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Dystopian Literature and Film – The Matrix and V for Vendetta

How does The Matrix blend most of the other works of dystopian fiction we have discussed in class? Which familiar dystopian elements do the filmmakers take up and how do they play with them/ change them?

It is a little bit more challenging to compare The Matrix to other dystopian works because you have to be clear if you speak about the whole world including the matrix or just the world inside the matrix. But if we are speaking about dystopian elements we can find some in both of them.

Even in the matrix we can make out hints of a system that is in control. Namely the law enforcement, that works like in the United States of today. It is safe to say that such a system does not have to be too suspicious, because it reflects our current world which is not widely considered a dystopian nightmare. Even from the protagonist’s perspective, who knows that he is a criminal, everything is explainable till the agents use a robotic bug to keep track of him. Now we can start to speak of technological control, which becomes more obvious when we learn more about the outside world and how humans are controlled by the artificial intelligence.

The protagonists struggle to escape the current system is also considered as a dystopian element. Other elements are the ones revolving surveillance and control. It starts with the wire tapping in the matrix and ends with the ultimate form of control. The matrix, which is applied to all humans from infancy to death, controls everything from information over freedom of speech to time.

In a way, for the masses, the matrix also seems to be kind of an utopia. Like in the book of Genesis in the Bible, Agent Smith says that the first matrix was too perfect and therefore implies that this “twentieth century city life” is, what seems best for most humans.

An interesting question is, if The Matrix really is a dystopian work. There is no question that the matrix is the ultimate dystopia, but the work definitely lacks the typical “warning message”. Novels like 1984 or Brave New World try to warn us how future could change the Society and focus more on individual values like freedom or tolerance.
At least the reality (outside world) in The Matrix ignores these questions. It is more comparable to stories like Terminator which brings it nearer to works of science fiction.

The Questions that arise in The Matrix are not the ones of other dystopian works. The whole concept of a dystopia is so overdone with the creation of the matrix, that you do not have to worry about certain elements like propaganda or surveillance. In theory, humans can have everything they want inside this artificial world and do not even have a realistic chance to revolt against from inside.

Where The Matrix really shines, is its play with reality. Life inside the matrix is that much superior to the reality in the outside world, that, even after the humans have won, they do not seem to abolish the matrix. This makes becoming aware of reality even less desirable than in any other dystopia before. And because there is no relief when you have defeated the system the remaining questions are more like “is life really better when you know everything about it” or “what is human”.
Another uncommon way is the role of the “hero”. No one wants to be Winston Smith in 1984 but Neo’s character is far more attractive. If the same “no rules” would apply to everyone, maybe life in the matrix would not be so bad.

Is the movie comparable to the ‘novels of ideas’ we discussed (Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four) or do you also find formulaic elements that links the film to works such as The Island and Northern Lights?

As hinted at before, The Matrix is more a progression of the ideas in these books.

If we see the loss of human identity in a more and more mechanized world as the key message of Brave New World, The Matrix goes one step further in two ways. The first is the total control the machines have achieved over the human life cycle. The second, and more interesting, is the question, if a virtual human identity counts. Inside the matrix, humans are relatively free to live their life. Restrictions are just a means to an end and not to suppress their identity. But to decide, if life inside the matrix means more or less than in our so called reality, is not an easy task. Even today more and more people start to spend more time online than in “real life”.

In respect to 1984 which revolves much about topics like surveillance or control of thoughts, Big Brother would have found the ultimate tool in the matrix. It solves all his problems at once and works far more efficiently than his apparatus of ministries.

So for me it is less comparable to 1984 because it does not give you, as an individual, much to think about except do not loose the war against the machines or do not nuke our planet. It is especially one aspect that resembles Brave New World. When Aldous Huxley, with his work, wanted to express his fear of what the industrial revolution might bring to mankind, The Matrix might do the same for the internet or virtual realities.

The striking resemblance to The Island is the perverted way human bodies are used. They are only raised to serve a certain purpose (human spare parts or batteries) and are killed when they are no good any more. Although it does not matter for the protagonist’s decision to explore the “outside world” in The Matrix and here actually is true, the idea of a deserted uninhabitable world is also used in The Island to keep people from fleeing.

In Northern Lights, apart from the less important use of robotic bugs, it is more the role of the “hero”. Both are irreplaceable and born to “save the world”. They have mystic powers which they have to master during the story. Also terms like oracle or prophecy strengthen the mystic notion.



