The Verge is a place where you can consider the future. So are movies. In Yesterday’s Future, we revisit a movie about the future and consider the things it tells us about today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
The movie: V for Vendetta (2006) directed by James McTeigue
The future: In V for Vendetta, a lot has gone wrong very quickly, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much to be done about it. The film is set in 2020, and London is now under the authoritarian rule of the fascist High Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), the leader of the extremely Nazi-looking Norsefire party.
The parallels to real-world 2020 are alarming: the “St. Mary’s virus” has unleashed a pandemic on the world, crippling the United States (which doesn’t really factor into the film’s London-centric plot) and sending it on a path to economic ruination and civil war. The Norsefire party, which rode in on a wave of neoconservative support, locks up gay citizens, anyone who practices a religion other than the state-sanctioned church, and is supported by state-run media. Surveillance is almost casual, with government vans regularly sweeping the streets to listen in on citizens.
This is the world in which we meet Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an unassuming employee of the British Television Network. One night, she is threatened with sexual assault by secret police and is subsequently saved by V (Hugo Weaving), a superhuman terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask. Like Guy Fawkes, V has a plan to blow up Parliament and assassinate several members of the government responsible for the Norsefire takeover and, it’s revealed, his own creation. The film ends before we find out if he’s successful, but not before the citizens of London are inspired to also don his mask and take to the streets.
The past: V for Vendetta, while not as mean a work as the comic by Alan Moore and David Lloyd it’s based on, is a movie that is unapologetically about a terrorist. In March 2006, this felt radical for a blockbuster movie that was written by the Wachowskis as their first big project after the Matrix trilogy. Reviewers were fascinated by this.
“The cleverest aspect of the film is the way it turns a terrorist into a crusading hero while remaining politically correct,” Guardian film critic Philip French wrote in his review. “What it doesn’t manage is to create a credible future or avoid pomposity.”
“By all rights, this should be the worst time imaginable to release V For Vendetta, a film with — there’s really no polite word for it — a terrorist hero prone to saying things like ‘Violence can be used for good,’ and ‘Sometimes blowing up a building can change the world.’” begins Keith Phipps’ review for The A.V. Club. “So why does V For Vendetta play as such a crowd-pleaser?
Only five years removed from 9/11 and just as many years into the US War on Terror, a blockbuster film valorizing a terrorist felt radical in a way that was almost immediately arresting. The film softens this very obvious edge with overt allusions to 1984, making it feel as much of an homage to George Orwell as it is to Lloyd and Moore.
Alan Moore, the writer of the comic on which the film is based, refused to have his name appear in the film or on any materials promoting it. (Moore has made it abundantly clear that he objects to any adaptation of his work out of principle, regardless of quality.) Purists would object to the film reducing the source material’s very specific response to Thatcherite England to a metaphor of Bush-era America (in a story where America is specifically sidelined) or the way the movie turned V into more of a dashing hero than a died-in-the-wool extremist. But time had a way of rendering all of these points effectively moot. The movie comes across much differently now.
The present: In retrospect, both the great strength and weakness of V for Vendetta is in its lack of specificity. Its Orwellian aesthetics give it a sort of timeless veneer, and its arguments about fascism and the creeping death of liberty are old ones that become painfully relevant whenever there is a new attempt to undermine democracy by those in power.
The movie’s most enduring symbol is a mask, one that was adopted as a sign of real-world protest by the hacktivist group Anonymous in the early 2010s when Occupy Wall Street was the most widely known activist movement in the United States. Unfortunately, a grinning Guy Fawkes mask meant to denote an anonymous solidarity glossed over something vital about institutional oppression: it isn’t applied equally.
In 2020, attacks on democracy are brazen and blunt, and we know painfully well that subtlety is not a hallmark of authoritarianism’s reach. In fact, as critic Scott Meslow wrote in 2018, while V for Vendetta has more bite than it did upon release, you could now say it doesn’t go far enough.
“It imagines a universe in which a single shooting death of an innocent little girl could inspire an entire society to stand up against a militaristic police force,” Meslow writes. “It imagines the resistance to an anti-democratic political movement rising up, in part, from powerful but principled members of that political movement. A modern adaptation might dismiss all those plot points as too optimistic.”
V for Vendetta isn’t particularly concerned with the details — creeping concessions to fascists are recounted in a bleak cascade, and resistance is sparked by a single dramatic act. The film’s universe is small; the only perspective outside of Evey’s is that of Finch (Stephen Rea), a Scotland Yard inspector who is on V’s trail and discovers that the government engineered the crisis that led to its power grab. Through Finch, we piece it all together, and in the film’s best touch, it’s all portrayed in one dramatic montage: corruption, domination, and revolution existing side by side as events the film depicted are intercut with scenes that are about to happen over the movie’s final 30 minutes.
