V for Vendetta (2005)
V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowskis, is based on the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name. The film begins with a flashback to Guy Fawkes, who attempts to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, inspiring a holiday in Britain, as well as the popular refrain of “Remember, remember, the fifth of November”.
Fast forward to the late 2020s, and London is in a post-apocalyptic state after millions of people have lost their lives due to a virus which forced the country to close its borders. This has allowed an Orwellian government to come to power, leaving the citizens frustrated but helpless in their own homes. Anyone of certain races and religions as well as homosexuals and immigrants are arrested and placed in concentration camps in order to further the aims of the primary political party, led by the all-powerful Chancellor (John Hurt).
On the eve of Guy Fawkes Day, a young woman, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) heads to a dinner date with her boss, TV personality Gordon Deitrich (Stephen Fry). On her way there, she’s caught on the street after curfew by the Fingermen, a special police force. They aim to assault and abuse her until a man in a Guy Fawkes mask arrives and defeats them all with his swordplay skills. He introduces himself as V (Hugo Weaving), and asks Evey if she’d like to see a symphony.
He takes Evey to the top of a building where music begins to play from the emergency sound system. V pretends to conduct the music as the Old Bailey Criminal Court Building explodes, and fireworks light the night sky.
The two part ways and Evey heads to work at the “British Television Network” the next day. Unknown to her, V has snuck into the building to begin a complex plan to take over the network. He manages to get into the control room, where he airs a video of himself, and the entire country watches as V talks about injustice and calls for everyone who believes that things must change to meet in one year’s time on Guy Fawkes Day to stand up to the government.
As V makes his getaway, he’s almost captured by a guard, but despite her better judgment, Evey pepper-sprays the guard, allowing V to escape, but she gets knocked out cold in the process. V carries her to his hidden lair, where she finds rooms filled with books, paintings, and other contraband items she hasn’t seen since she was a child. The two begin to strike up a friendship, and eventually, Evey realizes that V has killed a man and plans on killing more. After a small explanation, he manages to convince Evey to help out with one of the murders.
Soon, Evey is dressed as a young girl and is being seduced by an old bishop. She tries to warn him that V aims to kill him, but he believes she’s playing a seduction game with him. It isn’t long before V enters the room ready to kill the man. Evey manages to escape, however, and runs to the home of her boss Deitrich.
He’s happy to see her and even allows her into a hidden room where he keeps his art and photos that reveal that he’s secretly gay. After a long chat, Evey realizes V might not be so wrong after all. But then the home is invaded, and Deitrich is killed for airing a skit that mocks the Chancellor. Evey manages to escape the home, but is captured outside and sent to prison.
Meanwhile, police investigator Eric Finch (Stephen Rhea) tries to figure out the motive behind V’s terrorist attacks. As the death toll climbs, Finch begins to question if V is actually a bad guy or if his actions are justified. Finch discovers that all of his victims are connected to one particular concentration camp, and later finds a journal that details all of the horrors done to the prisoners there, which leads him to question V’s supposed status as a terrorist even more.
In prison, Evey has her head shaved and is tortured daily by guards, who eventually tell her she’s going to be executed if she doesn’t give them information about V. When she’s given up all hope, she finds handwritten notes that detail the life of another prisoner who was arrested for being a lesbian. Feeling inspired, she tells the guards she’d rather die than give up any information. With this, the guard tells her she’s finally free.
A bit confused, Evey walks down the hall only to find it leads to V’s home, and this entire “prison” was a pretense by V. He tries to explain why he tortured her, and Evey agrees that it led to her empowerment. She makes a promise to see V one more time, on the next Guy Fawkes Day.
V sets his plan in motion, while the Chancellor puts out an order to kill anyone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, which breeds chaos in the streets. With some cunning wordplay, V convinces one of the Chancellor’s subjects to betray him, which leads to the Chancellor’s death. However, V is shot several times during the attack, and just as he returns to Evey and tells her the rest of the plan, he dies. Evey loads him onto a train filled with explosives that’s bound for Parliament. Finch walks in on her just as she’s about to send the train off, and after a short deliberation, he allows her to do so, thus ending the tyranny and starting a new chapter.
V for Vendetta plays on a lot on today’s political issues. It dangles the possibility of an extreme group taking over and placing anyone of certain ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation, and immigrant status into concentration camps which, thanks to the current presidential election cycle, doesn’t seem that farfetched at the moment. However, given the time this film was made, this was clearly meant to be a metaphor for people being held indefinitely by the US government at Guantanamo, and as such feels mostly like a cheap play on our sense of outrage over injustices in the War on Terror.
There’s also the general feeling that they crammed as much as they possibly could into the film. With a few major and minor storylines all going on at once, there ends up being so much backstory that it’s overwhelming. Perhaps if they had looked at one angle it may have been easier to follow. However, it’s hard to know what they could have cut, since each of the stories has its importance, and each shows how the average citizen can go from law-abiding to rebellious, and how life can be turned upside down by a simple radical ideal.
However, I do feel as if they could have left out the psuedo-love story between Evey and V. Not to mention, he jumped from being in love with the woman who left him her life story to Evey, whose life had also been destroyed by the government. Ultimately, the romance aspect only adds more complexity to a story that already has too much going on.
The philosophy of the film is a bit skewed as well. There are a lot of ideas coming in that reference the works of Orwell, Huxley, and other iconic dystopian novelists, but it mostly feels like window dressing. In the film, at least, anarchy is mostly just used as a distraction by V to allow him to finish off his plan. V’s vendetta ends up causing major political upheaval, but it seems to mostly be an unintended side effect.
The acting in the movie was impeccable, however. While you never see Hugo Weaving’s face (meaning he gets wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone), Portman and Rhea and a collection of other top-name celebrities do a fantastic job throughout the film. Even John Hurt, who ironically enough played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of 1984, creates intense emotion while being almost entirely confined to TV screens.
Of course, if you’re a fan of the graphic novel, then this movie might not be for you. The storyline goes in a much different direction, and even the author, Alan Moore, had his name taken off the credits, much like he did with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The graphic novel was originally written as a reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s administration taking power in the UK, but the Wachowskis and McTeigue have turned into it a generic statement against the Patriot Act and other Bush-era attacks on civil liberties, which unfortunately makes the whole thing a whole lot more bland.
Still, V for Vendetta delves into politics a lot more than you’d expect from a popcorn comic book action movie. While it may seem like a pretty simplistic film about a man reminding the people that they, and not the government, have the power, there’s still plenty to enjoy about this film, and its themes are (unfortunately) just as relevant as when it came out ten years ago.