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Matthew Sinclair: V for 'bloody awful'

Matthew Sinclair, a student at LSE - who has his own blog - reviews the new film - 'V for Vendetta'.

I won't deal with the technical flaws with V for Vendetta here. If you want a decent account of the film's flaws as a film you can take a look at the BBC movies website review. The BBC's account of a film that is essentially lifeless is accurate but misses the main problem with the film. This is not just a poor, vapid, attempt at intelligent critique but a part of the paranoid left's apology for terrorism and deserves far more strident criticism on those grounds.

The film is based upon a cartoon set within a dystopian future where the Conservative Party have been elected and all hell has broken loose. A "high chancellor" has been elected and is kicking out minorities, making homosexuality illegal, 'disappearing' dissenters and experimenting on prisoners (clearly the makers haven't heard that we're Cameron's Conservatives now). Essentially the country is being run by utter fascists and this sets up the moral case for V and his campaign of bombings (including a particularly distasteful scene with bombs on the tube) which are hailed as heroic. The original cartoon was a response to Thatcher but has been adapted to serve as a polemic for the modern conspiracy theorist.

This film's history is questionable. It has set up Guy Fawkes as a people's hero (the 5th of November is a recurring theme) but seems not to understand that the most likely result of success in his plan of killing off our parliament would have been an ugly religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics. While Guy Fawkes may have been responding to genuine discrimination against Catholics he was doing so on behalf of a far from blameless community (the reign of Mary wasn't pretty) and in a clearly counterproductive manner. Such historical distortion isn't terribly important but an attempt to render Guy Fawkes the new Che Guevara is hardly the most sensible of starts to a film.

More important and harmful are the constant attempts to associate the fascist regime in the film or the actual Nazis with complaints about our present government. First, this film constantly uses words, such as "Belmarsh", "rendition" or "spin", to associate the abuses in the film with less pernicious facilities used by our actual governments. Second, it features a regime banning the Koran in an allusion to the abuse reported in, false, stories such as those in Newsweek which have caused so much suffering. Third, it makes a major show of a conjoined US and UK flag with a Swastika at its centre. Finally, a major feature of the plot is the revealing of terrorist outrages as having been not the fault of terrorists but, rather, a government plot in order to scare the public into submission. This is an idea that has serious currency in radical circles and the Middle East where most think that either United States or Israeli secret services were responsible for 9/11. Feeding these conspiracy theories and blurring the line between the regime of the film and our government makes the rest of its message, about violent resistance, utterly awful.

This approach is not unique; blurring the line between fascist government and our current leadership is a common strategy of the far left and a central tenet of Noam Chomsky in particular. It is invariably based upon spurious "evidence". Oliver Kamm has done a fine job of exposing the flaws in Chomsky's assaults on Pat Moynihan, allegations of UK government censorship and attempts to distort other issues. Calling someone or a government fascist is largely used as a dishonest rhetorical device but has ugly consequences when combined with a celebration of explosive opposition to fascism.

Neither calling our government fascist nor calling for violent resistance to fascists are rare or particularly problematic stances. The problem is that this film combines the two premises:

1) If you are being persecuted by fascists you should respond violently.
2) Our current government behave like fascists.

The two combined send the message that terrorist attacks are morally justified in the here and now and for this reason V for Vendetta is an utterly awful political statement. As the New Yorker reviewer has noted, the Houses of Parliament are a symbol of liberal democracy and blowing them up on film does not signal the support of freedom. This film has, through its desire to make its message relevant to today chosen the side of tyranny and has no claim to be representing "Freedom Forever!".

The only defence that has the slightest traction is that the two premises can be separated and that as our current government are not fascists this film is simply making the case that attacks would be justified were our government Hitler's. Such a defence does not stand up, though, as associating conspiracy stories about our current government with one worthy of terrorist response leaves a film thoroughly unable to talk about questions of means and ends with any subtlety.

An IMDB reviewer hailed the honesty of this film. Let's hope it isn't remembered that way; this film is far from honest and far from pleasant.


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