V is For Vendetta; T is for Tiger

Novelist Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, says, "If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams." These are words I take to heart so this past week I saw two movies in the theater, one television show and read six books. Don't worry; we aren't going to discuss every single artistic experience I had this week, just two, starting with V for Vendetta and moving on to Life of Pi.

V for Vendetta is based on Alan Moore and David Lloyd's classic comic of the same name. This story of a terrorist working to destroy a totalitarian regime and return some freedom to its people was originally written in the early 80s and is surprisingly prophetic. It's a deeply political and morally ambiguous film that works on many levels, including a classic adventure story and a heartbreaking romance*.

Natalie Portman plays Evey Hammond, a girl whose life changes completely when she is rescued from death and degradation by a strange masked and gloved man who calls himself V. He asks her if she likes music and takes her to listen to something he has composed himself, a performance culminating in the bombing of Old Bailey. Horrified and convinced he's insane she tries to go back to her normal life only to find she can't, V is changing the world around her and her thinking must change as everything else does.

Alan Moore was very unhappy with the script for V, asking that his name be removed from the film (and even from the book if that's what it took to get his name off the movie) but David Lloyd is quite pleased with it. I was trepidatious myself when I went to see it, thinking it was going to be a tepid, watered-down, bloodless thing with none of the vitality or unquenchable spirit of the book but I worried for nothing. It's still an excellent story with a valuable message.

The Wachowski Brothers (Matrix) wrote the screenplay and James McTeigue (who also worked on the Matrix films) directed. Adrian Biddle (Thelma and Louse, The Princess Bride) was the director of photography and he did his usual superlative job. V is dedicated to him because it is the last film he worked on before his death in November of 2005. Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings, Matrix) plays V, a difficult role because of the Guy Fawkes mask he wears throughout most of the picture. It's hard to portray nuances of emotions when your audience can't see your face. Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) plays Finch, the man charged with hunting down and capturing V or else.

The cast does a terrific job although there were some problems with the sound that interfered. At the beginning of the film we had a terrible time understanding anything V was saying. He has a monologue where he uses a lot of words starting with the letter v but the whole thing was wasted because we couldn't make out the words. Natalie Portman manages to look like a different person almost every time we see her, which could be somewhat confusing if you aren't paying careful attention. Natasha Wightman deserves a special mention for her wonderful rendition of Valerie, a woman who has been tortured and is dying even as she writes her story down to sustain the next person to be flung into her cell. Her role is small but vital and she does a beautiful job, especially with the all-important last two lines of her story.

Does the film live up to the promise of the book? We say yes. Not everyone will agree but we both came away quite satisfied.

And now we turn away from the totalitarian regime of a fictional England to the political maneuverings of a boy and a tiger vying for control of a tiny territory. Do you ever sit around and play What Would You Do? For instance what would you do if you were on a ship to Canada and it sank? Then you start upping the stakes. What if you were in the middle of the Pacific and your family was gone? And what if there were a bunch of animals from your father's zoo on that ship? And what if you some of them ended up in the lifeboat with you? What if they were an orangutan, a hyena and a full-grown Royal Bengal tiger? Oh and also a rat and a zebra with a broken leg? The novel Life of Pi feels like the result of someone playing that game until they thought just one more obstacle to survival would swamp the ship and the main character, a charming and bright Indian boy called Pi. It's a beautifully written story that is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and always interesting. The author says that the theme is " reality is a story and we can choose our story and so why not pick 'the better story?'" but there are other themes, such as how faith gives you strength and strength gives you faith and how the human spirit can survive much more than you would ever expect.

This book has all of the qualities that I love in a novel, humor, lyrical writing, mystery, character growth and enough worry about the characters to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. In this book you know that Pi lived through his experience because he's retelling the story as an adult so all the suspense comes from wondering things like how long he had to survive in his tiny boat, how he did it, why the tiger didn't eat him, why he didn't eat the tiger (or did he?) and how his ordeal changed him.

The ending of this book may be a disappointment to you, it depends on how you choose to take it, so be forewarned. If you are the kind of person who reads a book for the destination and not the journey you may feel a little let down. Or maybe, just maybe, you can learn to appreciate the journey more and love this story for all the wonders and pleasures it holds.

*Fans of the comic be reassured, the romance is not of an incestuous nature; the idea, or fear, that V is Evey's father is completely absent from the film. Also Evey is grown up, she's no longer 16, and she has a pretty decent job working for the British Television Network when we first meet her.