A dystopian action film with radical and libertarian ideas: V for Vendetta, the 2007 Prometheus Special Award winner

Only two films have been recognized with Special Prometheus Awards since that occasional awards category was first presented more than two decades ago: Serenity and V for Vendetta.

Here is an appreciation of V for Vendetta, the 2007 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner:

V for Vendetta, a Warner Bros. Pictures feature film released in 2006, offers a powerful and poignant indictment of totalitarianism as a brutal denial of not only our liberty but our very humanity.

“Some movies fade on repeated viewings while others maintain their brilliance. V for Vendetta is a stellar example of the latter…. The movie  is simply brilliant,” Fred Curtis Moulton wrote in his rave review, printed in the Spring 2007 issue of Prometheus, the LFS’ quarterly newsletter.

Based on the 1980s DC Comics limited series and graphic novel by David Lloyd and Alan Moore, the film was directed by James McTeigue (his impressive feature-film debut) from a screenplay by The Wachowski Brothers (best known for The Matrix trilogy).

Set in an alternative future United Kingdom that has been taken over by a neo-fascist regime, the film revolves around a masked anarchist named V who strives to spearhead a revolution against State oppression.

Natalie Portman embodies both vulnerability and courage as traumatized Evey, a working-class woman who inadvertently gets caught among the cogs of obtrusive authority and is rescued by mysterious V (Hugo Weaving). Only is she really rescued? For quite a while, Evey seems imprisoned in V’s underground lair and confused by his motives.

Ultimately, V enlists Evey in his cause, while gradually revealing more of himself to her – especially his idealism and compassion, but also his problematic use of terrorist violence to attack and undermine the fascist-socialist State.

Moore and Lloyd’s graphic novel was inducted in 2006 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction. Why then did the Libertarian Futurist Society also recognize the film version with a Special Prometheus Award?

First of all, because film is a different and far more visual medium than literature or even graphic novels – and this vivid film, with such striking cinematography, art design and effects, creates a palpable and believable world that haunts the memory.

As a film, V for Vendetta very much deserves its own separate recognition – and its own independent evaluation.

The film, like the graphic novel, is provocative in its depiction of anti-state violence. Libertarians and anarchists understand that such tactics can be dangerous, unethical and counterproductive – and worse, can often backfire and reinforce the State, first properly defined by the sociologist Max Weber as the only human institution with a legitimized monopoly on the use of force within a given geographical area.

For the film, though, such violence raises the stakes in an already harsh future – and reinforces the style and scope of the story as a literally explosive action-thriller.

“One might view V for Vendetta as an idea film with action or as an action film with ideas,” Moulton wrote in his Prometheus review.

“For me — and I suspect most LFS members— it is an idea film with action. The action generally works to carry the various story arcs of the film rather than be gratuitous or overbearing. The violence and gore show that brutality of a totalitarian and repressive regime but they are also in the background reminding us that resistance and revolution almost always have a price. The common remark ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is used in the movie to remind us of some difficult questions.”

Here are further insightful excerpts from Moulton’s review:

“In the film the character V says “Behind this mask is more than flesh; behind this mask is an idea.” So what are the ideas of the movie and which of them might be of interest to us?

“First, is the oppressive nature of a bullying totalitarian government, oppressive not only at the individual level with curfews and censorship, but also at the group level. As the loathsome Lewis Prothero says in his TV broadcast; “Immigrants. Muslims. Homosexuals. Terrorists. Disease ridden degenerates. They had to go! Strength Through Unity. Unity Through Faith.” The bigotry and intolerance are corrupting and corrosive and one more component of the intimidation and lust for power of the regime.

“Second, is the idea of personal growth and integrity. This theme is seen in the story of Evey Hammond. A young woman who has reason to dislike the government but is not a revolutionary, Evey works for the TV network at a low level job just trying to get along. Beginning with her encounter with the Fingermen when breaking curfew that results in her meeting V to her revolutionary act at the end of the movie we see Evey go through tremendous emotional and physical distress and arrive as a changed person. Placing Evey in the story in this manner allows ideas to be expressed and examined without slowing down the pace of the movie.

“Third, this movie offers a ray of hope, that eventually people will begin to see through the propaganda and fear tactics. There is one short scene in the first third of the movie in which a young girl is watching a TV news broadcast and seeing it as false says, “Bollocks,” and turns away from the TV. This is one of the early signs that there is the possibility of a better future. At the conclusion, Evey answers the detective Mr. Finch when asked what V was correct about, “That this country needs more than a building right now. It needs hope.”

“The fourth idea is the strong undercurrent of revenge. A person grievously harmed may seek to extract revenge on those who harmed him in the course of developing a biological weapon. Releasing this biological weapon harmed countless others, all towards obtaining political power and wealth by means of lies and cruelty. Is revenge then justifiable? Is it not imperative?

“It is not a subtle movie. The imagery is strong and in your face. It tells a dynamic and gripping story and leaves the viewer with questions, such as when is the right time for revolution? There are hints at answers but the movie is not overly preachy in trying to be prescriptive.

“There are some choice moments of satire of authority. Much of the political references are very overt; such as censorship of certain music, banning of possession of certain books such as the Quran. The collusion of the major religious institutions and the role of news manipulation and the use of demagogic media figures are well illustrated in the movie. As Evey says about a TV news announcer “She blinks a lot when she does a story that she knows is false.”

“The movie is so full of anti-authoritarian messages that it is hard to see them all in only a single viewing. Any movie about fear and the use of fear to control a populous and the resulting tyranny would be of interest to libertarians. One as well made and timely as V for Vendetta with such a fine script, great acting and focused directing deserves our attention.”

* Read the Prometheus Blog Appreciation of the graphic novel of V for Vendetta, inducted in 2006 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade-plus history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes links to all published Appreciations of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans. Libertarian futurists believe culture is as vital as politics (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive in the longer run) in sparking positive social change and spreading positive visions of the future and achieving universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.


Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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