E for Expedience

Do you want the film spoiled for you? Do you? Read on then.

Sometimes I'm not sure whether my involvement over the last six years in tv and film production has destroyed my appreciation for movies or lent it a special, acidic dimension. Sometimes I feel as if I'm looking through the screen at the figures that assembled and brought the film to being. Where someone sees a crazy angle or a cutaway, I see a budget decision; where someone finds a strange line, I see a series of meetings with tired and defeated writers answering to the immutable and silent avatars of budget and deadline, of fixes and last-minute consultations, all spliced together with pleading and threats.

Halfway through V for Vendetta, that near-future sci-fi dystopian inspirational, V's origin story is sketched out in a hasty combination of flashback and montage* as an investigator reads the journals of a doctor who performed biochemical experiments on human beings that resulted the vengeful monster-hero at the centre of the film. An incarnation of blowback, V destroys the compound and escapes, seen as a grotesque silhouette whose crispy outlines suggest that he's already very much at home in the maelstrom he walks out of. The doctor's voice-over relates the terrifying moment when V turns to regard her: "He turned to look at me - not with his eyes - he had no eyes". And then, with that odd bit of expository detail, V exits from the scene, along with eyeless face and his plans to bring down the neofascist government that presumably took his eyes, but not his ability to see.

Having read the graphic novel, I knew that the line about the eyes was an insertion in a piece of text lifted pretty much whole from the original. The subject of his eyelessness is raised and dropped in that moment. It never comes up again. To understand how silly this is, here are the relevant panels from the book (click to enlarge):

Did I mention that he didn't have any eyes? Because he didn't.

How does an insipid throwaway detail work its way into a climactic moment? Maybe a bit like this:

EXEC1: The latest cut looks great -

EXEC2: We love it.

EXEC3: It's gonna be a fucking wake-up call to the other studios.

EXEC1: - but we're kind of wondering about one thing.

DIRECTOR: What's that?

EXEC1: He's got this cool mask on, and he beats the hell out of everyone -

EXEC2: Those knife effects are going to look great when we drop those in.

EXEC3: They'll totally sell it.

EXEC1: - but how does he see with that mask on?

DIR: What?

EXEC1: Out of those little slits?

DIR: Those little slits?

EXEC2: Yeah. What's the fucker got? Like, Daredevil vision going on?

EXEC3: I fucking loved that movie.

EXEC1: Shit, you know I had the director in my office the other day? What an asshole.

EXEC2: Whatsis, um, Brett Ratner?

EXEC1: I forget his name. Looks kind of like Howie Mandel, kind of like the kid from Eight Is Enough.

EXEC3: Crap.

EXEC2: Look, the fact is, I couldn't see through that mask. You couldn't see through that mask. How does this guy see anything?

DIR: Okay, well he's got finely tuned senses -

EXEC2: Like Daredevil, exactly.

DIR: - yeah, a bit like Daredevil.

EXEC3: So he's blind?

DIR: I guess he could be blind. But principal photography's wrapped.

EXEC 2: Just stick a line in the script somewhere.

EXEC1: That's all it needs. Just have him say "I'm blind" somewhere. That takes care of it.

EXEC2: Yeah, he can stick it in Natalie Portman's ass and say, "Sorry, I'm blind".

EXEC3: Or maybe in her eye.

DIR: I'd prefer we do it in voiceover.

EXEC1: Yeah, just stick it in voiceover. Whatever. Just fucking finish it.

DIR: Okay, I'll send it to the writers and they'll find a spot for it. (leaves)

EXEC2: Hey, that wasn't the guy who did Daredevil, was it?

EXEC3: That was Brett Ratner?

Okay, so that's a wildly exaggerated and crude version of the actual process. But that was way more fun to write.

*Much of V for Vendetta is a triumph of editing over filmmaking, but that's another story.