Some movies fade on repeated viewings while others maintain their brilliance. V for Vendetta is a stellar example of the latter. I saw it first on a theater screen and then several more times on DVD. I viewed it again as I was beginning this review. The movie V for Vendetta is simply brilliant.
The movie is based on the graphic novel by David Lloyd and Alan Moore written in the 1980s. The Wachowski Brothers did a preliminary script in the mid 1990s and then revised the script again. Although based on the graphic novel I’m here evaluating the movie on its own terms and not in comparison to the graphic novel. When I saw the movie during the original release I was making part of my evaluation based on a comparison between the movie and the graphic novel. The more I have considered the issue, I have come to the conclusion that the graphic novel and the movie should each be reviewed and rated as individual works.
One might view V for Vendetta as an idea film with action or as an action film with ideas. 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.
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.
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