V for Vendetta (2005)

This review includes full spoilers. Proceed accordingly. For other movie reviews from me, click HERE:

Comment: Are you, like, a crazy person?
Dusty: I am quite sure they will say so.

Rating: R
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Tony Weare
Stars: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman
Release Date: December 11, 2005 (BNAT), March 17, 2006 (United States)
Run time: 2 hour, 12 minutes


via Wiki:

In the near future, Britain is ruled by the Norsefire political party, a fascist and authoritarian regime led by High Chancellor Adam Sutler, which controls the populace through propaganda, and imprisons or executes those deemed undesirable, including immigrants, homosexuals, and people of alternative religions.

Evey Hammond is the daughter of parents who became activists after her brother perished in the St Mary’s school terrorist attack fourteen years earlier; they were detained when she was 12 years old and later died in prison. One evening, a Guy Fawkes masked vigilante, “V“, rescues her from assault by the secret police and has her witness his destruction of the Old Bailey via bombs. The following morning, on 5 November, V hijacks the state-run television network to address the nation, claiming credit for the attack and encouraging the populace to resist Norsefire by joining him outside the Houses of Parliament on Guy Fawkes Night in one year’s time. Evey is knocked unconscious while aiding V’s escape, and he takes her with him to avoid her arrest and likely execution.

V kills Norsefire propagandist Lewis Prothero, Dr. Delia Surridge, and, with Evey’s assistance, Anthony Lilliman, the Bishop of London. Evey flees after betraying V, hoping to be forgiven by Norsefire. Assigned to capture V, Chief Inspector Eric Finch uses Surridge’s journal and information from former covert operative William Rookwood (actually V in disguise), discovering that, two decades earlier, Surridge led biological weapon research and human experimentation at the Larkhill Detention Facility on behalf of Norsefire, creating the “St Mary’s Virus”. Although dozens of political prisoners died during experimentation, an amnesiac in cell “V” developed mutated immunities and disfigurements as well as physical enhancements and eventually destroyed Larkhill during his escape. Peter Creedy, head of the secret police, faked a terrorist attack by releasing the virus at targets including St. Mary’s and used the resulting public fear to embed Norsefire in power. Simultaneously, the company manufacturing the cure enriched party members such as Prothero and Lilliman.

Evey takes shelter with her former boss, talkshow host Gordon Dietrich, who shows her his collection of illegal materials such as subversive paintings, an antique Quran, and homoerotic photographs. Emboldened by Evey and V, he satirizes Sutler on his show, leading to his and Evey’s arrest and his eventual execution. She takes solace in a note hidden in her cell written by Valerie Page, a woman imprisoned in the cell next to V’s, detailing her hopes despite her impending death. Tortured and facing her own execution, Evey refuses to submit to her captors and is released, finding herself in V’s lair. V had intercepted Evey before Creedy’s men and subjected her to false imprisonment so she could learn to live without fear. Although initially angry at V, Evey realizes that he has been avenging Valerie and the other Larkhill victims and promises to return to see him before 5 November. To kill the otherwise unreachable High Chancellor, V convinces Creedy to kill Sutler and replace him in exchange for V’s surrender.

As 5 November approaches, V has hundreds of thousands of Guy Fawkes masks distributed across the nation, leading to a rise in masked, anonymous chaos and eventually riots after the secret police kill a young masked girl. V shares a dance with Evey before leading her to the shuttered London underground he restored over the previous decade. Not intending to survive the night, V bequeaths the decision to start the explosive-filled train to Evey. Although she pleads that he abandon his crusade and leave with her, he refuses. Creedy meets V and executes Sutler before demanding V unmask. Despite being shot and heavily injured, V kills Creedy and his men, stating that the idea he represents is more important than his identity. V returns to Evey, dying in her arms after admitting he loves her, and Finch finds her placing V’s body aboard the train but allows her to start it after she affirms that the people need hope. With Sutler and Creedy dead, the military forces in London stand down as countless citizens dressed as V descend on Parliament and witness its destruction. Finch asks for V’s true identity, to which Evey replies, “He was all of us”.


