Friday, April 07, 2006

"V for Vendetta"-- R for Revenge

Picture the United Kingdom becoming a totalitarian state sometime in the not too distant future. Picture America becoming a second rate power embroiled in its own civil war, after having been drained by years of fruitless wars abroad. Picture this British totalitarian state being driven by a bad amalgam of politics and religion, in particular some facist form of Christianity combined with ultra violent politics—including a policy that involves extermination of Moslems and homosexuals, absolute thought control of the culture through complete political control of all television media, and medical experimentation on ‘undesirables’. In short, imagine Britain deteriorating into a Nazi like state with the complete suppression of freedom and democracy. As hard as this is to imagine, the Wachowski brothers (late of Matrix fame) have imagined it and brought it to the big screen complete with major actors and actresses (e.g. Natalie Portman) huge pyrotechnics, and an anti-hero named V who seeks to liberate Britain through the controlled use of violence against the oppressors. This film is not merely provocative, it is disturbing in every sense of the word, and it is meant to be.
The story begins with a brief historical review about Guy Fawkes—that chap who sought to blow up Parliament on Nov. 5th 1605, and was part of the failed Gun Powder Plot, which in typical British fashion is celebrated to this day on that date under the rubric of “Bonfire Night”--- a sort of pre-Halloween, Halloween party. Guy turns out to be V’s inspiration for his almost single handed attack on the tolitarian regime. Though the trailers and commentary on this movie that have been aired in North America try to draw analogies with the American Revolution, the analogies fail to convince. As it turns out the colonists had far less to riot about (namely ‘no taxation without representation) than our man V. Good King George and his successors looks like pussy cats compared to the malevolent, Hitler like creature V stands against. But in both cases it raises the question as to when a revolution might be justified. For a Christian it doubly raises this question since we are counseled rather clearly against all such conduct in the NT (cf. Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2.13-17.). We should bear in mind that Paul and Peter are counseling submission to Emperors and empires, not Presidents and democracies. In other words, the NT does not provide much a justification for the American revolution, since after all, freedom of religion was not really at stake in that war. We just wanted our independence from Queen Britannia, if the truth be told, and the ability to govern ourselves.
But let us consider a couple of the big and very interesting issues in this movie. One that V himself offers at several junctures in the movie is that ‘ideas’ are more important than mere lives. Particularly truth is said to be more important than life and freedom is seen as something worth killing for. The counter notion that persons are more important than truth is aired by the character that Natalie Portman plays, but this is the minority opinion it would seem in this movie. Only at the end of the movie, and in a weak moment does V say that unexpectedly he had come to love, and so he leaves the ultimate celebration of Guy Fawkes night in the heroine’s hands. She must decide what is to be done. What is not considered in this movie is the notion that truth is personal, and far more than an idea or ideal, and that love is likewise embodied in a person---namely Jesus. He is the truth and his life pattern is the way. The attempt to kill for an ideal, leaves blood on one’s hands, especially when the ideal has to do with truth or freedom or humanity or compassion. What is not really explored in this film is whether the ends ever real justifies these sorts of means.
The other real driving force in this movie is hate, and the desire for vengeance. V has been monstrously treated and nearly destroyed by the experimentations of the regime on undesirables. V becomes the avenging angel, bent on destroying those who attempted to destroy him. Not only physically has he been badly scarred beyond repair. He is also emotionally damaged as well, and sadly love does very little to repair the damage even to the end of the film. It has been said that revenge is a meal best served cold. If this is true, V for Vendetta provides us with the ultimate cold cuts--- complete with the steely knives of the Zorro like V. It is thus not surprising that one has more sympathy for Portman’s character--- a double victim of both the government’s and V’s fury, who has had to learn the hard way how to have the ‘fear’ of death scared out of her. One of the more seductive things about this movie is that it suggests that there is a certain beauty to violence, even total brutality, as some of the explosions are set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The violence not only destroys the rulers, it also destroys the very symbols of democracy—such as Parliament. The motto or message seems to be the one delivered in the middle of things by V--- “People should not fear their governments, governments should fear there people.” Nothing redemptive here about healing of wounds, leading by example, the power of love and compassion. No it is an Orwellian mind-control world that is envisioned which is only destroyed by using the very same weapon of violence that the government had ruled with. And of course the underlying theme is “What really is terrorism?” This much I can say--- there is a rather thin line between justifiable revolution and terrorism—both of which acts see violence as justified to achieve their ends. But I would say all such acts defile us as Christians.
I would suggest that any act that involves a taking of innocent human lives is certainly a misuse of force, whether we wish to call it terrorism or not. It is also a violation of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. The proper response to V for Vendetta, is F for Forgiveness, a lesson too little in evidence in our culture even now as we approach Holy Week. “Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.”

11 comments:

Theoblogian said...

Thanks again, Dr. Witherington. Insightful and helpful. Let me again recommend Volf's "Free of Charge" as an interesting and insightful look at forgiveness in our world. Timely and needed.
Mike

Terry Hamblin said...

Ben,

May I ask you to comment on the parable of the unforgiving servant. On being forgiven huge debts his response is to chuck his fellow servant into jail for failing to repay a minor sum. The Lord's response is to withraw the forgiveness.

