Remember, remember the fifth of November
THIS FILM is based on Moore’s gripping and provocative comic book written in the 80s, which presented a bleak vision of the future in reaction to Thatcherite Britain. However, the major problem with this adaptation is that, while the masked anti-hero, V, may work on the page, it is isolating on screen. V’s facial disguise is a mask that always has the same smiling expression, with actor Hugo Weaving using his voice and body language to create a character. I found the same problem when I was younger watching Thomas the Tank Engine – surely if something talks, its lips should move.
It is the year 2020, a worldwide virus has run wild, most Americans are dead and Britain is ruled by Sutler (Hurt), a fascist dictator and personification of Big Brother, who promises security but not freedom. One man stands against him – V, who wears a mask showing the face of his 17th century hero, Guy Fawkes. For those a bit rusty on their English history, on November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a tunnel beneath Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder, hoping to blow the building up in response to the tyranny of King James I’s government. Fawkes and his fellow collaborators were hung, drawn and quartered.
Natalie Portman is mesmerising as Evey, a regular, every day member of society. On November 4, 2020 she is attacked by the government’s security force, but saved by a mysterious masked vigilante, V. He forces her to join him in his revenge against the government who did him wrong, and an oppressive government who will do anything to prevent him from carrying out his ultimate act of terrorism. Through Evey, the question is raised as to whether V’s extreme tactics actually justify the means.
We follow the two for the next 12 months, as V masterminds a plan that will free the British from the corruption, cruelty and lies of a government that has kept them in check through fear and intimidation. The disturbing aspect of the movie is that we sympathise with V and want him to succeed. After all, this is a government that came to power by creating a crisis in which thousands of people were killed and innocent people were arrested and executed. The movie is filled with intriguing ideas, but you can’t pin down the message. Is this movie a parable about 2006, a cautionary tale or a pure fantasy? It can be read in many ways.
The hero with whom we are asked to identify is not just the usual loner, driven to acts of revenge; he is a full-fledged terrorist, determined to bring down his government by destroying the iconic buildings that symbolise its power. V is a knife-throwing, Shakespeare-quoting, caped crusader, who lives like the Phantom of the Opera in a subterranean Shadow Gallery.
James McTeigue makes his directorial debut in this and shows confidence in his own ability. He always has something going on, inviting us to decode the character and plot. You are never quite sure just how far down the road this movie is going to go, sanctioning terrorism and making us pull for an al-Qaeda-like renegade, who wants to destroy an edifice that is one of Western civilisation’s most beloved symbols. It goes pretty far and will strike some as being irresponsible at best, treasonous at worst. The idea of a terrorist as hero is bound to stir controversy and debate, for, as we have learned, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
Stephen Rae gives another strong performance as the conflicted Detective Finch, doggedly pursuing V and Evey. A strong cast of British actors help flesh out the cast: John Hurt is the tyrannical Chancellor Sutler and Tim Pigott-Smith is Creedy, the sly and silky head of the Fingermen, the state’s secret police.
V for Vendetta isn’t the type of film that you watch again and again, nor is it a film for everyone. It’s the type of polarising experience that most people will either love or hate. The one thing that can be said with certainty about V for Vendetta is that it’s the strangest comic-book superhero movie you’re likely to see this year.