There’s no easy way to say this, so please forgive me for being blunt. It has, however, become glaringly apparent that the Wachowskis do not like you. Oh they might let you buy them dinner at some swanky restaurant, and will most probably smile and nod as you praise them endlessly for “The Matrix”, but when you excuse yourself to pay the check, just know that they’re rolling their eyes and making lame jokes at your expense. Please, don’t take it personally, because it’s not just you. In fact, judging from their adaptation of Alan Moore’s “V For Vendetta”, Andy and
Larry Lana Wachowski don’t think too highly of any of us.
I tell you this, not out of spite or some unfulfilled desire for an ugly scene, but because I want you to go armed into that swanky restaurant, fully prepared to call them on their dismissal of the audience as sappy, unsophisticated, and more comfortable with grandiose explosions and spurting blood than with difficult questions, complex characters and ambiguity. To that end, I shall outline for you their three most egregious sins. (I’d say “four sins”, except that sheer clumsiness is probably more of an unfortunate fault than an outright sin.)
I suppose that the best place to start would be the white-washing, that concerted effort to scrub the story clean of anything that might seem somehow unsavory. V himself (Hugo Weaving) has been reduced to a dimensionless caricature, devoid of the black humor and inherent instability that makes him so complexly great. And as for Evey (Natalie Portman), well instead of a 16-year-old waif, trying to sell herself on the street, the tidied-up movie-version of her character is well groomed, has a polite job and is savvy enough to carry her own pepper spray. I could go on, but if I did, I’d be guilty of giving away the secrets tucked into the pages of the very book I want you to be curious enough to read.
So let’s talk sentimentality. I’d hate to be the first to tell you that there is no grand romance between V and Evey in the novel, except that I know you can take it. I believe that you are mature enough to grasp the sad truth that not every story needs to be hinged on a romantic sub-plot. I’m not sure whose idea the whole Evey-kissing-the-mask sequence was, but the creep-out factor of that scene alone was enough to convince me that V and Evey did NOT need cuddle time. Still, the screenwriters barged ahead with the romance, and wrapped it with a sweet red bow, changing V’s final words to Evey from “Give me a Viking funeral” to “From the first moment I saw you, nothing else mattered.” I swear, just hearing that line gave me three cavities.
But more than the white-washing and more than the sentimentality, it was the rewriting of “Vendetta’s” central theme that offended me. You see, the novel is not about answers, but questions. The Wachowski brothers have replace the original questions with simpler ones, the kind of questions we can all feel good about because we’re pretty damn sure we know the answers. Instead of allowing the audience to grapple with the Fascism vs. Anarchy debate, which is at the heart of “Vendetta”, they chose a more comfortable Fascism vs. Democracy. And in response, let me just say “Wow. There’s a subject that hasn’t been tackled before.”
I suppose, in a Pre-Sin-City world, you could argue effectively that it is impossible to accurately translate a graphic novel to film. But thanks to Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, I am no more willing to accept that argument than I am to coddle clumsy, white-washed, and pre-digested film versions of great books. Shame on the Wachowski Brothers, for dumbing down Moore’s deliciously dangerous “V For Vendetta”, and for assuming that their audience couldn’t handle anything more challenging than a few splashes of blood and long strings of words that start with the letter V.
[Originally published in The Santa Cruz Sentinel 04.10.2006]