"They make us feel indebted
For saving us from hell
And then they put us through it
It's time the bastards fell!"
-- "Suspect Device," Stiff Little Fingers, 1979
"The revolution will not be televised."
-- Gil-Scott Heron
The more things stay the same, the more they change. Or vice-versa. Originally written and published in 1981, the comic book V for Vendetta was created by Englishmen Alan Moore (writer) and David Lloyd (artist) in response to political events in their home nation. They created a dark fantasia about life under fascism in a near-future England, and a masked man who sprung from the shadows to smash the iron grip of power. Over two decades later, V for Vendetta comes to the big screen with a script adaptation by Andy and Larry Wachowski, with big stars and big money all apparent in the final product. And once again, Hollywood moves at the speed of lead; a rousing response to Thatcherism is exactly what the world needs now.
Time turns all artifacts of rebellion into fetish objects: Ronald Reagan is immortalized as a collectible plate. Che Guevara's known mostly as a T-shirt. Billy Bragg's early on-the-cheap LP's of protest songs have been re-mastered for a CD box set with bonus DVDs. And turning any work of art into a movie inevitably takes time. The question of whether the world of 2006 resembles that of 1981 politically is a matter of personal opinion; the question of whether filmmaking has changed in the past 25 years is not. Moore's original vision (which I read when it was first published in serial form, riveted with adolescent angst) is so old it takes place in a future that is now our past. (It's also worth nothing that Moore has asked for his name to be removed from the film as part of a dispute with DC Comics - which, like Cinematical, is nestled under the corporate umbrella of Time Warner, along with Warner Brothers Films.)
The story is still essentially the same; after political chaos and mass destruction, England's risen from the ashes of ruin to be reborn as a orderly, healthy, efficiently-run dictatorship, complete with secret police and propaganda broadcasts. A young woman, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is out past curfew and set upon by the feared 'Fingermen' – secret police that can call anything you do a crime and whose every action is, by definition, legal. The cops are stopped by a single man – a cape-wearing phantasm wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, an unceasing, unsettling smile beaming out as he dispatches any who oppose him. (The film shows and explains how Fawkes attempted to destroy the House of Parliament in 1605 in a prologue, so American audiences won't be left wondering why the dude kicking ass is wearing what looks like, as near as they can tell, a Hamburglar mask.)