I still feel the need to ask the question, what’s happened to dystopian literature of late? In my initial post, I got a lot of people asking me if I could include some more modern examples. You know, stuff that’s come out since 1984 and The Handmaids Tale. But unfortunately, what I’ve found tends to be more of the same. Just about every example of dystopian fiction appears to draw its inspiration from such handy classics as the one’s I’ve already mentioned, or is in some way traceable to them. Does this mean that we’ve hit bottom on the whole genre, or could it just be we’ve moved away from it for the time being?

Well, I recently learned from an article on IO9 that Neal Stephenson himself stated that science fiction needed to stop being so pessimistic and had to start getting inspirational again. Perhaps he’s onto something… Maybe we’ve gone too far with the whole cautionary tale and need to steer things back towards a brighter future, urging people on with common sense and technological solutions rather than laments. Maybe we need to let them know that such problems as world hunger, overpopulation, pollution, climate change, poverty, war, licentiousness and greed can all be overcome.

Then again, I’m working on a couple dystopian tales right now… Is it too much to ask that this craze last just a few years longer?

Thanks to all who’ve written in and “liked” my dystopian series! Hope to see y’all again soon as I get into ore cheerful things…

V for Vendetta

Chances are, we all know people who are avid readers and swear up and down that a movie is never as good as an original novel. Man, those people can be annoying! However, as time goes on I find myself identifying with those people more and more. The difference between them and myself is, they read the books first and then see the movies. I, on the other hand, see the movie, listen to people complain about how “it wasn’t the same”, read the novel, and then join the chorus! Maybe this is a sign that I should read more, maybe its just dumb luck. But somehow, I find that with a lot of adaptations, I’m getting it all backwards.

The experiences tend to be pretty far between, but on the whole, I notice they are becoming more and more frequent. First, there was The Lord of the Rings, where I saw the first movie and then read the trilogy. By the time the trilogy was wrapping up, I was nitpicking all the omissions and changes with all the other Rings geeks! Then there was Fight Club, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed but then read the book and suddenly found reason to criticize. Then came Blade Runner, one of those rare instances where I liked the movie better. More recently, its been Game of Thrones – we’ll see how that turns out! – and, for the purposes of this review, V for Vendetta.

Yes, here too I saw the movie before I ever knew the source of inspiration. Then, having finally read it, I found myself having second thoughts about the movie. In truth, that’s not really fair, but it is kind of unavoidable. Regardless of what order you do it in, you can’t help but be very much aware of the fact that between the original story and the screen adaptation, things change. It might not always seem faithful, but a movie is not diminished simply because it’s different from the source material, nor can you fault director’s for taking creative liberties. And with adaptations that come years or even decades after the book was first released, you have to figure that changes will be made because they have to be. Things have happened between now and then, things which may make certain parts of the story impossible or at the very least unlikely. So with that in mind, let’s get down to V for Vendetta – the movie, the graphic novel, and everything in between!

(Background—>):
Since I knew in advance that V (the movie, not the sci-fi series) was based on an original graphic novel, I thought it only fair that I read it before giving the movie a review. After reading it, I was reminded of why I enjoyed Watchmen as thoroughly as I did. In both cases, Alan Moore was the creative mind, combining an obvious passion for politics, history and narrative depth with the usual subject matter of comic books (i.e. superheros). It was these same elements that Frank Miller would later emulate in order to create one of the best entries in the Batman franchise – The Dark Knight Returns. This is surprising, seeing as how V was apparently a side project of Moore’s, something he and illustrator David Lloyd did for fun more than anything else. The fact that it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed series’ in history, eventually spawning a movie adaptation, was just a sign of its quality.

But of course, the graphic novel was released between 1982 and 89, covering events which took place towards the end of the 90’s. In it, a post-apocalyptic Britain has been spared the ravages of the nuclear holocaust, but then finds itself struggling to survive in a devastated world. It is then quickly taken over by a fascist government that uses the chaos of the outside world and the mentality of “Lifeboat Britain” to take power and justify its extreme policies. After many years of supposed peace and stability, a masked anarchist emerges who begins to slowly take apart the state, exposing its lies, secrets, and the crime that made him what he is.