Although Jesus enjoins us to forgive our brother 'seventy times seven' and although Christ died for us while we were still in our sins, Jesus has no words of forgiveness when Herod confronts him, nor for Annas and Caiaphas.

This all leads me to think that forgiveness is contingent. So, recently, a Church of England vicar resigned her post because she was unable to forgive the suicide bombers who killed her daughter in London on 7/7. Since the bombers put themselves beyond God's forgiveness by their suicides (Hebrews 9:27) would it not be presumptious for her to forgive them?

'To understand all is to forgive all' is not a Christian axiom. Some people put themselves beyond forgiveness.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Terry:

Forgiveness offered, is not the same as forgiveness received. What is encumbant on us is to forgive as we have been forgiven, as the Lord's prayer makes so very clear.

God's universal offer of forgiveness is not in any way contingent on our deserving it or being receptive anything else. Forgiveness offered however does not work automatically. The offering of forgiveness does not settle the matter.

Without repentance one puts an impediment in one's life to receiving forgiveness. The obligation of the offended party, particularly if they are Christian is to offer forgiveness whether or not it is received.

If Jesus can say to his Father that the Father should forgive Jesus' own executioners, then the point I think is clear--- forgiveness is unconditional. Consider for example the story of Corrie ten Boom finding the grace to forgive the death camp guard who killed her sister Betsey.

I do not say this response is in any way natural, it is supernatural, and of course it is true that some people refuse forgiveness and put themselves in a place where they can not receive it.

All that is irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether we must offer it--- the answer is yes, it is what Jesus did, and there is one more point. Jesus suggests in the Lord's prayer that if we don't forgive those who tresspass against us, then we put an impediment in our own lives to receiving such forgiveness from God.

Good question Terry!

Blessings,

Ben

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Terry:

Forgiveness offered, is not the same as forgiveness received. What is encumbant on us is to forgive as we have been forgiven, as the Lord's prayer makes so very clear.

God's universal offer of forgiveness is not in any way contingent on our deserving it or being receptive or anything else. Forgiveness offered however does not work automatically. The offering of forgiveness does not settle the matter.

Without repentance one puts an impediment in one's life to receiving forgiveness. The obligation of the offended party, particularly if they are Christian is to offer forgiveness whether or not it is received.

If Jesus can say to his Father that the Father should forgive Jesus' own executioners, then the point I think is clear--- forgiveness is unconditional. Consider for example the story of Corrie ten Boom finding the grace to forgive the death camp guard who killed her sister Betsey.

I do not say this response is in any way natural, it is supernatural, and of course it is true that some people refuse forgiveness and put themselves in a place where they can not receive it.

All that is irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether we must offer it--- the answer is yes, it is what Jesus did, and there is one more point. Jesus suggests in the Lord's prayer that if we don't forgive those who tresspass against us, then we put an impediment in our own lives to receiving such forgiveness from God.

Good question Terry!

Blessings,

Ben

M. Lumpkin said...

Good untangling of a fairly tangled and convoluted plot. I appreciate in particular the articulation of the insight that V uses the very same sort of means to achieve "justifiable" ends that the totalitarian regime does on the very country and woman he "loves." Poor guy. Too much time in the fire.

Matt

Warren said...

Ben,
Visit our mission blog: http://www.venezuelaforchrist.blogspot.com.
Pray for this work and Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela.
Blessings,
Warren Lathem

plunge said...

I'm not sure you couched the "idea" theme very charitably. When V utters these lines, especially at the end, I think it's more clear that what saying is that while you can kill a person, you cannot kill an idea. The theme is that ideas like freedom from oppression cannot be gunned down (as symbolized by the appearance of several murdered characters at the end), not that people are less important than ideas.

There are three things that V does which seem entirely over the top and inexcusable: his torture of evie, his killing of the policeman at the Tv station, and his murder of everyone responsible for his own torture: even those who are remorseful.

But I'm not sure the rest is any more or less justifiable than anything in any war or revolution. If anything, V's plot is singularly impressive in that it almost entirely avoids loss of life: he himself destroys two empty buildings. It's only his personal, twisted revenge that actually involves cold blooded murders, and bizarrely, these acts serve little revolutionary purpose at all.

The idea that Parliment is a symbol of democracy that V destroys is also a little stretched. Obviously in this world, it's become a symbol of oppression, not democracy, and blowing it up is a nod to a common English tradition around which people can unify. The idea that governments should fear their people, and will be torn down if they abuse their populace is fundamentally orthodox democratic idea.

RC said...

Great post...I really enjoyed your perspective.

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

Ben Witherington said...

Plunge:

You are quite right of course that part of the message is that you cannot kill an idea--- although this is actually false. Plenty of ideas, which were good one's have died due to neglect or simply ignorance, or have been buried in a sea of other information. But I take your point about the pointless violence of V, and also you are right that Parliament in that regime did not really symbolize democracy.

Ben

Terry Hamblin said...

In the graphic novel V states his preference for anarchy - which he defines as not without order, but without leaders. He quotes Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

V has seen the things he loves, justice and truth, subverted by a tyranical regime. His response is the cleansing of chaos. Anarchy is both destroyer and creator.

It sounds more like Rumsfeld's solution for Iraq than anything else.

Wisblog said...

My question to you is this Dr. Witherington. Do you justify the mass murder of innocent iraqi citizens in our so called "war on terror"