Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
After the big news (on my birthday) that the Supreme Court had struck down DOMA and Prop 8, I knew I wanted to feature something related to the topic for my Friday Favorite. There were many choices. I could have used Lynn Redgrave’s amazing scene in Kinsey, or anything from Philadelphia or Rent, but I kept coming back to Valerie’s letter from V for Vendetta. I know it seems like an odd scene given the happy news from this week, but I think it’s important to realize both how important this news is and how far we still have to go.
V for Vendetta is an interesting movie, given that I’ve heard positive things about it both from liberals and conservatives. Conservatives like it because it shows the danger of a government with too much power (“people should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people”), while liberals like it because it shows the dangers of conservative ideologies and fundamentalism (particularly during the Bush years when it was released).
V for Vendetta tells the story of a near-future England, where a totalitarian regime has assumed power in the wake of terrorist attacks, nominally in order to protect the people. This government has pushed conformity to a fundamentalist vision of society, enforced by brutal police and military tactics, covert surveillance, control of the media and censorship. From this situation comes V, a masked vigilante who blows up a government building on Guy Fawkes Night, promising to blow up Parliament a year later. In the process he crosses paths with Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), who works at the TV station and spontaneously aids him in his escape.
After they get to know each other, they part ways, but she is captured and interrogated as to V’s whereabouts. Her head is shaved, she is dumped in a cell, and tortured repeatedly. One day, she finds hidden in a hole in her cell a note, written on toilet paper. As she reads it, we see the life story of Valerie Page, a lesbian filmmaker who was taken by the government for who she is. Take a look:
It’s a powerful sequence, lifted almost verbatim from Alan Moore’s comic book on which the film was based. It speaks to the fear that’s out there for LGBT people, which is hard for some people to admit. As a straight, white male, I’ve never been the victim of the sort of prejudice that many people have to put up with every day. I’ve never been denied my rights simply because of who I am. And while, as someone with a pretty big freak flag, I’ve been bullied to within an inch of my life, I’ve never lived in fear.
But many people do live in fear, and when you turn on the TV or listen to the radio or read the news online and hear the very fabric of who you are being attacked, I would bet it’s not hard to imagine a situation like Valerie’s. That’s why this week’s news was such a big deal. You need look no further than the reactions from certain media personalities and politicians to realize that there is still a lot of hate and prejudice out there.
Yet we can be inspired by the positive stories we read. The stories of gay and lesbian couples who have been together for decades who are able (in some states) to have their relationships acknowledged as equal to any other. There are people who have suffered at the hands of the government and their fellow citizens simply for being who they are. Yet amidst all that there is joy to be found in love, no matter its form. That’s what makes this sequence so beautiful, that in the middle of everything there was beauty and love.
It helps that it’s lovingly filmed and heartbreakingly narrated by Natasha Wightman. It’s easy to see why Evey would be inspired by it, and get the strength to stand up to interrogation and refuse to turn in V. (Of course, it turns out that all of the torture and imprisonment was actually being done by V in order to remove her fear and help her survive. But Valerie’s story was true, and it had helped him through a similar set of circumstances when he really was a prisoner of the government.)
But what moves me the most from this sequence is its ending. You can read the entire letter below, but allow me to quote a section, and direct it at you, the reader. No matter what you may be going through, you’re not alone, and I mean this just as sincerely as Valerie did. “I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you. I love you. With all my heart, I love you.”
Valerie: I know there’s no way I can convince you this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care, I am me. My name is Valerie, I don’t think I’ll live much longer and I wanted to tell someone about my life. This is the only autobiography I’ll ever write, and god, I’m writing it on toilet paper. I was born in Nottingham in 1985, I don’t remember much of those early years, but I do remember the rain. My grandmother owned a farm in Tuttlebrook, and she use to tell me that god was in the rain. I passed my 11th lesson into girl’s grammar; it was at school that I met my first girlfriend, her name was Sara. It was her wrists. They were beautiful. I thought we would love each other forever. I remember our teacher telling us that is was an adolescent phase people outgrew. Sara did, I didn’t. In 2002, I fell in love with a girl named Christina. That year I came out to my parents. I couldn’t have done it without Chris holding my hand. My father wouldn’t look at me, he told me to go and never come back. My mother said nothing. But I had only told them the truth, was that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free. I’d always known what I wanted to do with my life, and in 2015 I starred in my first film, “The Salt Flats”. It was the most important role of my life, not because of my career, but because that was how I met Ruth. The first time we kissed, I knew I never wanted to kiss any other lips but hers again. We moved to a small flat in London together. She grew Scarlet Carsons for me in our window box, and our place always smelled of roses. Those were there best years of my life. But America’s war grew worse, and worse. And eventually came to London. After that there were no roses anymore. Not for anyone. I remember how the meaning of words began to change. How unfamiliar words like “collateral” and “rendition” became frightening. While things like Norse Fire and The Articles of Allegiance became powerful, I remember how different became dangerous. I still don’t understand it, why they hate us so much. They took Ruth while she was out buying food. I’ve never cried so hard in my life. It wasn’t long till they came for me. It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years, I had roses, and apologized to no one. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An Inch, it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you. I love you. With all my heart, I love you. -Valerie