The Two Faces of V

With a movie having just been made of V for Vendetta, it’s inevitable that comparisons are drawn between the original and the adaptation. What is surprising is that many seem to consider the movie equal or superior to the graphic novel. It seems certain circles still consider sequart to be the ugly step-sister to mainstream entertainment, and though graphic novels have gained much respect as art over the past few decades, some apparently believe that cinema is better by default. Comments have been made that the movie is faster paced and, being modernized, is fit for a modern audience. I maintain, however, that the graphic novel stands on its own merits as a timeless piece of art, not just entertainment, as can be seen in the complex relationship between Codename: V and Evey, inasmuch as they are opposite and complementary, making it absolutely necessary for Evey to take up V’s mantle for revolution to take hold. Even if V had lived, he could not have brought about anarchy without chaos (“The Land of Do-As-You-Please”) or Eve to complete his work.

Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta

Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta

Looking at the surface of the characters reveals a little of their nature as opposite sides of the same coin. V is the male half, Evey the female half. Her name is really the reverse of his: Eve (pronounced “eev”) as opposed to V (“vee”). His baptism comes through fire, torching the concentration camp from which he escapes, while hers is in the rain, divesting herself of complacency, a mental prison. Even in the basic traits of gender and name,Moore has established that these two characters are opposite forces, and their roles in the revolution carry the theme further.

Violence is a necessary part of the revolution V is perpetrating. He sees only one way to end the fascist tyranny. To that end, he destroys government buildings, kills officials, and even tortures his successor. Violence is a necessary ingredient to grooming the next V,even as it was necessary for his own creation. And it is his role, as the man, as the aggressor to kill and destroy. And he does it artfully.

Eve’s role as the woman is to grow the seed of anarchy so violently planted, not to continue the killing. When she protests that she will do no killing, V tells her to rid herself of the gelignite: “After all, as you point out, you won’t be needing it.” V already knows that Evey’s job is the other half of his, not the same. Even as he tortures her, he knows that it is not enough to make her his counterpart, but it is necessary for there to be some tenderness, found in the letter that helped forge him. Violence is tempered by love, unconditionally given by a stranger in similar circumstances.

Perhaps it is the letter which fulfills Eve’s transformation, as she decides ultimately not to kill the man who killed her lover. V, the Destroyer, the Male, upon escape from prison sets about a complex scheme to kill all of those who ran the concentration camp. He offers to kill in Eve’s name, having stopped her from doing it herself earlier. Eve, the Creator, the Female, turns down the offer. It is not in her anymore.

This juxtaposition of V and Eve is muddied in the movie, however. In Hollywood, it seems almost impossible that a man and woman can co-exist in the same film and not “fall in love.” In the film, V becomes less eerie and is almost cuddly at points. One of his greatest goals seems to be to dance with Evey. Admittedly, this is less creepy in the movie than it would be in a book where Evey was only sixteen, but it seems to miss the whole point. Book-V is focused on his mission. He has to forge someone to continue his work when he dies. Movie-V has his death planned in advance, but it is less important who takes his place.

Thus the film’s ending is quite different from that in the book. Whereas in the original, Evey imagines her face to be the face behind the mask, and so takes up the mantle of V, in the movie, the faces behind the mask are the oppressed deceased. Having mailed a mask to each of the citizens (which must have cost a pretty pound) most of the populace seems to be wearing one at the end of the film, where they assemble eagerly awaiting to watch the House of Parliament be destroyed as promised. It seems the populace shall be collectively V, establishing a new society.

Perhaps this is necessary for the film, inasmuch as the writers don’t seem to be pushing anarchy forward, as Moore did, but instead a democracy. In that case, Eve is really almost incidental to the story. V is trying to inspire the people to seek something more, a better government than they have now. This is speculation, however, as the film never tells us what government would be better than the one in place.

The problem is, it’s a less complex story. Reducing V and Eve to star-crossed lovers makes the movie like so many others that have come before it. It dulls the viewer to the main message, trying to inspire false sympathy for the deformed V. He can never know the love of a woman, isn’t that terrible? Eve is also reduced. She is a love interest, not the Creator/Female half of the Destroyer. She is not now the mother of a new society, one which does not submit to fascism and embraces anarchy.

Comparing the movie to the comic, I find the comic superior. The complex themes of the book are simplified in the movie. While Moore’s work shows us the value of sequart, the Wachowski brothers show us the weakness of cinema. Nothing in the nature of sequart makes it an inferior art form. It’s all in the execution.

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Tom Baker

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