Last Friday I went to see a matinee showing of "V for Vendetta." This translation of a graphic novel into film was filled with scenes of violence, fight scenes with blood gushing and spattering, and simulated detonations of historic structures.
Gosh, it was satisfying.
And, gosh, it was disturbing to discover that somewhere inside me there was a level of emotional turbulence that would find those depictions of violence and destruction cathartic.
This was an anarchistic morality tale about a totalitarian government in a version of the U.K. where a Nazi-like party had risen to power after engineering the illusion of a terrorist attack through the outbreak of a deadly virus for which the party had the cure. The movie carefully guides the viewer to see how reprehensible the fictional government and its leaders are, and how justified its ultimate downfall is.
The movie begins with an explanation of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The protagonist in the film, who goes by the name V, always wears a Guy Fawkes mask. Hugo Weaving, who played V, had to communicate for his character with only gestures and his voice coming from behind the unchanging mask. Natalie Portman was quite good as Evey, the young woman who becomes a protege of V. Stephen Rea was also quite good as Finch, the detective who, while on the trail of V, comes to understand the secrets behind the rise to power of the totalitarian government.
It is definitely not a film for children, having received an R rating for strong violence and some language.
One of the taglines for the movie is "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." I realize that the experience of seeing this movie is one of the events that informs my discussion on this blog (here and here) of the Sunshine Act. I also realize that this is not a totalitarian setting, but it is so unhealthy when governments at any level keep secrets to maintain power, as opposed to occasionally holding some information in confidence for the betterment of all.
The hoarding and guarding of secrets only leads to less trust, and more reason for governments justly to fear their people. Secrecy feeds into a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break. The Pennsylvania Sunshine Law recognizes that the public's rights are "vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process." The continuation of illegal secrecy can only lead to poorer functioning of the democratic process. Governments ought to fear their people enough to do their governing through an open process.
With apologies to W.H. Auden, sometimes I think that we have seen the actual vision of open government but failed to entertain it as more than an agreeable possibility. There ought to be a way to arrive at a truly open government without encouraging people to pursue the convenient shortcuts through anarchy. Those shortcuts do not address the underlying problems of trust and do nothing to lay the foundation for better functioning of the democratic process.