What filmic devices are used to render the graphic novel V for Vendetta? How do the filmmakers show that their movie is based on a comic?

Interesting, from the side of the filmic means, is first and foremost how the movie renders the relationship between V and Evey. In this movie it is a exceptionally difficult situation because the main character wears a mask and therefore is not able to show any emotions. The Wachowski Brothers try to solve the dilemma by trying to give life to the man behind the mask. They just take close ups and two shot as are commonly used in other movies to emphasise on emotions and focus to give more life to the mask. This is achieved by continuous fluid movements in close ups and lots of dramatic gestures ore movements like body language in wider shots.

Then there is the contrast in the use of colours and lighting. In peoples homes more friendly colours are used, but when it comes to the outside world, namely under government influence, the atmosphere more and more becomes one of anxiety and alienation which is supported by extreme close ups.

Slow motion scenes are also used either to stress a moment like when Evey steps out in the rain after her fake imprisonment or to demonstrate V´s fighting skills “the matrix way”.
Also worth mentioning is the use of the flashback scenes. They do not only carry much important information like when they hint at the origins for the suppression of homosexuals, but also change during the course of the movie.
They become more real the nearer they come to the current time of the plot.

Even though V is no typical comic superhero there are still some points that remind the viewer of the films origin. The most eye catching ones are for sure the overdone action sequences. V is fighting like a bulletproof superhero that simply can not lose. Not only using karate or blades against guns, but also dramatizing every moment. This impression is also underlined by the Wachowski Brothers, when they chose to use matrix style slowdowns or blades that leave echoes in the air as effects during the fighting scenes. Other examples are the overdrawn stylistic demolitions when V even uses fireworks to manage more impressive explosions.

Also noteworthy is the overly clear definition of the “bad” side. Even when his role (terrorist or political activist) is not that much defined, the bad ones definitely are.
A dictator, the evil secret police, a paedophile bishop, a tv moderator greedy for power and several high ranked characters involved in suppression of undesirables leave no room for further prejudices.

How does the movie tie in with the other dystopian works we have discussed so far? Which elements does it take up? Are there any new themes or angles the movie introduces?

V for Vendetta the film plays in a typical dystopian world. The easiest way to proof this, is to compare certain elements with George Orwells 1984 because there several references to this work. In a not too distant future, England is ruled by a totalitarian government. It uses various measures to suppress the freedom of the people. There is only one tv-station that is controlled by the government and used to influence people from large screens or in their homes. Unwanted people are persecuted and imprisoned in mysterious “prisons”. There is also a secret police that “misuses” its powers and finally the guilt for all this is laid on the public, for “knowing something is wrong with this country” and sitting on the couch doing nothing.

This is all very close to 1984. A definitely wanted impression because of the open use of similar ideas like the party slogans or the “big brother like“ tv performances of chancellor sutler. Even the end is typical. Its open endedness still leaves some hope that a revolution can save the world.

In spite of the obvious similarities there are also some differences. The hints at actual events of political interest are more direct. For example the use of black bags over prisoners heads as were seen on photos of US prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.
This is also a good connection to the question of terrorism. Vs actions are also defined from his quest for revenge and the movie does not clearly mark them as good or bad. There are definitely on the fine line between terrorism and political activism.
Also interesting is the comparison between the two main protagonist from V and 1984.
Especially the question if one man can do something is handled differently. V also needs the support of the masses to achieve his revolution, but it seems as if he wins all important battles more or less alone. He has become “the idea himself”. In contrast to this 1984 only shows the way to go, when Winston says “the hope lies in the proles” ,but never comes close to face a change.

Comment on intertextuality and intermediality in V for Vendetta.

First there is the obvious influences from George Orwells 1984 that underline the dystopian setting. When we subsume intertextuality and intermediality under medial relations or influences, we find connections to wide range of works. The party slogan “Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith” is very similar to the slogans like “War is peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength“ from 1984. Also the tv performance of chancellor sutler and the network itself are reminiscent of Big Brother from the same work.

Then there are several references to Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The count also suffered from an unjust imprisonment and prepared himself for the day of revenge with maximum effort. The movie version is even watched by Evey and V in the actual film.
Also somewhat related to revenge but also a guideline for the relationship between Evey and V was Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. Notably here are for example the use of roses or the protagonists lair under the city.

Finally stays the relation to current events. The before mentioned black bags in Guantánamo Bay or the governments influence on the media are a too obvious hint at current US policies to be ignored.