Thursday, December 6, 2007

V for Vendetta: Differences in Form, Space and Time in the Graphic Novel and Film

According to Bolter and Grusin’s treatment of the study of newer forms of digital media, the film version of V for Vendetta can be understood by the manner in which it may “honor, rival and revise” the older graphic novel version (Bolter, 15). Examples of “remediation” that can be noted in the film version of the novel seem to stem from the physical form of each medium which shapes elements of space and time. While honoring certain aspects of narrative, the film revises the novel’s use of framing and fragmentation while rivaling the older form’s quality of tangibility, presentation, and sense of immediacy.

The film “honors” the novel in its quality of being rooted in the original version’s narrative structure. Although the existence of narrative is unquestionably present in both media forms, the film version does not feature a replication of the sense of narrative elemental to the novel as much as it utilizes it as a base for its own purposes and in doing so, transforms its character and questions its role and value. In the novel, interest is placed in building a background for the events as a means to unraveling an enigma. V states “I want to know the story of Evey Hammond.” Evey tells V her story of her childhood, parents; etc. In the film, however, narrative exists only so as to provide anticipation for coming action. It is not so interested in why events or actions may occur but in that they do, they have and they will. Evey’s life story is presented in a secondary fashion, rambled off by the inspector as mere detail rather than density. This can also be seen in treatment of the other characters such as the herbologist who was provided with a much more detailed story in the novel. The reader was told more about who she was, her interactions with V and the events that had occurred at the detention facility because it added to the unraveling of the story. The film, however, seemed to focus on how her role pertained to the action of V’s killing her, that she once acted and would then, in the presence of the audience, be acted upon, than to the disentanglement of meaning within the story.

Despite differing manners in the treatment of narrative, a focus on action is present within both media forms. In this case, film has taken an essential quality which defines the novel, Action, and made it more active through the character of its medium. For example, film has a greater capacity to construct time through editing of sound and image. In expressing the simultaneity of two actions, the novel uses phrases such as “In the meantime” or ellipses to suggest a kind of continuance. Film, however, is able to take the suggestion of events being connected and literally connect them. Such an example can be found in the opening scene of the film version in which the camera presents the characters of V and Evey getting dressed literally within the same frame as the camera moves from one place to the other and then, to further suggest simultaneity, begins a series of cross-cutting between the two figures which ends in an alleyway where both figures exist in the same space and time within one uniting frame (Gaudreault, 42). In addition to visual cohesion, the voice of Natalie Portman as narrator continues steady as scenes change, providing the frame cuts a kind of connected base. Although the opening chapter of the novel can be said to do a similar kind of “cross-cutting,” the nature of its medium forces the characters to remain separated and alone within his or her own frame. It can provide the suggestion of connection, but lacks the interwoven quality that film provides to make it “real.”

The film also builds off of the novel’s use of fragmentation. It does not abandon it, but rather expands and redefines its role in the communication of visual information. The novel is departmentalized into boxes which contain a combination of images and text in the form of captions or dialogue. It seems to hold a certain likeness to what film historian Tom Gunning calls the “facial expression genre” of early cinema in which figures may make an emotional gesture in a close up shot to communicate an idea or feeling, essentially relying on the space within a given frame to do so (Gunning, 5). In the novel V for Vendetta, the reader is presented with numerous instances in which this occurs. For example, Evey’s face is shown up close with a just a single tear many times in the novel’s first half. Towards the end, she faces the reader with a more self controlled and contemplative expression. With the absence of effects such as sound available in making film, the novel relies on momentary displays of feeling and character which, although intended to remain with the reader as she continues through the pages and to provide a kind of intensity, seem rather “out of place” within the context of its surrounding story frames.

The novel succumbs to the traditional notion of space as volume enclosed by solid surfaces. One can hold it in her hands and feel the contents within its two covers, trusting that it holds a beginning, middle and end. One understands the separate frames to be connected only because they exist within the same paper book. The non-tangible quality of projected film challenges this notion of space by suggesting an uncertainty concerning the solidity of matter (Keiller, 1). One may view the last frame of the novel which shows the detective walking alone down a dark road as a suggestion of continuity into the unknown, but is more likely to conceive of it as an ending by visual convention. The film medium’s association with uncertainty inherent in its form makes its presentation of the “to be continued” suggested ending of most graphic novel stories more trustable. We are unsure of whether or not action will continue, but we acknowledge the possibility or likelihood of it doing so. To consider that something presented as real with thought and emotion can exist, yet beyond one’s physical grasp leads one to question the solidity of everything that claims truth because of its corporal existence. This characteristic of the film medium seems to make it most fitting in presenting themes of transformation and revolution. The tangible nature of the novel suggests it to be more of a documentation that had previously existed and will continue to do so, if only on a shelf. The information provided in a film can be understood as a momentary spectacle, seen as more “real” because the action is played out in real time as it is projected, experienced by the audience as if they were present in it through the eye of the camera lens.