It’s very affecting, but it glosses over how much work it is to defend democracy — how much the people you need to stand beside you in protest actually prefer the rule of fascism as long as the fascists align with them, how institutions aren’t built for democracy but for normalcy, and how the people running them will always choose the latter over the former.
In She Dies Tomorrow, figuring out how to spend your last day is really damn hard
A woman jolts awake and gasps for air in a nondescript living room. She can’t explain why, but she’s certain of one thing: she only has one more day to live. So she tells her friend, Jane, and something horrifying happens: Jane also becomes certain the next day will be her last. This strange conviction, it turns out, is contagious. And it’ll infect many more before tomorrow actually comes.
Written and directed by Amy Seimetz, She Dies Tomorrow is a new film with a title and a premise that suggests something propulsive — a thriller, perhaps, or a nightmarish horror film. Instead, it is contemplative, a psychodrama that introduces a simple unsettling idea to each of its characters and lets us watch as they become unmoored. It doesn’t give definite answers to anything, but it is absolutely clear about one thing: everyone who says they are going to die tomorrow absolutely believes it.
She Dies Tomorrow is a house of mirrors, a film much more interested in the reflections it offers you than in conjuring anything overly specific for you to ruminate. Its characters all process the revelation at the heart of the film in strikingly mundane ways. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), the protagonist, mills about aimlessly, seemingly overwhelmed by the number of ways she could spend her last day, ends up whiling away the hours with morbidly mundane stuff like looking up urns or wondering if her skin could be made into a leather jacket.
Others, like Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) immediately lose interest in the charade they’ve each been maintaining for the other’s benefit, agreeing that they were never going to work out as a couple and that they were going to leave each other as soon as it didn’t seem callous. She Dies Tomorrow dances from existential dread to compressed breakup story to withering comedy from scene to scene. The film takes the gravity of its premise and juxtaposes it with mundanity, and in doing so its characters all feel so silly and self-absorbed. Then the idea infects me, and I feel silly and self-absorbed.
Incomprehensibly big, destabilizing events have a way of warping everything around them, forcing everything into a new context. She Dies Tomorrow arriving in the midst of a global pandemic that, among other things, inspires a general feeling of mundane helplessness gives the film a recursive quality: we are all surrounded by our own doom and the temptation of that doom is narcissism, to spend all of our time stunned by how our world is being rearranged.
She Dies Tomorrow isn’t interested in resolution, but if you lean forward, you can find interrogation. As each character is infected with the idea that their end is coming, they stare at the camera as barely discernible voices fade in and red and blue lights change the contours of their face. We don’t know what’s going through their minds, but we can imagine: how are you living right now, and how is it different from the ways you’ve always lived? Is there a good reason for that? Who put the idea in your head that it has to be this way?
“Do you want to make out?” a man (Adam Wingard) asks Amy as they get high together and she tries to figure out what to do next on her last day. She consents, but they eventually call it off before anything really happens. It doesn’t feel right. Nothing feels right. And whether there’s an answer to the question of how right Amy or her friends are about their fate, nothing ever will again.
AMC Theaters is learning to embrace the streaming era, not fight it
AMC Theaters faced its “most challenging quarter in the company’s 100-year history,” but CEO Adam Aron is trying to look forward, using the company’s second quarter earnings call today to address how AMC is going to compete in a streaming-focused world.
AMC announced last week that it struck a groundbreaking deal with Universal Pictures that would let the studio place films on digital rental services like iTunes or Amazon just 17 days after they hit theaters. Aron confirmed on the call that if Universal decides to take advantage of the shorter window, those movies will continue to play in theaters. There was confusion last week as to whether AMC would pull its films completely after 17 days or just offer people both options. Prior to the deal, studios were forced to either keep their films in theaters for months at a time, or forego a theatrical release entirely. As part of the deal, AMC will receive some payment for movies that are rented at home.
“Some of our competitors are anxious about this change,” Aron said on the call, as reported by Deadline. “Change is difficult for some to cope with.”
Although Aron is embracing the rapid shift to streaming now, he was singing a different tune a few months ago. After Universal Pictures decided to pull its animated film Trolls World Tour from theaters because of the pandemic in March — which would kick off a chain of events that saw studios like Warner Bros. and Disney do the same — Aron originally said AMC would ban Universal movies in its theaters.
The threat drew eye rolls as people quickly pointed out that AMC wasn’t going to sit out on two of Universal’s biggest upcoming films, including the ninth Fast and Furious movie — F9 — and Jurassic World: Dominion. Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide, with both the first two Jurassic World movies also grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. AMC, whose earnings this quarter were down 98 percent year over year, couldn’t afford to refuse movies from any one studio. That’s especially true when it’s Universal.
