In their version, the Wachowski brothers take the liberty of Americanizing Moore's character of the pedophile Anglican priest. Here again, the film reduces that scene to a crude commentary on the recent scandals in the America's Catholic churches--simultaneously taking the opportunity to lambaste the George W. Bush "theocracy." In doing so, they strip Vendetta of its social commentary on the historical and corrupting role that the Church of England has played in British society. It is always interesting to see polemics like the Wachowskis' Vendetta take potshots at Christianity while ignoring the role that Islam plays in the world today, for better or worse.
In contrast, Rosen's descriptions are valuable not only because he understands the importance of Islam in Iraqi society, but also because he illustrates how religion plays varying roles in people's lives. Notably, in terms of terrorism, the jihadi movement is "motivated by an ideology based on Islam, and it justifies its violence by referring to Islam." Rosen gives an example where an individual found a way to "[justify] burning the bodies of four Blackwater contractors even though most Muslim leaders have condemned it as un-Islamic." The individual in question elaborates by offering this rationale:
"[T]he Quran permitted the burning of infidels, explaining: 'punish someone the way he punished you, so if cluster bombs burn bodies, we can burn bodies.' Ali burned his enemies . . . so Muslims could burn their enemies. He explained that Jihad was the omitted pillar of the five pillars of Islam and quoted a verse from the Quran justifying the terrorizing of the enemies of Islam."
It is vital to understand the role that religion plays in terrorism, specifically that there is not any particular religion or religion more generally to blame, but rather a set of radicals perverting a peaceful faith's values. The Vendetta film makes no attempt to approach this complex topic, instead opting to twist Moore's plot to fit convenient, partisan ends.
IN TRANSLATING Moore's work from the Cold War to the War on Terror, the most significant change is in the movie's new ending. Originally, the character of Evey (V's adopted protégé whom he rescued from the evil regime's clutches) came from an average middle-class family. In the movie, she is the daughter of two "political" parents who were dragged away for dissenting against the government. As a result, while in the comic Evey follows in V's footsteps out of choice, in the movie she is practically predestined to do so, already having been tainted by her childhood experience. And more importantly, in the comic, only Evey becomes V, but in the movie, the entire city of London assumes the role of V, rising up against the regime.
Moore tapped into a profound, and very European, line of thinking about totalitarianism in which people like Czeslaw Milosz decided that freedom from tyranny was found in the individual. However, as an extension of the movie's American identity, the Wachowskis instead decided that the key to freedom rested with the "people."
Although such a soaring ending provides neat "closure", Rosen describes in grim detail a real-life version of what can occur when an entire city rises up to take matters into their own hands: "Iraq belonged to militias, the resistance, terrorists, any man with a gun. The roads leading to Baghdad were a terror zone. The streets of Baghdad were war zones. Two years after conquering Iraq, after so many turning points, Iraqis continued to live in a republic of fear."
Rosen's depiction of the Iraqi insurgency demonstrates that while too much order can be a bad thing, so can too little--the kind of dichotomy so absent from the cinematic Vendetta. When a population takes up arms, chaos and terror are just as likely to ensue instead of freedom. Baghdad may be exactly what London looks like after the curtain closes on the Wachowskis' film.
V's personal mantra is "People shouldn't be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people." However, it is only with a dose of reality that the most important questions are asked regarding that thesis; because, as Rosen explains, Iraqis are not in fear of their government, they are in fear because they lack one.
Viewers of Vendetta may rise from their seats, cheered by the spectacle of the people London seizing their freedom. Interestingly, though, that image echoes the kind of sweeping assertions that the Bush Administration has made regarding the call to arms in the name of liberty. By putting the White House in the sights of the camera, the Wachowski brothers have turned Vendetta into a medium for the administration's less realistic assertions.
Essay Types: Book Review
Nicholas J. Xenakis is assistant editor of The National Interest.