Not only was this a chilling basis for a story, it also had an undeniably British flavor to it. The setting, the characters, and the mentality of it all just screamed Britain! In the movie, we get much the same feeling, but the elements are different. Rather than involving nuclear war, the plot revolves around the threat of terrorism and repression done in the name of security (something audiences in 2006 would find much more relatable). That, and a slew of other changes, made the movie more current, but also had the effect of watering it down somewhat.

(Content—>):
The movie opens almost exactly as the graphic novel does, except that for the sake of American audiences, the story of Guy Fawkes is first explained. Natalie Portman tells of the Gunpowder Treason, the man behind the plot, and the difference between ideas and the people who fight for them. However, the movie then moves to a near-future London at night, where both Evey (Natalie Portman) and V (Hugo Weaving) are getting ready to go out. In the background, the “Voice of London” – the regimes chief spewer propaganda – is delivering his latest spiel.

Evey then goes out for the night, on her way to meat her suitor and superior over at BTN (British Television Network) where she works. However, on her way she is intercepted by Fingermen (government spooks) who attempt to rape her. She is narrowly saved by a masked stranger who is in the habit of spouting poetry before wielding his knives and cutting his enemies to ribbons. He says his name is V, a name which he then cuts into one of the government’s posters. Thus begins Evey’s adventure with him, and the premise of the story.

He then takes Evey to the roof of a nearby building where a performance is about to begin. This “show” involves the destruction of the Old Bailey, the symbol of Britain’s justice system in London, done to the tune of 1812 Overture. During the display, he mentioned the 5th of November to her, and how that act, over 400 years old at this point, has been largely forgotten. As has the lesson. Through all this, we are made immediately aware that V is a revolutionary anarchist who has a score to settle with Britain’s fascist government. His theme: Guy Fawkes, and the Gunpowder Treason!

I should note that within these first few scenes, there are some notable differences between the book and movie. For one, Evey did not work in television, she worked in a munitions plant. And she was not out for a date, she was out trying to sell herself. Yes, this 16-year old (they never specified her age in the movie) had fallen on hard times since her job didn’t pay enough, was looking to make a little extra money and thought dabbling in prostitution might make up the difference. What’s more, in the movie V whooped the Fingermen’s asses but left them otherwise unharmed. In the book, he killed several, and used gas and an exploding hand, not knives!

What’s more, V did not blow up the Old Bailey in the opening scene, but Parliament itself! Much like the Old Bailey, this was an old government building that was no longer in use. Given the fact that the fascist party that had taken control had no need of parliamentary procedure, the building was essentially empty. But of course, it was the symbolic value that mattered. It was shortly thereafter in the book that V blew up the Bailey, but only after delivering an impassioned speech to the figure of Madam Justice on the subject of betrayal.

In any case, we then get a quick gander at the authorities who run Britain and their leader – the Lord High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Much like in the book he is a totalitarian and runs Britain through several branches known as the Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth and Finger – video, audio surveillance, regular police, propaganda, and secret police (echoes of 1984 with its four ministries!). But whereas in the movie they are known as the Norsefire party (a clear reference to their Nordic beliefs and action platform), the Party was never really named in the book. Regardless, they are of course determined to find the masked vigilante, and put out a spin story about a controlled demolition to cover up the terrorist incident. Since this is a criminal investigation, it falls to inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) to find him.

However, their attempts at spin control prove futile when on the 5th of Nov, V marches into the BTN network headquarters with a bomb and forces them to broadcast a manifesto of sorts. In it, he declares that the people of Britain have been robbed of their freedom by the Lord Chancellor and his goons, and were of course complicit in the process. And that, in one year’s time, he will resurrect the Gunpowder Treason by blowing up Parliament, and invites the people of Britain to come and watch. In the course of his escape, Evey comes to his rescue and is knocked unconscious. Unsure of what to do, he brings her back to his lair and they become acquainted.

