CBS News Sunday Morning contributor David Edelstein reviews the vengeful, and occassionally liberating, "V for Vendetta."
"People should not be afraid of their governments. Their governments should be afraid of them."
"V for Vendetta" centers on a violent revolutionary, a cross between Zorro and the Phantom of the Opera, who takes vengeance on a repressive totalitarian state; and while I sat there laughing and whooping at the great action and better explosions, I kept wondering why a comic-book thriller would feel so politically subversive, and so weirdly out of step.
After all, our country was forged by revolution, and the French Revolution we inspired produced such paintings as "Liberty Leading the People," which in turn influenced our national icon (Statue of Liberty). We certainly like revolution if it's a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. (STAR WARS)
But minus Jedis and Wookies, violent revolution now seems vaguely anti-American -- it's what Commies do. It's not especially good for the market, know what I mean? The sexual revolution: what would the Founding Fathers have made of that? In the '80s, there was a laughable flop Al Pacino movie called "Revolution" that made the whole episode look like a rock 'n' roll orgy.
"V for Vendetta" was written by the Wachowski brothers, of the "Matrix" trilogy, which also featured a revolutionary but one with mystical and religious overtones. The badly burned superhero, he's called "V," is played by the villain of "The Matrix," Hugo Weaving, in a mask modeled on the English revolutionary Guy Fawkes.
And it's amazing how riveting that mask is, especially with Weaving's resonant voice coming out of it. His masked swashbuckler rescues Natalie Portman from undercover police goons and makes her his protégé, although it's a failure of screenwriting that once her head gets shaved and she looks like Joan of Arc, she doesn't actually get to fight.
"V for Vendetta" is set in a Soviet-style England inspired by Orwell's "1984." Although the hallmarks of old Soviet culture are everywhere, it's obvious the Wachowskis are blowing raspberries at our current administration, too. The government in the film abolished civil liberties following an alleged terrorist attack. The media peddles state propaganda, the culture of dissent is forbidden, gays and lesbians are locked up in interrogation cells.
What's a revolutionary to do? V doesn't bother with the ballot box. He blows up landmarks and avenging himself on them who done him wrong.
With its mix of revolutionary symbols from history, literature, painting, and film, the Wachowskis push a lot of buttons. The movie is delirious and a little nutty; and it's going to drive political conservatives crazy. That's the thing about a true revolution comedy thriller: it's riotously irresponsible and, if you're in the right mood, absolutely liberating.
By David Edelstein