A for Agitprop

A couple of weeks ago, a Slate authoress noted, somewhat astonishingly, that she had never seen Schindler’s List until very recently. As she wrote, it's far easier to simply stream something light and fluffy than to rent something dark and serious:

Why did it take me so long? The reasons will be familiar to anyone who’s ever let a worthy but difficult film languish in its red Netflix envelope. You keep meaning to watch the movie, but when it comes time to nestle into your couch on Sunday afternoon, confronting the depravity of human nature somehow isn’t what you’re in the mood for. Why not put on The Grey instead and confront the depravity of computer-generated wolves?

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[L]et me tell you about how I finally saw Schindler’s List. I planned a party—complete with wine, hummus, and Korean tacos—and sat down with seven friends to sit through three hours and 14 minutes of unrelenting horror.

Hey, if someone at Slate, where the highbrow pose is always in evidence, can cop to never seeing Schindler’s List, then I can confess to never having seen V for Vendetta until last month, when I rented it on blu-ray from Netflix.

Considering its popularity with the far left Occupy gang in the fall of 2011, I thought that I needed to take one for the team and finally watch the damn thing. (Spoilers to follow, but I don't really feel too worried about giving away plot points from an eight-year old film.

I was actually surprised at how bad it was. I gave David Zucker, the director of 2008's conservative American Carol plenty of grief -- how did we get from the laugh-a-second seemingly effortless Airplane to this turgid piece of agitprop? But V for Vendetta is a painful reminder that forgetting one's storytelling skills to grind out political agitprop isn't just limited to the all-too-rare film from right. Vendetta was produced by the Wachowski brothers (err, actually brother and sister now....) who had previously created The Matrix, at least that film was loaded with kinetic energy and motion.

V featured loads of static shots as Hugo Weaving (the cheerfully sinister Agent Smith who guards the Matrix) under his immobile white polystyrene Guy Fawkes mask, recites pages after page of dialogue, which sounded like it was lifted whole from Howard Zinn textbooks.

John Hurt co-stars as Britain’s “high chancellor,” the film's Big Brother-style Maximum Leader, an obvious nod to his role as Winston Smith in the movie version of Orwell's 1984, and Natalie Portman plays The Girl, which adds to the feeling, as John Podhoretz perceptively noted in his review of V for Vendetta at the Weekly Standard, of the film being “an Atlas Shrugged for leftist lunatics:”

And just like Atlas Shrugged, V for Vendetta is an exercise in didactic propaganda in the guise of an adventure story meant to appeal to teenage boys and their narcissistic fantasies about being at the very center of the universe. Both works prominently feature a cool, beautiful, and skinny chick who throws in her lot with the nerds. In Atlas Shrugged, it's the railroad manager Dagny Taggart who joins with Galt. In V for Vendetta, the beauteous waif Natalie Portman plays Eevy, who throws in her lot with V and falls for him even though he wears a ludicrous wig, minces about like the Olympic skater Johnny Weir, hands out flowers like Ferdinand the Bull, and is horribly burned.

Speaking for any adolescent male who feels self-conscious about his skin, V tells Eevy that she needn't see his scars, because the face under his mask doesn't represent the real him. V can go anywhere undetected and do anything, but oh, how lonely he is, sitting alone in his basement lair watching The Count of Monte Cristo and listening to music all by himself on his old jukebox, wearing his mask even in solitude. V for Vendetta began its journey to the screen as a comic book, and V is the ultimate comic-book protagonist--the Superhero loser.

Having recently re-read the Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens' bracing 1999 book, which describes postwar socialist England as morphing into the decadent second coming of the Weimar Republic, it’s was impossible for me to accept the premise of V for Vendetta. Astonishingly, the 2006-era Wachowski brothers apparently see England in a few decades as turning into a Handmaid's Tale/1984 style dystopia, in which Muslims, lesbians, and gays are rounded up and placed into Nazi-style camps for extermination and/or torturous experimentation, or both. V wears his ridiculous mask, we are told, because he was tortured at some point in one of these camps, and hideously burned beyond recognition in the process. (Naturally, he gets his revenge upon his chief tormentor midway through the film, who willingly accepts being murdered by V as penance for her past sins.