Sunday, March 26, 2006

V for Vaudevillian

(Note: If you have not seen the movie yet, I suggest you click here first before continuing to read. I have not read any of the comic issues. Thanks).


By sedition law (and Batasang Pambansa 880) standards, the subversion and scurrilous libel in V for Vendetta is criminally actionable. Patalsikin Na! Now na! (Let’s kick her behind out of the Palace, now!) simply pales in contrast, if nothing else. So, why is there no arrest this time while the movie is showing (the “probable cause” being there) in the theaters of Manila?

In the end the power it packs is that of a cartoon on the big screen, Newsstand suggests an answer, even as the comic-book movie (or its message of radicalism masked in cartoonic satire) pays off lucratively in the box office while it disarms (the hard-line Right who will not openly defend Hitlerism). Yet, is it that fluffy?

“A revolution without dancing is not worth having” is, and somewhat incoherent as well, until it reminds the world again of the Filipino mutation of the French Revolution: People Power, more carnivalesque and festive than a violent upheaval, held the artillery regiment to stand down, which could have possibly disobeyed a tyrant’s order to fire at the festive crowd. That looks to be a tragedy in reverse but no comedy.

V, in full theatrical regalia (and happy face on), introduces his personhood: “Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished.”

Even if spared of the full-measure of possibly the longest alliteration known, one not distracted by the smell of a bag of popcorn could have not missed how fastidiously the scriptwriter set the tone and the mood through V’s introductory discourse.

My olfactory nerves unfortunately could not ignore the savor and my wife refuses to replay the lines. But I’ll restate the essential one I have retrieved from Wikipedia (thanks democracy): “This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox poluli, now vacant, vanished.”

First, a quick refresher: The Persian, Greek and Latin etymology of “person” is derived from the vaudevillian mask that “sounds through,” and that instead of hiding the character (of well-known gods, legends or myths) behind it, it reveals or personifies it. The mask therefore is essentially an agency, not a core.

But then as the challenge to make a prediction of the story’s outcome is also made very early, V issues a reminder somewhat like this: The voice of the people is no more, now who will sound it through to bring out the core (of humanhood)? Since it is cartoonic, the larger than life super hero (or super heroine as in . . . V as Valerie too?) is there for the asking to do the job. That would be too predictable (except for the Valerie twist), hence, if not cartoonic, fluffy.

Lo, if thus distracted and hence unable to catch that what is vanished is just the voice (because, as the story line will reveal, the people is fundamentally capable of creating ideas, their ideas), the unabashed befuddlement even of a professional and highly competent movie critic Roger Ebert becomes understandable. “The strange thing is,” Ebert said, “I kept feeling it was a sharply pointed political parable but I couldn't get the parallel going.”

I will refrain at this point from discussing symbolisms and references already covered somewhere or ostensibly discernible (such as the black bags of Abu Ghraib, the thesis to acknowledge gayhood, the conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly incarnate, the unmistakable Orwellian plot, the clear and present danger of Hitlerian regime and, of course, the folly of Dubya’s doctrine) and instead deal on just three close to heart.

First is the mask which I will to turn to once more. I guess if the representation of the theatrical mask is not absorbed, we could be like Newsstand or even Ebert. For instance, for someone who has been following the People Power phenomenon, he would find quite readily that as the cartoon façade is disarming, so were the circus nature of Filipino’s People Power; the masking as such attracts and entertains the Eberts and the lesser Eberts out there (as well as maybe the 14 and above, moms with toddlers in tow, and even grannies to produce a “flash mob” at Rizal Park) even if they “couldn’t get the parallel going.” Now, Newsstand rationalizes, “I actually liked it, but as a movie, not as a political manifesto or a template for political action.” It seems that like Chief Police Inspector Eric Finch, it will take more serious probing of the truth, before the far-reaching menace of the emerging storm sinks in.

The psychologies of the characters in the movies help us comprehend too other real-life characters like blogger Bong Austero. Are his “austere” (to borrow Hillblogger’s characterization) reform proposals enough or sincere? Are they coming from a decidedly partisan or a self-vindicating coward?

The second symbolism that caught my fantasy is Evey Hammond. She is the politics of the transformational process. Effectively she purges herself from a long-running denial (that she had been exposed to militancy early in life) to become liberated from her negative self concepts which are manifestations of previous hurts and deliberate conditioning. As in anarchism or libertarianism, the role of the individual in Evey has been given prominence in the change process. She is able to retrieve her own essential self as V, his moral ambiguity notwithstanding, was able to assert his being authentically (he said to Evey “I love you,” didn’t he) in a therapeutic relationship of sort. Together they realize the extension of the self to the interpersonal, relational and ultimately societal sphere. (How dare the Marxists complain of the supposed emphasis on the spontaneity of the revolution inspired only by an individual super hero rather than the collective act of the masses?)

Could Austero be Finch too? How did he realize he was at a junction? Just move forward and let Norsefire regime continue its way, is that what Bong wants? Are you him instead? Or the apolitical (spineless?) Dr. Delia Surridge?

The third is the parable of the train lever. I saw it as symbols of: self-abnegation (on the part of V – yes, now I understand, Ninoy); empowerment (for Evey); conversion (of Norsefire loyalist Finch); and risk-taking (for both Evey and Finch to take action now before even any alternative is drawn up). As core - not as mere agents sounding through - Evey and Finch are both capable of creating their own ideas (mlq3 has some great one going right now) even as V’s own (which, being bulletproof, survives him) go head to head with the prevailing orthodoxy as represented by the Parliament building.

“Blowing up a building can change the world,” won’t be seditious libel if it only means a freewheeling clash of ideas. The real terror, it seems, is when we put off the light on the liberty to be both comic and tragic. Or when righteous men refuse to see, when they can, one side or the other.

In a way, a movie is like survey results. Despite the near-perfectness of the fundamentals, we sometimes see them through the prisms of our masks.

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