So I know there is probably no one else that reads this blog that cares about graphic novel adaptations as much as I do right now. I don’t know…maybe there are a few of you out there who are film-masochists and really enjoy watching fairly awful movies just to pick them apart….if so, we should meet, because I get really bored watching Sin City by myself for the fifteenth time. For those of you who maybe only read the graphic novel once and maybe saw the movie about .5 times (about as much as that movie deserved), this post will take us through the gender role horror that is V for Vendetta.
Reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta, I was pretty disturbed by the flat and masochistic character of Evey. We first see Evey at 16-years-old, getting dressed up for her first night as a prostitute. For whatever reason (the novel doesn’t specify) Evey is unable to support herself through a day job and so takes to the streets in a very immature and naive way. Perhaps jobless Evey is supposed to convince us how the system has failed. Living in this Big Brother-like society, Evey must resort to child prostitution in order to afford her tiny apartment? This sort of poverty, however, is never discussed in relation to any of the other characters, who are mostly upper-middle class Londoners with their own flats. The night when we first meet Evey she is roaming the streets, being everything but sexy when she asks someone if they would like to “um…sleep with…um…[her].” It is clear that she is nervous, but it’s also clear that she has no plan of action and no street smarts. She immediately gets herself into trouble with government officials and this is when V must jump in to save her.
Contrast this with the portrayal of Evey in the film version of V for Vendetta. Here Evey seems to be an on-the-ball PA for one of the most popular television programs in the country. She quickly manipulates her way through her setting, proving her familiarity with her surroundings and the ease with which she performs at her job. Her apartment is still tiny, but it is not barren and she seems comfortable with her place in society. It is when going to a “friends house” (what later turns out to be her boss’s home) that she is cornered by the government agent. Evey still has to be rescued by V, but in this case she was completely in charge of her situation before the government intervened.
The two Eveys representation itself is radically different. Evey in the book is given blonde hair, a youthful, but distressed face, and every indication that she is worried most of the time (the mature graphic novel’s version of the squiggle line). Evey in the film is played by Natalie Portman, and Portman’s star power offers a lot to Evey’s representation. Harvard grad, fluent in Hebrew, takes pretty smart-sassy roles, hot, hott, hawt! (I love Natalie Portman so much). Adding what we know about Portman as a star to what we know about Evey as a character, Evey becomes more complex, but still problematic.
In the behind the scenes doc on the DVD, the director of V, James McTeigue, actually comes right out and says that they wanted to Evey’s character smarter and less of an obvious pawn of V (a fact I’m sure made Alan Moore even pissier about his novel being made into a film without his current permission). I think they succeed. In addition to the aforementioned details, the way Evey treats her imprisonment, torture, and subsequent reeducation in the film is much more nuanced than her reaction in the novel. In the film Evey is confused, she’s angry that V didn’t trust her, that he changed her personality without her permission, and that – obviously – he tortured her. At the same time, she seems to be oddly attracted to him, or at least to appreciate what he has “done to her.” So while there seems to be a suggestion that Evey is manipulated into loving V through torture, there also seems to be a condemnation, or at least an examination of, these feelings. After V reveals to Evey that he was her torturer, she leaves for an unclear period of time, significantly keeping her head shaved and owning her new attitude. In the novel Evey is distraught by her torture, but soon (within frames) thanks V for teaching her. She stays in his mansion and continues to support him until their big day.
The reasons for this shift in gender representation is still a little unclear to me. I think most importantly is the fact that audiences change rather radically from novel to screen. The comics community is generally pretty closed. Even graphic novels like V for Vendetta that reach out to a wider audience than traditional comics (a few older readers and female readers, though these two groups are still in the minority) a majority of the readers are young men. Trying to satisfying a larger film audience that will include many more women might explain some of the changes.
There is also the time lapse between the novel and the film to account for. Written in 1982, the representations of women in novels and films were often struggling. For those of us born before 1990, we sometimes forget that 1982 was 26 years ago. And some of you old fogies might forget how long that is: it’s over a quarter of a century! A lot can change gender-wise in 25 years.
So I’m still playing with these ideas about gender shifts in V for Vendetta. I would really appreciate comments from those of you who have seen the movie or read the comic book. The thesis process isn’t going quite as quickly as I’d hoped, and your comments who help me a lot. Even if you don’t know what V for Vendetta is I’d love to hear from you. Comments are the best part about blogging.