(Note: This is a rewrite. Hopefully it doesn't undermine anything anyone's said in response to it. The original was barely readable. I'm still not happy with it, I'd have liked to keep the Tony Benn reference.)
So I finally got to see V for Vendetta yesterday, and surprised myself by being irrationally offended by a particular scene in it. I'll get to that in a moment, but before that, here's what I thought of the film.
A friend of mine leant me the comic book some time ago. He was annoyed by the film version well before it was released. He was annoyed at himself for buying a replacement for his long lost copy of the book, as the replacement copy included publicity for the movie. He's like that. He's really annoyed that Greedo started shooting first, that kind of thing, although he's not as extreme as the CmdrTacos and Pudges who think SD DVDs are a crime against humanity.
Most of controversy over V for Vendetta from fans of the book centers really on two aspects. The first is that the film is not strongly based upon the comic book. It uses the exact same imagery, but to tell a different story and with a different moral. Secondly, Joel Silver is an ass and is part of a long line of asses to completely and unnecessarily alienate the prime creator of V for Vendetta, Alan Moore.
And they're right, sort of. When my friend leant me the book, I read it, handed it back to him, said politely how good I thought it was (I tend to be charitable, and V4V isn't a bad book at all, but I found its originality easy to miss), and muttered under my breath that I liked it better the first time I read it, when it was called "1984".
But I misread it, and movie turns out to have that fault that so many movies have of highlighting the greatest features of the book they're based upon by completely forgetting to include them. 1984 is a book about the terror of totalitarianism. It deals with themes of state conspiracy and the control over communication on a micro and macro level to twist the perceptions of truth. V for Vendetta is a book about the conflict between two extremes, anarchism and fascism. It presents the two as mirror images using strikingly opposite imagery. The proponents of both in the book, V and The Leader, are rational humans who have gone several steps beyond rational in their actions. There's little simularity in practice, beyond the commonality a story that includes a totalitarian regime would have with another book that has become the defining literature on a totalitarian regime.
This isn't present in the movie. The movie is a dumbed down, happy-ending, 1984. It is about the control of information. The hero isn't an extremist, he's actually a jolly nice friendly fellow who unfortunately lost his face in a scientific experiment. He's a friend for the downtrodden and disenfranchised. And he's promoting liberal values, albeit using illiberal terrorist tactics (an more intelligent movie would have explored the implications of that.) The regime he's up against is not the creation of an emergency, such as the Nuclear Winter of the book, it's a scheming, self-creating, fascist regime that's a little more extreme than a conspiracy-theorists view of the Bush administration. Did Bush personally blow up the Twin Towers, installing jet engines on the roof to ensure the buildings collapsed faster than gravity would allow? We'll never know. But we do know that Norsefire, the party running the country in this movie, did kill hundreds of thousands of people in order to engineer a take-over. Which is kind of like 9/11, right? Er, right.
So let's move on to the subject of offensiveness. There's legitimate offense, and illegitimate offense, and I've just found myself quite honestly feeling offended by something, and knowing it fits the second category, but still being offended. So far as I'm aware, it's the first time it's happened - it's certainly the first time I've knowingly been offended at something that, on a logical level, I know I shouldn't be. Curiously, while the same thing comes up in the book as the film, it didn't bother me then.
Offense is a strange thing. People can be offended because a film is called "The Pope Must Die", or because another movie depicts a burning US flag. On every logical level, this makes no sense. In the contexts in which these symbols are used, there's nothing symbolising anything offensive going on. But we live in two contexts, the fictional universe that uses these symbols, and the real world, where the symbols mean something else. And when we start mixing fantasy and reality, it gets confusing. On a logical level, we always know that's wrong. When we are offended by fantasy, it's because we know there's some implication that bothers us, that it isn't completely fantasy. A movie directed by Ann Coulter that uncharitably depicts a bunch of liberal bloggers piloting a 747 into the Empire State Building would probably be offensive, however fictional, because it's a blatant insult.
But then there's where no meaning can possibly be communicated. When a giant space ship hovers over the Whitehouse, and destroys it with a giant death ray, it's hard to interpret this as an attack on any high principle. Dude, it's a space ship. WTF do they care about Republican Democracy? How is that an attack on the President or the office of the President?
So in a hypothetical case, a situation where a symbol of power is destroyed in the context of it being a part of a fascist regime would strike me as perfectly legitimate.
So why was I offended when V and Evey, to the sound of the climax of the 1812 Overture, blew up the Houses of Parliament?