In the course of this, Evey begins to tell V her story, how her parents were political dissidents who were taken away when she was young. However, her sympathies are soon spent when she realizes that he is killing people and she hatches a plan to escape. She puts this into action when V asks for her help in killing Archbishop Lilliman (Eddie Marsan), a Party member who was the Chaplain at Larkhill – now the Archbishop of Canterbury – and who just happens to be a pedophile. She knows that running away is dangerous since the police now believe she is his accomplice, but can’t stomach what he’s doing. This is also different from the book, but more on that later.

Shortly thereafter, V enters into phase two of his plan, which Evey becomes involved in. This includes him isolating members of the Party that run Britain, key personnel in the regime, who he then murders. The first is the Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), otherwise known as the “Voice of London” (Voice of Fate in the book). But whereas in the book, V goes through the process of kidnapping him and bringing him to Larkhill – where he destroys his prized dolls (which he collects), in the movie, V enters his apartment and kills him with a poisoned needle. I notice a subtle reference to the doll collection though; in his bathroom, Prothero had a small collection up on his wall.

In the course of investigating, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) – head of the Nose – discovers that Prothero was once the Commandant of the camp. His other victims all have similar ties to the place, one of whom was a doctor named Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), the one who conducted the camps’ experiments and was responsible for creating V. When she is dead, V leaves her journal, in which she kept detailed notes about her time in the camp, for Inspect Finch to find. It is from this journal and their own snooping that the Nose men begin to see what’s going on. Like V, they’ve stopped believing in coincidences and suspect that everything in this case is connected. And since things have escalated, the investigation has been taken over by Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), head of the Finger, which is a blessing since it leaves Finch free to look into this conspiracy.

Things become increasingly desperate as things get closer to the 5th of Nov. The government, as predicted, begins to become more repressive, leading to increased resentment and backlash from the people. Into all this, V continues to point Finch and his investigators in the direction of the overarching conspiracy. This includes the creation of a biological weapon which the people of Norsefire unleashed on England in order to secure power and then pinned on some hapless Muslims as a terrorist incident. They realize that Arkhill was ground zero, and that V was a test subject who became changed as a result of the testing, then blew the place up and escaped! Whats more, they know that this can only end in bloodshed, and with the fall of the Party… unless they can find another way.

At this point, something crucial takes place. Evey, having run away from V, goes to stay with her friend Dietrich (Stephen Rea), who just happens to be the one she had a date with at the beginning. He is her superior over at BTN and takes her in, revealing that he too has secrets, being a liberal intellectual and gay to boot! He promises to jeep her safe. However, after an episode of his show that makes fun of Chancellor airs, the is taken in the night by Creedy and his men. Evey is forced to watch as he’s beaten and has a bag put over his head, thus reliving what happened to her parents. She tries to escape but is captured outside the house.

Afterward, she believes she is in a government camp, where she is tortured, interrogated, and locked in a tiny cell for weeks on end. During that time, she finds a note stashed in a rat hole written on toilette paper. The note is apparently written by a woman named Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a former actress who was an inmate on a count of her being a lesbian. Her story empowers Evey, and when asked to give up V, she refuses, choosing death instead. Her guards offer her one last chance, but when she again refuses, the guard says only “Then you have no fear any more. You’re completely free.”

Mystified by this statement, Evey leaves her cell and finds that she is still in V’s lair. It seems her conducted her torture and detainment as an elaborate ruse to help her come to terms with what happened to her parents, and to find the strength to fight the fascists and win. She is initially quite furious, but in time sees to see what he did as a good thing. It is at this time that he reveals that the woman Valerie was real, that she and V were both at Larkhill together, and he is doing what he’s doing to avenge her and everyone else they murdered. In fact, it was her love of roses that motivated V to use them as his calling card. Eve leaves, but she and V promise to see each other one last time before the 5th.

