Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…enlarge

Based on the brilliantly prescient comic book written almost 20 years ago by Alan Moore (who has had his name removed from the movie during one of his famous snits), V for Vendetta seems more relevant today than it did when he first feared a Thatcher/Reagan world. As much anarchist manifesto as movie, it takes place during the regime of a fascist England—“Strength through unity. Unity through faith.” Symbolized by a double-barred cross (reminiscent of the broken cross of the Nazi party), the government has declared martial law. The citizens are subjected to fingermen (their own brethren serving as informants to the government), constant surveillance of their conversations, government controlled media, and any undesirable being “black-bagged” (troops bursting into their homes and dragging them off with black bags over their heads to detention camps).

Enter V (Hugo Weaving).

Hugo Weaving (The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings trilogies) uses his voice and body language to convey the presence the character, since his mask, unlike most super-hero characters, doesn’t move. The only problem with the movie, if you aren’t familiar with the original work, is that it is not an action movie. The movie was written and co-produced by the Wachowski brothers (also of The Matrix trilogy) and continues the theme of rebels against the (governmental) system that they like to explore in their work. As the film is as much a meditation on an idea as it is conventional action film, those expecting a spandex slugfest will be disappointed. This movie, like The Matrix movies, is about ideas.

“Violence can be used for good. Justice.”

–V

enlargeRunning around in a Guy Fawkes mask, V calls for revolution and anarchy, in order to bring down the government. Anarchists, to my mind, have never held a particularly well thought-out position. Mostly because many of the people who call themselves “anarchists” fall more into the chaos for chaos’ sake camp. Anarchy can be a tool, a means to an end, but there has to be a point. It has to lead to something. The terrorist imagery against the backdrop of a totalitarian government leaves a mish-mosh of fodder for discussion, though on the surface it wants to be an allegory for our times.

Moving away from the movie’s political intentions, V is the Christ figure in the movie, a person of judgment (“No one escapes their past. No one escapes judgment.”) and compassion, who calls for a revolution in living and thought. Evey (quite serviceably played by Natalie Portman, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) is his apostle, and in a lot of ways, represents the humanity of V’s “Christ.” Similar to Christ, V leads her, and by extension, the people of England, on a journey to freedom.

“I wish I wasn’t afraid all the time. … I know this world is screwed up.”

–Evey

The first step on this path to freedom is realization of the dilemma that we find ourselves in. In their world, there is something terribly wrong. The people live lives of coerced conformity, their freedoms curtailed. They “gave away our civil liberties in order to feel safe”; in other words, they gave into the fear in their lives (a fear ultimately created by themselves). Because their world seemed so dark, hopeless, and full of despair, they traded their freedom to secure a measure of order and peace. On top of that, they sensed that they weren’t who they were supposed to be. As Gordon puts it, “You wear a mask for so long you forget who you were beneath it.”

“An idea can still change the world.”

–Evey

enlargeV for Vendetta also explores the power of symbols and the power of art to convey ideas. What the people needed wasn’t another symbol of the government lording over them; rather, the populace “needs more than a building, it needs hope.” This is where revolution begins, with a new idea and faith in a new hope. For such a revolution to take root, it needs messengers to carry the idea forth and converts to live out the mission. His was a simple message, one of hope. The world as he knew it would end and a new world, a new kingdom, would begin.

In this regard, V was joining in Christ’s mission. “I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence,” V says. God is all over this movie. God is in the rain, Evey proclaims as she marvels at His creation with new eyes. God is also in coincidence, one of the themes of the movie: coincidence is like God’s fingerprints.

“You’ve been running from it all your life.”

-V

The next step in the journey is a kind of conversion experience, a paradigm shift as one moves from one kind of worldview to another. It is a wrestling of
faith (vs. doubt). In Evey’s case, her faith had been in society’s structures, government, and institutions. In other words, faith in the wrong things. To accept the revolutionary message of freedom meant that her old way of thinking had do be broken down. Discipleship is not easy; often we share V’s lament, “I wish there was an easier way.” This part of the journey can be the most arduous and means a refusal to give in to the tests/trials of one’s faith and accepting a clarity of purpose.

The final step of the journey of freedom involves baptism into their new life. The interesting contrast was in their respective baptisms: Evey’s was in water (“God is in the rain”) and V’s was a baptism of fire (when he escaped his detention facility).

“You are completely free. You have no fear anymore.”

–V

enlargeV lived by a simple credo: Vi Veni Universum Vivus Vici (by the power of truth, I, a living man, have conquered the universe). Ironically, once you have set upon the path to freedom, the journey never truly ends. You begin life as you should have been living from the beginning, free to live as you were created to be. To be fully human: “ to laugh, to cry, to kiss.”

V for Vendetta is so literate, with such a powerful use of language—you could choke on the alliterative “v”s in the dialogue—this easily felt like one of the best movies I ever read. The Wachowski brothers dialogue still feels a little heavy handed as they are prone to over-writing to highlight the “significance” of the ideas they are trying to convey. I don’t know if the subversive message of a harlequin terrorist will resonate with an audience; however, anarchy has always been fashionable. The revolution will not be televised, but it will fit nicely onto a movie screen.