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Movie Review: V for Vendetta

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A huge gap often exists between what we preview in a trailer versus what a film actually is. In the case of V for Vendetta, marketing the film as the newest film from the creators of the Matrix will no doubt draw many moviegoers who would normally avoid a movie that turns out to be heavier on ideas than on action. Indeed, V is thematically similar to films like Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck, but should no doubt draw a much larger crowd. What’s so unique about V for Vendetta is that the growing, deep unrest and dissatisfaction with the current geopolitical situation that has henceforth been restricted to more “artsy” films has now seeped into popular culture through the highly accessible form of an action film.

But I’m not so sure that this movie qualifies as an action film so much as a thrilling political nightmare. My hesitance to ascribe a genre is no doubt due to the connotation of “action film” with “mindless entertainment.” Because the last thing V has is a lack of ideas; rather it’s brimming with sharp, frightening political commentary.

The story is based on Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel, but scenes of the film have references to America’s involvement in Iraq and to the Holocaust. So the film is not an allegory for a particular time, but for any country whose people have become afraid of their governments rather than vice versa. And with our government currently demanding access to what search words we Google, we feel the relevance of the film’s ideas.

The film takes place around 2020, and Britain’s government is a fascist, totalitarian regime concerned with stability and unity, not freedom. During the early part of the twenty-first century, which, as we well know, are times of great political unrest, the conservative party came to power in England and sought peace through the eradication of all things subversive and different – races, homosexuality, music, movies, etc. Only one news channel exists, and it does nothing but spin all stories to preserve the people’s confidence in their government. But this government that proclaims to want what’s best for its citizens has gone to evil extremes to make the people dependent upon them. For example, they released a deadly virus on their own country that killed thousands just so they could be the ones to come to the rescue and deliver the vaccine. And to get that vaccine, tests were done on human beings – the masked man V (Hugo Weaving) being one of them.

V, wearing his unsettling Guy Fawkes mask, is not only on a personal mission to murder all doctors who did human experimentation, but also to bring down the government that suppresses the freedom of the people. His idol is, of course, Guy Fawkes, a Catholic dissident who tried to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, but was captured and executed. This film takes place over the course of one year, from one November 5 to the next, upon which V hopes to complete Fawkes’ attempt to destroy Parliament and also to rally complacent citizens to rise up and reclaim their government.

During this time, though, V develops a Phantom-of-the-Opera relationship with a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman), whom he saves from the police when she’s out past curfew one evening. Soon she saves his life, and he takes her to his underground lair where she must live in hiding for the next year. At first, she’s determined to escape, but through an ingeniously written process (which I will not reveal), we watch Evey develop the same disgust and anger for the government that V possesses.

Of course the problem that many viewers will have with V is that his ultimate goal is a large-scale terrorist act. But for V, Parliament is a symbol, not a building, and the people will not know their own power and the extent of their society’s corruption until it is destroyed. It’s at this point that the film hits a sharp nerve in post-9/11 America, but I’m still not sure there’s such a clear connection. But to the general charge that V is a terrorist, I would argue that terrorism against a fascist regime is excusable, if not necessary.

But as a film V for Vendetta is smart, accessible, thought-provoking, frightening, expertly photographed with deep reds and blacks, and ends with an amazing, heartpounding action sequence that will be hard to beat in 2006. What’s most noteworthy is that this is a film about revenge and assassination that makes those acts secondary and auxiliary to the theme of the film. Yes, there are a several “payoff” scenes, but I think this film cares much more about integrating action to ideas rather than having a shoot-em-up vengeful free-for-all. If V for Vendetta is any indication of what 2006 holds for moviegoers, then we have an exhilarating year ahead of us.

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  • Sounds like another cowardly film that pulls its punches.

    We are losing our freedoms, true, but if fascism comes, it won’t be a racist skinhead/Christian fascism, as this film seems to posit.

    It’ll be a multi-racial fascism, a blend of politically correct “liberalism,” with much talk of Western Judeao-Christian (not just Christian) values, and more talk of freedom. Muslims may be targeted, but not Jews or gays or blacks or Latinos — they’re too well integrated into our society. Rather, they, like white Christians, will be both victims and victimizers, depending on which side they take.

    This film is still re-fighting World War 2, ignoring that the threat of internal fascism has evolved since then. It’ll be something that successfully co-opts the, yes, diverse strains of our diverse society.

    Future fascism won’t look like something out of the 1930s — it’ll look like us.

  • Ty

    The film actually sounds like a good adaptation of the graphic novel published by DC’s Vertigo, not that you would know that or even care.

  • Ty,
    Were you responding to Thomas Sipos’ comment?