At this point, V makes a deal with Creedy to betray and kill the Chancellor. In exchange for overthrowing the man,
V will surrender willingly. Creedy agrees, mainly because he knows he’s not likely to be able to stop V otherwise, and that Sutler will have his head in that event. Meanwhile, Evey meets V one last time and he shows her the train that he’s loaded up with explosives and placed on a track that leads underneath Parliament, true to the original Gunpowder Treason! He leaves the controls to her, saying he must go do his final errand, and that she is to decide whether or not to blow up Parliament. She naturally tries to stop him, but he insists that he must go and leaves her.

Nearby, Creedy and his men show up, bringing the Chancellor with them as agreed. Creedy then shoots Sutler and demands V come with them, but V refuses. A gunfight ensues, but V is relatively unharmed and kills all Creedy’s men. He saves Creedy for last and then strangles him, but not before delivering one of the best lines of the movie. “Behind this mask lies more than flesh. Behind this mask lies an idea, and ideas are BULLETPROOF!” He then unstraps the metal vest that absorbed most of the bullets, but is still mortally wounded and lurches his way back to the subway. Once he gets there, he dies in Evey’s arms, and is followed shortly thereafter by Finch.

Not surprisingly, Finch does not stop her. He knows this must happen and lets her set the train off. Up above, the masses are converging on Parliament in anticipation for its destruction, each of them wearing a Guy Fawkes mask! Without orders and no word from the Chancellor or Creedy, the soldiers decide to do the right thing and stand down. The crowd is then in the perfect position to see the fireworks. And they do! The crowd whip off their masks, revealing everyone who’s been in the movie, even those who have died. This coincides with Evey explaining that V was every one of them, not just some masked vigilante inspired by Guy Fawkes.

(Synopsis—>):
Okay, now would be a good point to mention all the differences I had to skip over because believe me, there are a lot!
As I mentioned, the character of Evey was different in the book, being far more vulnerable and naive than she was in the movie. It was in this way that her transformation, which happened because of her contact with V, became all the more apparent. Making her character a stronger, more nubile and independent person who saves V at one point was clearly designed to appeal to post-modern audiences.

In keeping with this, she did not leave V during the commission of his murder of the Archbishop. In truth, he kicked her out shortly after this, thus forcing her to shack up with Deitrich, who was then murdered not by Fingermen, but by thugs. The reason for this was because in the book, Deitrich was involved in criminal activity and had nothing to do with broadcasting, nor was he gay. He and Evey had a sexual relationship for a time, and it was clear that Evey’s unresolved father issues had a part to play in that!

Moreover, the “Leader” (not Chancellor) did not work from some bunker and communicate with his lieutenants on some massive monitor. In fact, he worked from a central location called “The Head” where he was connected to all the other branches (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Finger, Mouth) through a computer named Fate. Strangely enough, he became increasingly obsessed and even enamored with this computer over the course of the story, leading to an eventual breakdown that led to the plot to overthrow him by Inspector Creedy. Speaking of which, the plot to overthrow was not spearheaded by V but occurred as a result of inter-Party politics, a lot of which was the result of Creedy’s wife who was scheming to make sure her lover the new Leader. V, of course, took advantage of all this and played the people against each other so that by the time the train was dispatched, they had all killed each other.

However, in another twist, this plot came to halt when the Leader was shot point blank by the wife of Creedy’s successor (Inspector Almond) during a parade. Her involvement was a side-story that was completely missing from the movie. As indeed was the confrontation that took place between Finch and V in the subway. Yes, in another change-about, that action scene at the end did not take place between V, Creedy and his Fingermen but between Finch and V alone. But similarly, it was this confrontation that caused V to be mortally wounded, right before he meets Evey for the last time and leaves it to her to dispatch the train.