Film can be seen as rivaling the novel in that it presents itself as achieving a greater sense of “immediacy” in which the existence of media construction is made transparent and the viewer experiences a sense of being “drawn into” the scene provided to them. In the graphic novel, “space comes forward to present itself to the spectator within a uniformity of theatrical framing” whereas in film, the spectator identifies with the camera as narrator “mediated through an engagement with the unfolding of the story (Gunning, 9).” Frames disappear as consistent motion “pours over from shot to shot, binding as it blurs…we tend to forget the boundaries…we attend to motion only (Bluestone, 315).” The presentation and experience of time is made more flexible by the spatial mobility enabled and captured by the film medium. Where the reader of the novel may treat the story as part of the past in recognizing the nature of the medium as having captured and tangibly documenting it, the film viewer experiences a very different notion of time, one in which “the present becomes ‘specious’ because…it is seen as fused with the past, obliterating the line between them (Bluestone, 313).” The novel presents its characters with general features and focuses more on the concept of the form or action addressed. It could be argued that this generality enables the reader more ease in identifying with the characters, place and story. However, the reader is quicker to treat the information presented as artistic and imagined than real. A view of the story as unreal and limited to existence within the covers of a graphic novel medium transfers to the ideas presented. Themes of anarchy, fascism and of cultural resistance may be thought only capable of existing in comic books. Film is “more real” to viewers because of the use of actual live characters. The choice in casting Natalie Portman as Evey and dressing her in simple clothing, for example, maintains a level of generality to allow for viewer identification with her character. Her story is made more real due to her easy recognition as a real person and Individualized stories are remembered and given weighted value much more than generalities in same way that one is more inclined to remember a face than a name.

In some ways, the film version of V for Vendetta can be seen as a presentation of the “film’s ability to present a view” through its “fascination with the thrill of display rather than with the construction of a story (Gunning, 9)?” Film versions of graphic novels have developed into a cinematic genre of its own which promises to guarantee action and spectacle, providing a “direct and acknowledged act of display (Gunning, 3).” The genre promises illusion by its association with superheroes credited with magical strengths or abilities. The film possesses a kind of “cinematic gesture of presentation” for display, as can be seen for example in moments of dramatic pyrotechnics. It can be argued that the graphic novel attempts much the same in through techniques of action drawing. Both the film and novel can be said to possess key elements of what Gunning calls the “aesthetic of attractions” including “pleasure of looking” (color and line in the novel and movement in the film), “novelty” (the inclusion of actual current events in the world such as terrorism and war), and “sexualized fascination with socially taboo subject matter dealing with the body” ( in the novel’s treatment of Evey as a Prostitute, death and violence, “the threat of injury”)(Gunning, 3). What places the film version closer to a “cinema of attractions” is its focus on a constant present tense which is maintained through an “alternation of presence and absence” and unspecified anticipation of future events which play out in “staccato jolts of surprise (Gunning, 4).”One could argue that this is used so as to establish a sense of unpredictability in the instant, subtly reflecting (and perhaps constructing?) cultural connotations of Anarchy with chaos. The film provides moments signifying gestures of display, such as when V literally conducts explosion or in the presentation and destruction of a domino “V”, which create expectation for display and directs the viewer away from the narrative “how” and into the exploding “will” and “when.” The film’s use of “the apotheosis ending” suggests unquestionable desire to display a grand finale of spectacle. The excessive display of a mass of people, including characters who reappear despite having been killed earlier in the narrative, who are shown “in a timeless allegorical space that sums up the action of the piece” in witness to parliament blowing up provides a kind of closure that exists outside of the narrative by “shifting spectator interest from what will happen next to and enjoyment of the spectacle presented to them (Gunning,9 ).”

Although one may view film as a remediated form of the graphic novel in its treatment of the “V for Vendetta” story, it is important to view both forms as a remediation of textual language into visual language. The use of both visual media forms to communicate a story of revolution and transformation may support the notion that “language, consisting of bounded, discrete units cannot satisfactorily represent the unbounded and continuous (Bluestone, 314),” providing prime examples of the process of remediation as a response to constantly evolving progressive thought and the need to communicate it in the contemporary world.


Bluestone, George. "Time and Film in Fiction." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 19 (1961): 311-315.

Bolter, Jay D., and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. 1st ed. The MIT P, 2000.

Gaudreault, Andre. "Detours in Film Narrative: the Development of Cross-Cutting." Cinema Journal 19 (1979): 39-59.

Gunning, Tom. ""Now You See It, Now You Don't": the Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions." Velvet Light Trap 3 (1993): 3-10.

Gunning, Tom. ""Primitive" Cinema: a Frame-Up? Or the Trick's on Us." Cinema Journal 28 (1989): 3-12.

Keiller, Patrick. "Motion Pictures." The Guardian 21 May 2005. 4 Nov. 2007 .

Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta. New York, NY: DC Comics, 1988.

V for Vendetta. Dir. James McTeigue. Perf. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and Stephen Rea. DVD. Silver Pictures, 2006.

[november 2007]

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