  • Either way, we could use a good film about the increasing loss of freedom that’s occuring today, and not yet another film about a white racist/Christian fundamentalist takeover that isn’t any kind of threat because it’s never gonna happen.

    I’d rather a controversial film that exposes today’s political threats, not a film that hits safe targets that 99% of the population agree is evil.

  • ss

    Roe V Wade is about to face it’s most serious challenge, gays are legally mandated 2nd class citizens in 23 states, and the Dems have finally found a campaign issue that resonates with the public-
    The kind of baseless knee jerk xenophobia that thier compatriots across the aisle in DC can use to defend rendition, even as the’re releasing prisoners they’ve held for years and admitting they sometimes kidnap and detain the wrong people.

    If the biggest threat you can identify to your personal freedom is the politically impotent diversity police found on college campuses, you have it pretty fucking good in comparisson to some.
    Only a spoiled myopic delusional jackass could fail to see that at this point.

  • vixiecron

    Speaking of propoganda — too many people get away with saying some of those things.

    The result of Roe V Wade was a legal decision and not a law. State recognition of marriage is not a right — gay individuals have the same constitutional rights as every US citizen. Making up “rights” that are not guaranteed by law and then complaining when they are violated by the actions of a representative government are…how did you put it? Myopic, delusional, jackass-like, etc.

    If you take away the thinly-veiled modern political references, you’re left with a poorly-executed and shallow movie. The acting (which wasn’t bad), didn’t save it. It could be said that V is 1984 with a thin candy (albeit explosive) shell.

    I’d still recommend seeing it though — maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t.

  • Wow… people, its a movie not a State sponsored film.

  • Keith

    It seems to me that commenters 1-7 have not even seen this movie.

    As for the article itself: Sir, let us not delude ourselves as to what this film is. It definitely IS an allegory for a particular time and place(ours)and a clumsy, artless allegory at that. Only the setting of Great Britain and the temporality of 2020 serve to veil the blatantly obvious allusions to the United States of the present day. And the “ideas” of which there are no shortage in the film are merely a tiresome checklist of the same used, predictable, liberal talking points that we’ve all by this time come to expect from the film and television media.

    To anyone who has yet to see this film, see how many allusions to the here-and-now you can spot in it. Look for, among others, Bush, Cheney, Haliburton, the Patriot Act, the Daily Show, Fox News, etc. Also the obligatory homophobic, theocratic, anti-muslim, ideologies attributed to all of the films villains. As I say, it’s like a checklist.

    One thing in the article was true, and that is the gap between what one sees in a preview and what one actually finds in the theater. For my own part, I was in the middle of reading The Count of Monte Cristo at the time the film came out and I picked up on the theme of the Count from the trailers I saw. A worse representation of Edmond Dantes who is the Count of Monte Cristo has not been seen since the Antonio Banderas movie of the same name came out some years ago(no offence meant to Hugo Weaving). Of all things, I can forgive a movie its liberal slant, but such an inappropriate use of the literature by professional story-tellers is a banality I did not expect. The Count, though justly bent on revenge, and thinking himself the instrument of God to exact that revenge on those who wronged him(a dim allusion to Islamic terrorists is perhaps possible here),ultimately spares and forgives each of his intended victims as he comes to realize that “he himself needs forgiveness” That is of course a Christian point of view and the central Christian ethic and is therefore entirely unusable to the creators of this movie. When Alexandre Dumas stops rolling in his grave, they should beg his pardon.

  • They calim that they take away our some of freedom to protect ourselves.

    But it’s much easier to protect the people than it is to give them freedom.

  • mk

    Dear “SS”:

    Please read the banner at the bottom of the comments page:

    “Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read our comment policy.”

    YOU are the type of person all right-minded people abhor because of comments like these:

    “Only a spoiled myopic delusional jackass could fail to see that at this point.”

    As for the film, this thread is woefully uninformed, but here’s a quotation from Alan Moore 0n MTV:

    “It’s a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values [standing up] against a state run by neo-conservatives — which is not what “V for Vendetta” was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about [England]. The intent of the film is nothing like the intent of the book as I wrote it. And if the Wachowski brothers had felt moved to protest the way things were going in America, then wouldn’t it have been more direct to do what I’d done and set a risky political narrative sometime in the near future that was obviously talking about the things going on today?”

    “largely impotent American liberal fantasy” can be said about a lot of the discourse in our country today.

  • Chris

    umm… you people arguing the conservative/liberal values of this movie have MISSED THE POINT. it’s NOT about left-right politics, it’s about FASCISM. Mussolini was a fascist, he was left. Hitler was a fascist, he was right. left and right are irrelevant when the government is of, by and for the corporation.