But, as mentioned earlier, V didn’t blow up Parliament at the end, he’d already done that at the beginning. His target
was the Head, and Evey did not just send the train but adopted V’s persona and addressed the crowds of London before it went off. This, combined with a scene were Evey removes his mask and sees herself, her father, and many other faces (anyone but V’s true face) was meant to illustrate what V said: behind the mask is an idea. Behind the mask was anarchy and freedom, and it lives in the heart of all people. The Wachowski brothers illustrated this as well, but chose to have an entire crowd dressed up as V with Natalie Portman doing a voice over about how “he was all of us”.

But the biggest difference of all had to do with how England came to be a fascist state. In the book, WWIII takes place in the mid to late 80’s, England was spared a direct nuclear attack, but society goes to hell all the same. Then, in the early 90’s, the fascists took charge of the country, taking advantage of all the disorder and chaos. Once in power, they proceeded to round up all the political dissidents, minorities, gays, and placed them in concentration camps. And of course, they established a police state where everyone’s movements, words and actions were monitored.

And their slogan was “Strength Through Unity, Unity through Purity”, not Strength Through Unity, Unity through Faith“. Faith, after all, implies the presence of religion – i.e a state where religion and politics are not separate. Purity, on the other hand, implies a state that seeks singularity, which in the case of Fascism involves the active liquidation of minorities and other “undesirables”. This is in keeping with the fundamental character of the Party in the book, a ruthless, fascist organization that has no qualms about committing genocide. By contrast, the Norsefire party was somewhat more subdued, concerning itself with direct control and avoiding racial purity. Ironic, considering the fact that in the movie, they committed mass murder in order to obtain power!

Which brings me back to the different back story that was used in the novel, which I found far more realistic than the movie’s. With the movie, the Wachowskis needed to update things since the end of the Cold War pretty much meant that WWIII was no longer a likely event. And after Sept.11th and the advent of the “War on Terror”, what better angle was there than a government that turned totalitarian because of terrorism and the manipulation of people’s fear? True, it WAS more current, but it also a lot less realistic. The 9/11 Truth Movement’s opinions aside, are we really to believe that any government would be willing to commit mass murder just to get in power? And its openly alluded that the world outside was going to hell all same, even if it wasn’t specified from what (the US’s war is mentioned, but they do not go into detail). This alone would have been enough to create a the “Lifeboat Britain” mentality, why did they need to kill 80,000 people as well?

But aside from all this, the movie was quite faithful to the source material. And most of what was changed arose out of the need to shorten and condense the original ten volumes into a two hour movie. And dammit if they didn’t do a good job of it! Above all, the back story of V was treated faithfully. V being the Roman numeral for five, signifying the 5th of November, and also referring to the five V’s that make up “Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici”, which is Latin for “By the power of truth I, while living, have conquered the universe”. This quote, which is attributed to Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, has immense symbolic value since V himself is the product of a Faustian deal, though it was the state who forced him into it. The deal he makes with Evey is similar, that in exchange for his help, he forces her to undergo a painful transformation.

And of course the movie has undeniable signs of quality that is typical of the Wachowskis at their peak. The colors are vivid (in the Matrix everything was green and black, here it’s red and black), the direction and cinematography are very good, and the writing was both cool and faithful. In many places, the Wachowskis took liberties but still managed to capture the essence of the story and the characters. And I musn’t forget to mention how much the movie benefitted from an all-star cast! Hugo Weaving was especially good at capturing the magnetic personality of V, John Hurt is sublime as the ruthless High Chancellor, Stephen Rea was spot on as the straight and fearful detective, and Tim Pigott-Smith was very convincing as the evil “Creepy Creedy”. And Natalie Portman, wow! Those scenes where she is being tortured and humiliated in prison were made real by her powerful performances.

In the end, I think I’d file this movie under the same category as the Dune Miniseries. In short, it was different from the source material, but was faithful nonetheless. I highly recommend both the graphic novel and the movie, the one is inspired and interesting, while the latter is highly entertaining!

V for Vendetta:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 8.5/10