Posted on March 20, 2006
Note: What follows is both a combination of a movie review (which when I do it, usually bombs) and a blither about the way cultural elites deal with things they can’t understand, like people of faith (which when I do it, inevitably bombs). So forwarned is, you know: Forearmed.
Read on or don’t.
SNO was up from school last week, Spring Break. Chose to spend it con famiglia, which we all took as kind. Just like old days there, for a bit.
We went to see a movie together, that being one of the things we used to do. “V for Vendetta,” it was. British film. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
I did a bit of pre-screen research – seemed to be about a “terrorist” fighting for freedom in some futuro-fascist Great Britain. Had some good names on the cast list too. Natalie Portman, for example. Which it’s hard to get too much of her, ordinarily.
The terrorist is the protagonist, like. Blowing up buildings but never killing anyone, except as who deserve it for their crimes. So, yeah: Daring. In a twenty-first century context.
Except that, since this is a film made in Britain’s version of Hollywood, there is a certain degree of artistic license we are supposed to grant. Where to start?
Oh. America’s down the tubes apparently, having lost that “war they started.” But not before bringing it home to Merry Olde. A nasty bug gets loose, lots of people die horribly and in the chaos that ensues certain “excesses” result in the depopulation of immigrants of all flavors. In restoring order, civil liberties are suspended, curfew starts at 10:00 PM sharp, and if you’re out walking about after you’re likely to get disappeared by the English adaptation of the mutawaeen.
Which, as it turns out, is the law enforcement arm of the Church of England.
That’s right – in this post-viral world, England is now an Anglican fascist theocracy. The man responsible is described as a “deeply religious” man. He’s also a member of the “conservative party,” in case that whole religion thing left in any doubt about who the bad guys really are in this movie – in American made films, we usually find out that evil politicians are conservative through a wink and a nod, but “V” spares us having to worry our little heads about it.
The terrorist protagonist is not just a modern-day Guy Fawkes, he actually spends the entire movie in a Guy Fawkes mask, cloak and period hat. Which limits, to a degree, his expressive range: When he’s happy, his mask is smiling! When he’s unhappy, his mask is smiling and he’s throwing knives at people! Sometimes he tilts his head! While quoting Shakespeare!
It gets better. Or, depending on your point of view, worse:
Turns out that the “deeply religious” high chancellor actually unleashed the bug upon his own people, as a clever way of seizing power from the frightened masses, who clearly didn’t know what was best for them, and needed a little bit of killing to bring the point right home. Oh, and just in case you’re still having a problem coming to grips with the terrorist as a good guy – you know: you have been conditioned to think otherwise – we learn that the Archbishop of Canterbury is apparently a church bureaucracy-enabled pedophile. Which is the exact point that I checked out of the plot and focused on technical artistry – which wasn’t all that bad, really.
Even trying as I might to willingly suspend disbelief, the whole weight of all the film’s misplaced moral certainties weighed me down after a while. I had to ask myself: Do the filmmakers not realize that Anglican priests marry?
And while I was on that:
Would no one else look at the death spiraling C of E and think the idea of it as a unifying force (even in a post-apocalyptic England) as risible? The Brits, for better or worse, are for the most part over that whole religion gig.
In an era when cartoonists get death threats heaped upon their heads, does it make sense that the future threat comes not from unassimilated and resentful immigrants, but rather from the same philosophical tradition that brought us the separation of church and state and the Enlightenment?
Do they not realize that the vast majority of modern fascist ideologies are not merely irreligious but anti-religious? Or that many more lives were fed into the insatiable maw of collectivist socialism than were ever lost in their fascist opposition? Or stop to think for a moment that there isn’t a figs worth of difference in practice between the radicalism of the extreme left and that of the extreme right?
Look: I understand that intelligent people can come down on all sides of the issue of faith. I understand that many people might find my own personal religious preferences nothing more than silly superstitions. Some might even look down on me. Having looked at the same sets of facts as they have, and given it no small amount of thought, I find that I am content with their contempt and try to wear their condescension as a badge of honor.
But in this case, the naked display of these cinematic prejudices goes a long way towards demonstrating that, even for educated people, the things we don’t understand – like faith – we eventually come to fear. Because otherwise, I simply don’t grok the part where mainline Christianity becomes a threat to anyone. The faith mainly teaches a philosophy of good life, and how to lead it. It’s a focus on the love of one’s God – if you prefer, you might label that notion “an organizing force that not only cares about us but also the difference between what we label ‘good’ and what we know of ‘evil,’ “ or even “something more important than the instant satisfaction of each of our own desires.” It’s a focus also on love of one’s neighbors, humility, charity and turning the other cheek. These used to be embedded and accepted cultural values, which guided us even when we didn’t quite live up to them. They were values in fact that enabled the tolerance of heterodox ideas on morality – “if it feels good, do it” – which are now used by our cultural elites to hold us in contempt.
For the record, I do not submit that I am better than anyone else because I go to church. But I will testify that, for my own part, I am a better man than I might otherwise be. And if anyone out there is still afraid of me for that, I can only offer this up in my defense: I go fairly regularly, and if they’re talking about seizing the reins of government, planning immigrant pogroms, crucifying gays or somehow wresting from women the control of their uteruses, then I must be missing those meetings.
Most of all the movie just made me a little sad. I think I understand those people who genuinely fear the beliefs I hold dear. I’m always surprised at how little they understand me.