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#305. Letters

The individual building blocks of any language are letters. These letters can be combined into words, which in turn can be transformed into sentences. The process continues on and on until you’re left with a story of saga-like proportions. But sometimes individual letters carry certain connotations just by themselves. We use letters to help classify objects, actions, and quality. In certain circles, letters are used to form acronyms, their singular purpose being to shorten a complex topic like a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus into something simple to understand like SCUBA. Some films even use letters as a way to simplify their characters or premise. These atoms of language can be powerful and are often used to condense large subjects into simple ideas. This week’s two films focus on single letters.

V for Vendetta
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Franchises like Men in Black and James Bond often use single letters to identify their characters. When your cast isn’t that large, it can be easy to identify someone as J, K, M, Q, or Z. Similarly, whole films have been made about people with a single letter identifying them, such as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. (2008). Of course, Stone wasn’t the first to use a single letter to define a political film, as the foreign film, Z (1969), stood for the protesters’ dissent of the Grecian government. Sometimes these single letters can stand for more sinister actions as well. M (1931) and Dial M for Murder (1954) both use this singular letter to represent the killing of another person. In V for Vendetta (2006), we find all the political intrigue, murder, and personal identification is wrapped up in a single character who goes by the name of “V.”

Not only does V (Hugo Weaving) stand for the vendetta against the people who did him wrong, he also stands for the Roman Numeral for “five,” which is the day in November associated with Guy Fawkes Day. In aligning himself with the political ideologies of the man who attempted to blow up parliament, he has taken up the mask of the revolutionary in an attempt to finish what was started centuries ago. He has seen the politics of England become much more totalitarian due to the influences of the people who locked him away in a research facility and now he wants to give the people a voice once again. Pulling the strings on an already high-strung society, he sets dominoes in motion that will help topple the leadership of this oppressive regime. In one, last statement about the power of a symbol, V manages to accomplish everything he intended.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

When I was a child, there was one particular book that confused me. It was filled with pictures and strings of letters, but not words. It wasn’t until I read the individual letters out loud that I understood these letters were actually words. “I C A B” suddenly transformed into “I see a bee.” This wordplay is what leads us to such films as Bee Movie (2007), which is itself a pun on the idea of a B-movie. Of course, when letters are associated with quality, the earlier it appears in the alphabet, the better. We all want an “A” in school, to buy “Grade A” produce, and just to generally gave the best of something. Now, an “A” can also stand for other things, like in the modern adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Easy A (2010). But, for the most part, when we want the highest quality, we’ll go with the “A.”

Army Rangers, Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Face (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quitnon Jackson), and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) met in Mexico through a series of events that eventually led to the death of rebel General Javier Tuco (Yul Vazquez). This team of four men eventually wound up in Iraq, where they were tasked to complete a black ops mission to retrieve some U.S. Treasury plates from the insurgent regime. While they were successful, they were framed and court-martialed, winding up in a separate prison. After successfully escaping from each of their prisons, they work together to uncover the man who set them up. Through an elaborate ruse, they get self-proclaimed CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to admit that the stole the plates. While the true Agent Lynch (Jon Hamm) comes to arrest the fake Lynch, the four men are taken back to prison, only to easily escape again and form “The A-Team.”

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 single letter stories

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