V for Vendetta is a beautifully shot film, highly quotable, with great performances from Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, and Stephen Fry, but as I watched it, I felt like I was seeing a college theater kid’s idea of a revolution, where the bad guys were small in number, buffoonish, and cartoonishly evil, and once started, everything about the revolution was flamboyant and annoyingly easy. The movie was well crafted and enjoyable but the story lacked the depth that it seemed to promise.

The setup for the story is not exactly difficult to imagine here in these 2020s. The British government develops and then releases a bioweapon on its own people, uses the fear and chaos that ensues to solidify its own power (censor citizens, blame and arrest political opposition, etc.), and all the while party members tied into the pharmaceutical industry make fortunes selling the cure for the virus that they themselves unleashed. The film imagines a world where the military industrial complex is evil, power-hungry, and has a controlling hand in politics, the pharmaceutical industry, popular culture, and the media. Then one of the victims of this criminality rises up and becomes its undoing.

V: What was done to me was monstrous.
Evey Hammond: And they created a monster.

The film refers frequently to the film version of The Count of Monte Cristo as a source of inspiration for V, however, whereas that story depicts one man revenging himself upon a few other people, this story is about one man single-handedly striking back at and destroying an entire government. Even compared to The Count of Monte Cristo, the plot is implausible. V for Vendetta imagines a tyrannical government so small and efficient that the higher-ups show up personally to hit you in the face with a club. It shows the audience a political party that simultaneously seems to have no visible bureaucracy and also an Orwellian level of total control. Even setting aside the unexplained fact that V is essentially a mutant, with superhuman intellect and physical capabilities, the ultimate win is too easy. Despite having a year’s advanced warning, the government does not bother to inspect the abandoned subway line beneath Parliament as a possible source of the eventual bomb. Even the suspicious Finch does not get down there until the day of the explosion and he just lets it happen.

On the subject of too easy, in the best case scenario, all that V and Evie have done, by the end of the movie, is set England up for a horrific period of infighting and civil war. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, whoever was next in command of the party eventually claims the rule, cracks down violently on protestors, and they end up in a worse state than the one in which they started.

But let’s not allow realism to impinge too much upon the film’s idealism. V – not too much unlike Christian Bale’s Batman a few years later – is about symbolism and ideas. V’s purpose was to shatter the idea, in the minds of the unhappily oppressed and fearful English, that nothing could be done to make things better. Perhaps at the end of the film, an idealistic person might hope that his ideas not only changed the population, in general, but also the underlings in the party, too, such as Inspector Finch.

What are some of the film’s big ideas? Here are some quotes that I think summarize them:

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Evey Hammond: My father was a writer. You would’ve liked him. He used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.

V: …A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.

V: There are no coincidences, Delia… only the illusion of coincidence.

I am occasionally struck by the way a piece of art can change its appeal over the course of time. When this movie came out in 2006, it was viewed as a thinly veiled critique of the George W. Bush presidency. In the not quite two decades since, though, in the post-pandemic era, the film has been now adopted by the political Right as being analogous to present-day politics. This malleability of the film proves its thinness and naivety. Anyone can rally behind “the government should be afraid of its people – let’s show them why” in times when you don’t like the government. Calling for a revolution is an easy thing to do – even if it is not an easy thing to accomplish. V for Vendetta is the film equivalent of a rallying cry for a mob. The film shows a world of victims and oppressors, but makes the depiction on each side so over-the-top that there is nothing to be learned, and no higher ideal for which to strive. It’s art that you should leave behind you when you see it, not art that inspires you later. The film is a call for anarchy. Perhaps if one’s government is run by the High Chancellor Adam Suttler you might view that as an improvement over the status quo, no matter the outcome. Real life is not so simple, nor are the arguments which divide us.

The film has had an impact on popular culture since its release. The hacker group Anonymous even adopted the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks. In fact, those masks are a pretty common symbol now of anti-authoritarianism. You might fairly argue that the story’s biggest accomplishment is helping the world to remember a long forgotten holiday. Every November, someone on your social media timeline always reminds you.

If you do not take the film too seriously, nor adopt it as something of a guiding idea, it’s fine and plenty entertaining. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman both deliver really entertaining performances, the film looks great, and the pacing is quick and never lags. Sometimes a bit of childish naivety in the realm of politics is a welcome relief from real life. I just wouldn’t watch this expecting anything deeper.

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