Monday, March 20, 2006

"V for Vendetta" Has Lesbian Love Story at Heart

(Link) The creepy new futuristic flick centers on a vendetta inspired by the love of two women crushed by a Christian Totalitarian government -- and stars the lovely-to-behold Natalie Portman.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Michael Jensen and Brent Hartinger

The year is 2020, and a once-chaotic England is now ruled by a Christian totalitarian government controlled by a dictator known as the Chancellor (John Hurt). The British people themselves are docile, submitting to unrelenting censorship, curfews, and willing to look the other way as gays, Muslims, and anyone else who challenges authority are “bagged” and made to disappear.

V, played by Hugo Weaving, is a masked revolutionary driven by a mysterious past to try to bring down this corrupt government. Brilliant, slightly mad, and always enigmatic, V joins a long list of cinematic loners out to change the world. In typical action movie fashion, Vendetta opens as V rescues Evey (Natalie Portman) from attack, changing the course of a life which until now had been lived in terror and without purpose.

But what drives V? What gives him his courage and conviction? This is where Vendetta, a movie about revolution, itself becomes revolutionary.

Every GLBT person is used to seeing homosexuality portrayed cinematically as shorthand for evil, weakness, and immorality. Does the villain in your summer action blockbuster need a heightened sense of menace? Then have Cillian Murphy play the mad psychologist in Batman Begins as prissy and mincing. Is the psychopath in your thriller not quite immoral enough? Then take a cue from Basic Instinct and make her a man-hating bisexual. Or perhaps you just want to convey that your film's setting is one of loose morals and debauchery. Then look to Cabaret where the acceptance of homosexuality cues the audience into 1930 Berlin's decadence.

Sometimes, in movies like Under the Tuscan Sun or Must Love Dogs, GLBT people get to be the best friend of the main character. And sometimes in comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Bird Cage, GLBT love is shown to be equal to that of heterosexuals.

But if what's needed is to communicate all that is good and right in the world, that love and honor are what's worth fighting and dying for, that courage and integrity are the highest ideals, then that is always a job for heterosexuality.

V for Vendetta changes all that. From the beginning of the movie, the horror and injustice of life in Vendetta's fascist state are illustrated by the fate of GLBT people, who are vehemently denounced by those in power. Here homosexuality is a crime and those convicted are made to disappear.

Stephen Fry plays a closeted television host, a gay Jay Leno. Like V, he is a man living behind a mask, a man who despises those in power, but who, in exchange for wealth and security, helps to keep his audience docile with mindless entertainment. Unlike your typical gay character, however, Fry soon finds the courage to be one of the first to challenge the brutal government. His actions inspire others to resist as well.

But Fry's storyline is nothing compared to that of Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a lesbian whose life is told in an extended flashback. Indeed, this is where Vendetta becomes truly extraordinary as we learn it is Valerie's story—more specifically, her unwavering love for a woman named Ruth (Mary Stockley)—that inspires his vendetta.

During the flashback, we see Ruth dragged away, and two gay men hauled from their beds and beaten. We hear Valerie wonder, “I don't understand why they hate us so much.” We then see her arrested, and dragged off to a prison where she is subjected to terrible medical experiments.

It is in prison that Valerie, fighting to hold onto her humanity, resists her fate by committing her story to paper. She writes how it is her integrity that is the most important thing in the world, that as long as she has that last inch of herself, she is still free in some sense:

"It's strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one. An inch. It's small and it's fragile and it's the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us."

Evey eventually reads Valerie's letter too, and, like V, is changed forever, suddenly unwilling to live the life of a docile sheep.

It is an extraordinarily powerful moment in the film, not just because it is beautifully acted and well-written, but because it is so utterly unexpected.

What makes this screenplay, written by the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix, Bound), even more remarkable is that much of this was added to the source material, a graphic novel by Alan Moore. When was the last time you heard of a Hollywood movie being “gayed” up? Of course, it's usually the exact opposite that happens, as in Fried Green Tomatoes, where the book's lesbian relationship becomes so blurred that any audience member can read practically anything he or she wants into it.

That isn't the case with V for Vendetta at all. In “gaying” the movie up, the Wachowskis not only made Stephen Fry's straight character gay, but made him a symbol of resistance.

Most importantly, however, they made Valerie's story the very center of the film. Her time on screen is brief, but it is the transformative moment for both the characters and the audience.

Some GLBT gadflies may criticize this movie because, while the movie idealizes GLBT love, it is still the heterosexual characters who ultimately save the day.

These gadflies will have missed the point.

V for Vendetta is not a broad comedy with Robin Williams pretending to be gay, or an art-house movie like Brokeback Mountain produced on a small budget for a relatively limited, upscale audience.

This is a big budget action film aimed at the widest possible audience, and a lesbian love story stands right in the heart of it. A lesbian's strength and courage inspires a man to start a revolution, and another woman to finish it.

One day there will surely be big budget action films with GLBT lead characters. But by the time that happens, the audience will necessarily have become tolerant to the point where the characters' gayness will be a non-issue.

In V for Vendetta, meanwhile, gayness is the issue, at a time when the subject is one of the country's and the world's most contentious controversies

V for Vendetta is one of the bravest, boldest movies in years. It's also one of the most pro-gay ever.