What became clear is that Aron and AMC Theaters couldn’t afford to ignore how big a business premium streaming has become; the pandemic accelerated a reality that was going to arrive either way. Studios want their films in theaters, but also want to be able to sell titles to audiences at home. The new rules are trying to keep one from cannibalizing the other, like how trailers for an upcoming movie can’t promote that it’ll be available to stream at home. That’s because Universal can’t market a movie hitting digital retailers until 10 days after the movie’s initial release, according to the new rules.
To be clear: AMC is learning to accept streaming as long as it can also profit from the situation. We don’t know how the revenue breakdown for AMC looks, although Aron said “the company would be compensated for every rental,” according to Variety. How the exact deal is structured remains unclear, Variety added. This is different from a situation where AMC is left out completely, like a studio bypassing a theatrical release entirely to stream exclusively on a platform like HBO Max or Disney Plus, for example.
“I’m expecting that this is going to become an industry standard,” Aron said, as reported by Variety. “I expect that some of our competitors will do this, if not all.”
Universal isn’t the only studio AMC’s eyeing, Aron also confirmed. The CEO spoke about Disney’s recent decision to bring Mulan, one of the company’s most anticipated tentpole films, to its Disney Plus streaming service where it could, but still release it in theaters where Disney Plus doesn’t operate. Instead of calling out Disney, Aron noted that “just like AMC is under duress, Disney’s under pressure too,” adding that “at some point they’ve got to monetize their movie product.” Still, he added that he hopes Disney will agree to similar terms as those in the company’s deal with Universal. (Disney CEO Bob Chapek called Mulan’s move to Disney Plus — where it will be available for an extra $30 — a one-time deal.)
Considering that AMC Theaters lost more than half a billion dollars this quarter, Aron is looking to the future positively. The CEO has acknowledged that the theatrical window (a period of exclusivity) is gone. Aron seems to think the way forward for AMC, and the industry, is to embrace that streaming isn’t going away, but it is a business they can get in on. Plus, people are always going to want to go see certain movies in a theater, he argued. That includes movies like Warner Bros. Tenet, which will play exclusively in theaters instead of being released digitally — a decision that Aron commended.
“There are certain advantages to watching a film on a 40-foot screen to watching it on a 40-inch screen,” Aron said. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people will do anything to get out of their house or their apartment. If you told me right now I could go spend three hours at a hardware store, I would tell you that’s an exciting afternoon.”
Cameron Diaz Says Walking Away From Acting ‘Was Like a Cleansing’
Being true to herself. Cameron Diaz opened up about her decision to retire from acting in 2018, after losing part of who she was through the work.
“A peace. I got a peace in my soul because I finally was taking care of myself,” Diaz, 47, told Gwyneth Paltrow in the Wednesday, August 5, episode of “In Goop Health: The Sessions” video series. “I feel grounded and light.”
The Charlie’s Angels actress, who hasn’t starred in a movie since 2014, noted that “it’s a strange thing to say” and that a “lot of people won’t understand” why she announced her retirement two years ago.
“It’s so intense to work at that level and be that public and put yourself out there,” Diaz explained. “There’s a lot of energy coming at you at all times when you’re really visible as an actor. I’m sensitive to some energy and not others. I do get the overwhelming energy of the attention that’s being put toward me.”
At one point, the California native, who married Good Charlotte rocker Benji Madden in 2015, said she paused and examined what her world outside of acting included and she wasn’t happy with what she saw.
“I really looked at my life and I saw what I had been — when you’re making a movie, it’s the perfect excuse, they own you — and I realized I handed off parts of my life to all these other people,” she said. “They took it. I basically had to take it back and take responsibility for my life.”
The new mom, who welcomed daughter Raddix in December 2019 via surrogate with husband Madden, 41, doesn’t regret her choice. “It was like a cleansing,” she noted.
The Avaline wine cofounder further explained that because actors are “infantilized” and taken care of constantly she had to break free.
“Overwhelming your life becomes so narrow. Everybody’s doing things for you and you’re catered around,” the Mask star told Paltrow, 47. “I never felt really, truly comfortable with that. I understood it was part of the job, and for me, I needed to become self-sufficient again.”
She added: “I really needed to know that I could take care of myself [and to learn] that I knew how to be an adult.”
After switching her life course, Diaz leaned on her husband and had to really figure out how she wanted to function moving forward.
“I learned a lot about myself. It’s painful. It hurts. It’s scary,” she revealed. “I credit Benj a lot. I broke that mirror about a thousand times when he put it up to me.”
Diaz first described herself as “actually retired” during an Entertainment Weekly interview in March 2018 alongside her The Sweetest Thing costars, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair. The Bad Teacher actress told fans during an Instagram Live chat in May 2020 that she’s “not going to do more films at the moment.”
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