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Monday, April 03, 2006

B for Brazil

Matt Feeney in Slate compares V for Vendetta to Terry Gilliam's Brazil:
This tight, almost psychoanalytic focus points to a telling difference between V for Vendetta and Brazil. Whereas V for Vendetta adopts the highly movieish perspective of an avenging Übermensch who has himself escaped the tyranny that ensnares everyone else, Brazil observes the totalitarian order from within. It presents the subjective experience of administrative tyranny. And it presents this tyranny not as expressing the conscious design of an evil omnipotent dictator everyone can wholesomely hate, but as an inexorable process that slowly envelops the individual trying to navigate it.
Nothing better illustrates the simplism of V for Vendetta, or better highlights the unflattering contrast with Brazil, than V's motto: "There are no coincidences." The comic beauty of Brazil's portrait of totalitarianism is that everything rests on random coincidence, which nudges the bureaucracy into its own blind and murderous momentum: A dead fly falls into a computer printer and—voilà—poor law-abiding Buttle is mistaken for dangerous subversive Tuttle.
This tedious take on state control is not the error of the film V, but of Alan Moore's underlying material. Feeney says:
The regime's very evil propagandist Prothero (Roger Allam) is also the former commander of the concentration camp where V was experimented on. So, V kills him. And the camp's indifferent chaplain is now not only a high-ranking Anglican bishop, but also a vicious pedophile. So, V kills him, too. (In other words, there are coincidences. Very convenient ones.)
Feeney's right. But his complaint applies equally to the book, whether he knows it or not.

As long as I'm knocking comics's great books, let me mention that the politics of Frank Miller's classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns are reactionary and facile, though that doesn't spoil the fun. Batman's enemy is not a super-villain so much as the forgiving nature of subjectivist liberals, who insist on paroling super-villains when they declare themselves rehabilitated. The climactic fight pits Batman against the paragon of liberal values--Superman--who insists on supporting the corrupt government because, he explains, we all have to make compromises. (It's an awesome battle.)

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