Monday, August 07, 2006

two studies in revolution

v for vendettavthe edukatorsv for vendetta and the edukators offer two interesting object lessons in revolution: a hollywood film based on a graphic novel comic book and an austrian indie film, neither of which are entirely removed from trappings of hollywood sentiment or disillusioned naivety.

i wish i had both movies at hand to view again, or screenplays at least, so i could comment more closely. vendetta has of course drawn criticisms from purists who follow the original author's rejection of the film adaptation as a travesty of the author's original intent, as well as from squeamish critics who feel that in this post-9-11 world any depictions that glorify terrorism are morally irresponsible. the tactics espoused by the edukators are of course more subtle but no less morally questionable. nevertheless these films, especially when viewed together, pose interesting questions: is terrorism ever justifiable? is revolutionary overthrow of our present system possible, or was it ever? how far are you as an individual willing to go to defend your values? (melville's "army of shadows" earlier in the summer was making me think this too...)

of course in hollywood, evey has to fall in love with v, and of course v goes out in a blaze of glory at the end. more troubling is how, to the extent that it aestheticizes violence and destruction, v for vendetta participates in the fascism it purportedly critiques. in fact it's hard to know who's the bigger fascist in this movie, chancellor sutler or v himself. have him quote the bible and listen to "stuck in the middle with you" instead of macbeth and billie holiday and v could fit nicely into a tarantino movie. additionally, the conspiracy theories that ground the plot are problematic: they certainly have historical precedents (the tuskegee syphillis study), but they also fuel the folly of AIDS deniers. here, the conspiracy theory sets up the dynamic of the single individual who sets out to vindicate the wrongs done to him by the government, masking this individualism behind a kind of faux-idealism ("q: why won't you die? a: because you cannot kill and idea") in which the individual is "sacrificed" for the liberation of all.

that said, i thought the reactions of the public sitting around the television listening to their leaders spout lies and knowing them to be lies but not doing a thing about it was all too appropriate to our present situation. TV, and more specifically satire (e.g. the daily show) as palliative. the TV host who breaks from the script to do an impromptu slapstick lampooning of the chancellor only to end up in a bodybag is certainly at quite a remove from our present situation (i cannot realistically conceive of stephen colbert ending up in a body bag courtesy of the secret service), we've seen plenty of hostility towards the press from this administration.

i also thought the depictions of evey's emergence from the holding cell was very well done. the "rebirth" via the rainstorm on the roof was a bit overdone, but the leadup to that -- again "army of shadows" has a similar scene, when the prisoner is told to go free -- evey's breakdown upon emerging from captivity could have been a disaster in the hands of anyone other than natalie portman, who i thought did a commendable job. the idealism this film offers is also tempting -- the domino chain set up to fall mirroring the formation of the masses in the street -- ultimately i can't buy it.

the edukators is far more subtle but no less problematic, perhaps because it wants to have to it too far the other way: while v is marred by a fascoid individualism pretending to be idealism, the edukators loses all its idealism and in the end cedes to a resolute cynicism. curiously too, even tho it's not hollywood, it has a significant romance thread that screws everything up and ends up (symbolically?) mirroring failed revolution (which seems like a very godardian way of doing things, however intended or not).

between the idealistic revolutionary fervor and the concluding cynicism, however, the film is a largely successful examination of principled thought and action. or rather, a principled thinking-through of principled action gone wrong. jan, peter and jule really make you believe that educating a single player in the larger scheme of injustices can make a real difference. of course, it's only in the idealized, pastoral setting to which they have taken their kidnap victim that these issues can get worked out: again godard comes to mind, particularly weekend, where there is no ambiguity about the revolutionaries returning to a state of savagery. when the edukators return to the real world of social relations where real power relations are reinstated, however, their lessons have gone for naught. they manage to escape but can no longer spread their message or conduct their revolutionary activities as before.


kevin.thurston said...

have you ever seen goddard's weekend? i have a feeling yes. that deals with ideas of revolution & idealism pretty well, commenting on mai 68 and all.

it sets up things along class lines too, not just me vs gov't which is a smidge short-sighted. tho, all works of art have to be short sighted, don't they?

tmorange said...

yeah man, godard's weekend is definitely lurking behind my thoughts on these two movies -- it's one i love and love to hate as well! my fave scene is probably not the infamous traffic jam scene, the endless single take of cars honking incessantly, but towards the end in the jungle where camera does a circular pan to the sound of a guy playing a funky beat on a drum kit and some other guy (never shown) reading aloud from lautreamont's les chants de maldoror...