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.