Thursday, 16 October 2008

V for Vendetta

This engrossing graphic novel is still shocking today, and totally compelling. Why shocking? Mainly because the people who star in this book do despicable things: it is a world where self and brutality reigns. Sex is shown to have become merely a blatant power game, and true affection, which is longed for by everyone from widows to important government types, is often only shown by V – the (probably brain-damaged) extremist assassin who wants to bring in a reign of anarchy in the hope that freedom will follow.

Why is the book compelling? This is partly due to the careful blend of ideas and influences, from the obvious (Guy Fawkes and 1984) to the musical and literary (Alice in Wonderland) and theatrical (from Shakespeare to vaudeville), which conspire to make V a wonderful character to follow. (He even includes a reference to a real Yale university social experiment, albeit in an exaggerated form.) Add to this the interesting symbolism present in the way he operates: His first acts include silencing the voice of “Fate” (an hourly and seemingly inevitable government radio programme) and leaving a bomb at the feet of London's Madam Justice statue, treating her as if she has spurned him and “bedded another”.

All this makes for fascinating reading, as do the interludes in which we follow the schemes and private lives of the dissatisfied and power-hungry, or others who are struggling to cope and retain their individual freedoms in this oppressive state. In fact, it all made me wish the recent film adaptation had taken time to build up a better picture of this depressed and de-motivated society and had moved more slowly and carefully through this often subtle and character-driven story.

More on Moore

Alan Moore seems to suggest much more through his work than is actually written. For instance the beautiful sequence in which Finch relives V's hellish escape from captivity ends in a panel of naked ecstasy for Finch, strongly referencing V's original escape. This seems to suggest that re-enacting someone else's experience can bring you to a similar mindset as him or her, or at least it can in this story. Of course method actors try to do the same in real life. But is it possible to go further and even assume someone else's motivations and thought patterns through going through similar trauma? Are people really that malleable?

If so this boils down to suggesting that criminals like V are to be excused for the things they do because the crimes inflicted against them have led to behave in this way. I agree humanity must bear responsibility for how we treat our fellow man, but what we do can never totally relieve another of his or her own responsibility – and we feel this with V. Despite the nature of the way he has been treated by the government, his methods are uncomfortable to us because they are so merciless and cruel.

As the plot plays out, Finch's painful and terrifying journey brings him to a point of enlightenment just like V's, but I am doubtful that his experience of failing at his job, seeing the deaths of his colleagues, and finally taking LSD and becoming entirely paranoid would bring him to the same ideas as someone with V's background and intelligent spirit. Elsewhere in the book, Evey is famously put through a similar experience to V and offered a new philosophy as a ray of light in her situation: That above all else she must never sell out and lose her integrity – she must stand for what she knows to be right, and not let her captors take that away from her. This is surely a noble and helpful idea, that each individual in society must live for what is good, and not give any room to evil, no matter the personal cost. But would everyone make a similar choice based on the reading of Valerie's letters? Isn't this experience more a form of brainwashing, presenting her with hope in only one direction, so that she makes the right decision, and so that she hates the government?

Perhaps you will understand my point if you read this book and engage with its utterly compelling world (this is one experience you do want to share). Of course you might disagree with me altogether...

No comments: