I read claims that V for Vendetta is subversive with some trepidation. The argument goes something like this: average American Joe Tabula Rasa shows up at the local multiplex with a super-sized Coke and a tub of popcorn ready to see a Good Guy whup some Bad Guy ass and blow shit up. The film delivers ass whuppings and explosions - but sneaks in some revolutionary ideas. You see, the hero is a terrorist and the Bad Guys are a fascist government whose agenda bears a superficial resemblance to the platform of the American Republican party. All riled up, Joe tears up the pavement in front of the theater to build a barricade. But what's being subverted here: contemporary American political values or the supposed "anarchist" politics of the film?
If V for Vendetta is a call for revolution, it is a passive call indeed. The People take to the streets not of their own accord, but at the beck of a masked, bullet-proof superhero named V (Hugo Weaving). V, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask for the duration of the film, is essentially a creation of the excesses of future Britain's fascist government. "What was done to me created me," he says. So the message is not that the People will not tolerate abuse of power, but that a fascist government sows the seed of their own destruction. Throw in the Western idea that history is the study of great men and you have your revolution. But will it last?
The fascist slogan is: "Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith". But in the climactic uprising the people of London don matching Guy Fawkes masks and overwhelm the police and military presence with their numbers. It's "Strength Through Unity", a "Unity" represented by the masks that springs from their "Faith" that V will fulfill his promise to blow up Parliament at midnight on November 5. The fascists are guilty of crimes against people and operating concentration camps for enemies of the state (including protesters and homosexuals). They justify this by arguing that it's for the people's own good: "We did what we had to!" But wait, who's that torturing Evey (Natalie Portman) so that she can finally be free? Good Guys V and Deitrich (Stephen Fry) have in their homes small museums of "banned objects" like Wurlitzers, subversive art, and a Qur'an (enough to get you executed). But the entire film has as a focal point V's promised destruction of Parliament, a symbol of liberal democracy recognized worldwide.