(These reviews are coming in no particular order but V for Vendetta comes first because it’s not part of a series so I don’t feel lots of comparison with other films will be necessary and, most importantly, I just watched it. SPOILERS throughout, TW: rape/police brutality and paedophilia)
“Our integrity sells for so little but it is all we really have” – Valerie
V for Vendetta should have more stars. It is a film about political oppression and fascistic regimes and the pressure those regimes put on marginalised, minority and otherwise undervalued groups. It has an interesting, if strangely accented heroine played by the wonderful Ms Portman and it has Valerie, who is tortured for being gay and who tells us not to sell our integrity. However, I feel that the Wachowski Brothers and James McTeigue have chosen to sideline the pressures this society puts on women, the fact that the ‘Finger Men’ are sanctioned rapists – not to mention the genocide that must have taken place in this, now totally white, Britain. Their focus on the LGBT+ community is of course not to be undervalued but why this must come at the expense of any kind of feminist or anti-racist message is difficult to understand, although as the graphic novel was written throughout the 80’s when AIDS was seen as a far more pressing issue than it is today it was perhaps natural to predict that homophobia would be the most prevalent form of persecution in this imagined future.
So, let’s break it down
The Bechdel Test
Developed Female Relationships
(The closest we get to a female/female conversation in this film is via a toilet paper letter sent from a woman who has been long dead. Frankly this does not resemble any conversations I, nor, I venture to guess, any other woman has ever had, so it shall not count here.)
STAR: Non-stereotyped Female Characters
– STAR: Developed, Prominent Female Characters
(As is probably obvious I have not yet discovered the secret to star graphics. However, enough of my inadequacies. These stars are earned by Evie, Valerie, and, to a lesser extent, the Doctor who used to be a botanist. They are all presented as complicated women with involved inner lives, desires which reach far beyond princes and babies and who actively engage in the world they live in. Hooray, female characters that are like real people! Stars for everyone)
No Excessive Air of Misogyny No Rigid Adherence to Gender Norms
(Sadly my hoorays were not long lived. Now, one might say “Katie, this is a dystopian world created to rather heavily resemble Nazi Germany. Of course there is an excessive air of misogyny. Such is the nature of dystopian worlds.” And perhaps you would be correct. However, it seems to me that if you are attempting to make a point about the misogynistic nature of your dystopian world then you should have at least one of your characters mention that it is misogynistic. Do we hear about the discrimination against women specifically in a curfew system enforced by rapists?No, we do not. Nor is our attention drawn to the fact that there are no women on the Sinister, Ruling the Country from a Room of Darkness committee. In fact it is not clear whether this is seen as an element of the dystopian world or just a reflection of what things are “naturally” like. I must also point out that our hero kidnaps and tortures our heroine and, when she displays her unpleasant surprise on hearing that he has stolen her identity card to commit a murder he says “I may have killed those Finger Men too but I didn’t hear any complaints then”. Wow V, she didn’t stop you from attacking her rapists so she loses all right to object to your murderous ways. It seems I feel more strongly about this than I had anticipated, but really, this is not interesting Moral Ambiguity. This is manipulation leading to Stockholm Syndrome – which is a worryingly prevalent model for romantic relationships in films)
STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation
No Objectification of the Female Body
(Another star, thank God. So yes, there is no lingering over Evie’s body. She is not inexplicably naked in any scenes and her exposed arms, legs and newly shaven head while she is in “prison” are not sexualised in any way. Indeed, this exposure is treated as something horrific, an invasion of privacy and it has the obvious, physical effect of making her seem cold and malnourished. However, we cannot say this is a film free of objectification because, in another wonderful move from V, Evie is dressed up as a ‘sexy child’ and used as bait for a priest. Friends do not dress friends up as sexy children and use them as bait for priests V. They never do that. Also, as I discovered, if you search Natalie Portman V for Vendetta in Google Images, the first 2 suggested subsections are ‘Priest Scene’ and ‘Dress’ (referring to the priest scene dress) which perfectly demonstrates why objectification is never ok, because The Internet will not assume that a scene such as this is an exposé of the horrors of objectification. Rather, The Internet will view this scene as pornography. Good one Internet)
No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women No Threat of Male Violence Against Women
(The stars are over for V for Vendetta. I do not think you should begin your film with an attempted rape scene just to be Gritty and Edgy and Shocking. Particularly when the would-be victim’s feelings about the scene are never explored and really the whole scene is just a way for Our Hero to prove himself as such, before he ruins Evie’s life so that he can show her some fireworks and then later throw his Noble Rescue right back in her face as has been previously discussed. Also Our Hero should not torture and interrogate Our Heroine and then be almost immediately forgiven for his actions. In my opinion at least)
It gets 3/10 Bonus Points. 1 for LGBT+ women (Valerie) 1 for working class women (all of the people in The Public Reaction scenes, the little girl with glasses, and Evie herself is described as a ‘working class girl’ on the DVD case (I know, I have DVDs, old school) although her accent would suggest otherwise) and 1 for women in traditionally masculine roles, for the doctor.
So there we have it. 3 Stars. 3 Bonus Points. I know it looks like I hate this film, but I really don’t. I just wanted to point out that even such a politically conscious film which seems to encourage challenging the status quo and overturning such dominating systems as the patriarchy is essentially entirely complicit in the very systems it seems to denounce. Even so, it has a prominent gay woman as a character, and Our Heroine has a past, political beliefs, literary favourites, and a body she is not forced to display. So all is not lost.
*A note for Alan Moore – Mr Moore refused to be associated with this film due to its stripping his political message of nuance, failing to centre the debate around anarchism, and removing all mention of the importance of racial purity to the fascist regime. In the graphic novel Evie is 16 and attempting to earn some extra money as a prostitute, whether this would have been a better or worse way for the film to progress is debatable however, at the end of the graphic novel Evie becomes V, takes his mask and cloak and plays his part. Surely this is a more interesting development than that they fall in love and a fascist regime falls apart in one night. Ah Hollywood, once more you have fallen into the trap of tying up all the endings and sculpting your characters into more conventional shapes. Maybe next time*