The CNN Headline News show "Showbiz Tonight" led Monday night with controversy over the movie "V for Vendetta," and stomped hard on the idea that it was directed at the Bush administration. Host A. J. Hammer began with a promo: "On ‘Showbiz Tonight,’ the war in Iraq, the war on terror and the hottest movie in America. The shock and awe over 'V for Vendetta.' And the controversy. Is art imitating life? A political thriller where the hero is a terrorist. Is that really such a bad thing?"
Is this a rhetorical question? Or is Hammer auditioning for al-Jazeera International?
MRC's Michelle Humphrey tipped me off to the story. Hammer explained: "All right, let me tell you what happened this weekend. America had a big choice of movies. Here's the one they made No. 1: 'V for Vendetta.' This is a movie all about terrorism. This is a movie that raises some serious and unsettling questions about who should really be called a terrorist. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. A movie that has chilling allusions to everything from September 11 to government spying to terror bombings to the war in the Iraq. It`s a movie that opened just as we crossed yet another disturbing milestone in the struggle to end the seemingly unending war in Iraq. It`s enough to make critics and Showbiz Tonight ask, what's going on here?"
Correspondent Jason Carroll began: "He's America's newest box office hero, an elusive terrorist who's not afraid to use violence to make a point... 'V for Vendetta' is earning a lot of buzz and, as America`s No. 1 movie, a lot of bucks for its look at a totalitarian society in the year 2020. In the movie, America has fallen into civil war following the war in Iraq, a war that, in real life, marks its third anniversary this weekend." Carroll then showed a clip of President Bush speaking up in Cleveland Monday for the war effort, and then blurs his face into the dictator of the movie, and makes a connection: "In 'Vendetta,' a power mad leader uses fear mongering and intimidation to rule society with an iron fist."
But Carroll’s America post-Iraq setting is all wrong. As the official movie website explains, the film is "Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain." Not George Bush's America.
Carroll continued with excitement at the new sensation:
Carroll: "While a masked man named V stokes rebellion by unapologetically blowing up buildings. And guess what? He's the hero."
Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor Relations: "V is, in essence, a terrorist and getting his way through assassination, through terrorism. But the movie is so effective in what it does, you're actually rooting for this character."
Carroll: "That's right. America is flocking to a movie where the main character can arguably be described as a terrorist... Controversial? Of course. So 'Showbiz Tonight 'just had had to ask the film's co-star, Natalie Portman, is any resemblance to real life purely intentional?"
Portman denied any explicit link: "Because it happened in an imaginary world, there's so many different real-life historical and current events that you could connect it to, that it really sort of respects the audience to interpret it for themselves. It's not like this is what you should think."
But Carroll went on to make the linkage to Bush again anyway with old "many people" refrain:
Carroll: "What many audiences are interpreting, is a movie that some say strongly parallels what`s going on today. In the real world, you have wiretaps, suicide bombings, and the post-9/11 language of a leader who uses tough talk to rally the people against terrorism."
Bush soundbite from September 20, 2001: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."
Carroll: "Some say you can hear that language in 'V for Vendetta.'"
Dictator in the film: "Gentlemen, I want this terrorist found. And I want him to understand what terror really means."
At this point, a little balance emerges. Washington Times film critic Christian Toto brings a more conservative take to the story: "If you talk about terrorism enough, then you could get the public to buy into the military plans you have. So I think from that perspective, it plays sort of into the worst fears of the people on the left who are critical of the Bush administration." Toto added, "there haven't been many movies that really critique the terrorists that are out there today, the real-life terrors. You don't see many movies with them as a villain or with them as the focal point. You'll more often see critiques of our government."
At story’s end, it gets stranger, when Carroll acknowledged the reality he denied earlier in the story, that the filmmakers weren’t bashing Bush: "'V for Vendetta' was written by the guys who brought you 'The Matrix.' And the film makers are quick to point out that 'Vendetta' is based on a story that wasn`t aimed at President Bush`s government but rather, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it is the modern world that audiences are connecting to 'Vendetta.' And it's probably safe to say that the film makers are not complaining...And 'V for Vendetta's' box office success helped add a new spark to a grimly modern debate."
Hammer concluded: "'V for Vendetta' made almost $26 million this weekend. So a lot of people [are] getting out there and getting that message."