V for Vendetta is a film of verifiable value, vetted by viewers both venerable and vernal. Victor and villain alike vivify this version of sovereign violence, a vicious and venomous violation of governmental volition. But valiant V, vexed by these vile and vindictive vices, evolves into a vigilant vanguard, vowing to revive virtue. Viewing such valor vindicates the conviction that this movie is a valid investment, a vibrant venture not devised in vain.
I’ve always found dystopian film and literature compelling. I railed against 1984’s annihilation of individual thought. I rallied behind Christian Bale’s change of heart in Equilibrium. And as an English Major, nothing angered me more than the book-burning senselessness of Fahrenheit 451. V for Vendetta is a film that paints such a strong picture of an overbearing government, develops with such skill the fear of the people, and so deftly raises its main character from terrorist to idealistic freedom fighter, that it deserves to be heralded as one of the greatest dystopias in recent memory. Its unique artistic style, compelling dialogue, and sublime acting weave together into a tapestry of excellence.
The year is 2020, and the condition of the world is, shall we say, subpar. America is in the throes of a second civil war, and across the pond, a deadly virus, thought to be the work of terrorists, has left Britain in a state of fear. Using that fear to gain more and more control, High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) has managed to cow his people. A purveyor of art and champion of idealism, the masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving) rises up to take a stand against the imperious chancellor.
The plot is made all the more thrilling by the film’s unconventional pacing, sequences of high tension and of quiet contemplation intermingled—a mounting crescendo of elevated emotion and profound introspection, ever building toward a poignant and powerful finale. The movie starts off with a bang, and from the moment V delivers his astonishingly alliterative address to love interest/disciple Evey (Natalie Portman), we’re hooked. Then, when tension is nearly at its highest, the film veers away from the main plot, as a fellow prisoner passes Evey a scribbled autobiography during her incarceration. We are whisked away to another time, another place, and are told a tale of love and of sorrow. I can think of no other film that takes such a protracted break from the main conflict, but the Wachowskis pull it off expertly, using the time to show us how truly terrible this new regime is, and our breath of fresh air from the action leaves us wanting, so when it resumes, we are all the more engaged.
Natalie Portman gives us a stellar performance in Evey, who is both compelling and relatable, but it is Hugo Weaving who truly shines. Allowed to portray V through only his voice and body language, he still conveys more emotion than most main characters. Bereft of facial expressions, his head-tilts and hand gestures become all-important, and when matched with Weaving’s arresting voice, a sublime character is formed.
Dipping heavily into the inkwell of symbolism, the Wachowskis have crafted something much deeper and more literary than their previous endeavors. While The Matrix addressed issues of religion and morality, it catered more toward effects than true philosophy; this film, while still visually impressive, succeeds in layering substance beneath spectacle. For example, when V finally gains his freedom, escaping from a prisoner-testing facility, he is surrounded by flame. Then, when Evey reaches a similar freedom, she flees to the rooftops, engulfed in the pouring rain. The juxtaposition of fire and water brings about such an eye-catching parallel that I was left stunned, but more importantly, it shows that V and Evey are connected not only in name and in goal, but by nature itself. Theirs is a relationship of the deepest level. In another symbolic moment, V sets up thousands of dominoes, then knocks them over, a breathtaking chain reaction that ends up spelling out his name. Akin to a series of dominoes, V’s plan is so multifaceted that if even a single piece is out of place, he will fail.
Even the main character himself is a symbol. He wears a mask, a faceless representation of freedom and courage. He represents the downtrodden. He represents hope. He represents the idea of being more than just a man, more than just flesh and blood. He is change personified. In one of his better lines (Who am I kidding? They’re all good.), he tells the evil, second-in-command Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”
Beneath the mask of a special-effects driven comic book movie, there is an ingenious script, and that level of writing is a rare thing indeed. The chancellor’s every speech incited in me palpable hatred, and I couldn’t wait to see him brought down. V’s every word brought me to new levels of idealism, making me question my own beliefs and relative apathy. Should I not try to be an agent of change in a world filled with misfortune? V’s morality moved me to tears more than once, and I could barely breathe by the end, stirred by the way the people began to believe in his message.
While some might claim that the villains are one-note to the point of parody and that their deaths are over-the-top in their grotesqueness, this film knows that it lies firmly in the grasp of metaphor; these characters exist as extreme examples meant to be taken symbolically rather than literally. In the end, V for Vendetta is a movie that is stunning on both a visceral and emotional level. It is well-written, well-acted, and stylistically revolutionary. Wachowskis, you’ve done it again.
Can you believe they actually had 4 professional domino people spend 200 hours setting up 22,000 dominoes just for that one shot. How do you even get that job?