Saturday 5 April 2008

Film 'V for Vendetta' and TV series 'The Last Enemy'

V for Vendetta (2006) is set in a future dystopian England in which security fears have led to the imposition of a police state, with tight controls on public behaviour and suppression of dissent. A girl (Natalie Portman) becomes caught up in the plans of a vengeful and resourceful man, known only as "V", who is planning the violent overthrow of the government. He always wears a mask and costume to represent Guy Fawkes, and it is suggested that he was badly disfigured by an official experiment which went wrong.

I'm not a fan of comics, and when I sat down to watch the film I didn't realise that it was based on a graphic novel. The comic-strip elements are clear enough: not only the man in a mask, but his improbable resources and apparently superhuman abilities with knives. What is slightly confusing is that the rest of the film appears to be a lot more serious in intent, using well-known actors and sending clear messages about the authoritarian direction in which the UK seems to be gradually but inexorably heading, and the dangers which lie down that path. I'm not sure that the serious and comic-strip elements work all that well together, but it was an interesting attempt and worth watching.

The theme of 'V for Vendetta' reminded me of the recent BBC TV series The Last Enemy (shown in five episodes, totalling 330 minutes, in February and March). This was much more realistic, concerning a near-future British government plan to introduce a national "total surveillance" system, linking CCTVs, ID cards and other databases so that anyone can be immediately located and tracked, and comprehensive information about them obtained. A famous but unworldly mathematician is roped in to help sell the idea to the public, and also becomes involved in a parallel plot line concerning a mysterious and lethal ailment apparently caused by secret genetic experiments. Together with a few resourceful friends he tries to expose what is going on but, unlike 'V', the story does not have a happy ending.

The plot of The Last Enemy is really getting close to the truth now, because our government does indeed want to introduce a comprehensive system linking everything about everyone that is recorded on official electronic databases, and providing access to such data via the planned ID cards. There's a lot of debate about the introduction of the ID cards (which is going to be voluntary for most people: at least, at first…). In my view, too much of the discussion misses the point. I see no harm in ID cards. I carry one now – a driving licence with my name and address, date of birth and photo on it – and occasionally find it useful in confirming my identity. The main issue is the vast database which the government wants to put behind it, way beyond anything attempted anywhere else, and that's a problem for various reasons. The loss of privacy, the certainty of error in inputting the data, and the horrifying prospect of a really comprehensive identity theft if it's ever hacked (or a civil servant with input access is bribed or coerced). The catastrophic record of government failures in introducing computer-based systems far less sophisticated and complex than this is another reason to regard this idea as misconceived. As is the fact that the excuse for introducing the system is international terrorism, but all such recent attacks in the UK have been by British citizens in good standing who would have been perfectly entitled to be issued ID cards, so where's the benefit there? Oh well, rant over - for now.

No comments: