V For Vendetta (2006)

v for vendetta

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

The Scoop: 2006 R, directed by James McTiegue and starring Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman and John Hurt

Tagline: Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Summary Capsule: Masked madman declares war on Britain’s corrupt government. Season with knife throwing and bald chicks to taste.

PoolMan’s rating: The first thing I said after the first time I watched it was “I could see that again right now.”

PoolMan’s review: Is it still kosher to call them the Wachowski Brothers? I mean, wasn’t Larry becoming a Laura? Or was it Andy becoming an Andrea? Ah, I forget. All I know is I’m going to be watching for stray Adam’s Apples next time I’m in Hollywood.

But regardless! V for Vendetta marks the Wachowski Bro- um, Siblings’ return to film after the rise and fall of the Matrix trilogy. True, they didn’t actually direct this new flick (they left that to their assistant director from The Matrix, James McTeigue), but they wrote the adaptation and produced the thing, and you can certainly see their fingerprints all over V. Stylish and cunning in very much the same manner as The Matrix but still with its very own character and attitude, V is probably the kind of movie we’d desperately hoped Revolutions and Reloaded would be.

V, our titular hero, is the end product of a vicious cycle of government conspiracy, corruption, and disregard for its own people. Set in maybe-twenty-years-from-now Britain, Vendetta features an interesting poser: what if a modern Western nation willingly subjugated itself to fascist control in return for perceived safety in a very dangerous world?

It is this question which drives V, played by personal favourite Hugo Weaving. To hide his identity and cover his physical disfigurations, V dons a Guy Fawkes mask, long cape, and funny hat, and becomes what we would we would essentially call a terrorist. He blows up a courthouse one fine November 5th, and promising to fulfill Fawkes’ original mission (blowing up Parliament) in exactly one year. Gutsy, you’ve got to admit. Telling the world’s biggest superpower not only exactly what your plan is, but exactly where and when it’ll take place, too? That’s what we call chutzpah, baby!

Naturally, things aren’t always what they seem, nor does everything go according to plan. V happens to save Evey (Natalie Portman) from rape at the hands of the secret police (called the Fingermen), and although she’s initially quite fearful of him, they eventually form a kind of friendship. Evey throws a rather big curveball into V’s plan to free the people in that he’s quite obviously used to working by his lonesome and doesn’t expect kindness from the world that created him. The of the movie explores this space of time between the two Nov 5’s from both the point of view of V and the government agents assigned to bring him down.

I understand Alan Moore, who created the graphic novel that this is all based on, has denounced the film version. I find that kinda sad, because if I haven’t made it obvious already, I loved this flick. The problem lies with the fact that, in the book, V’s the utter picture of insane idealism, kind of like The Joker meets Captain America (yeesh, there’s a love child). Moore’s original vision of V for Vendetta was to place Anarchy against Fascism and let the reader decide for themselves which was the better path (or, alternately, whether V was just cuckoo). The movie version of V is shown to be mentally unstable, sure, but he’s a purely sympathetic character for 90% of the film. The audience never questions that V’s point of view is the correct one and that the government needs to be brought down; it might have been more effective to leave us in the dark for longer or strive for a more ambiguous angle. Instead we more or less get Liberal versus Conservative.

(Then again, maybe Moore’s still smarting from the whole League of Exponential Gentlemen thing. That had to hurt.)

Still, I really appreciated the show as a whole, particularly the cast. Natalie Portman’s performance as Evey redeems her from all the donut hair she suffered in the Star Wars prequels. She steers the character from mouse-like timidity to fearless revolution. The supporting group is all very strong, from the weary Detective Finch, who tracks V with a growing fear of what he’s actually uncovering, to the spittle-launching dictator Sutler, who seeks order and control at any cost. Everybody’s got their masks on straight, especially Hugo Weaving.

I don’t know if you’d consider this a spoiler or not (if it is, it’s a softie), but if you’re squeamish about this sort of thing, just jump down a paragraph. At no point during the movie do we ever get to see V’s face. Hugo Weaving (who took over the role early on in the shoot) does a masterful job of giving us V’s instability, violence, humanity, and sensitivity with tremendous physical acting. All we ever get from V’s face is the same smiling, smirking Fawkes mask, but from his body we get all range of emotions and expressions. Tough role to take, but Weaving does a great, great job.

But just to make sure you’re expecting the right movie, you should know it’s not quite what was advertised. If you remember the trailer for V, you’ll remember a Matrix-like knife fight with thrown daggers swirling end over end through the air, and the usual slow motion explosions. You may or may not be pleased to learn that this is not an action movie, no matter how they marketed it. There are three knife fights in the flick, two at the beginning and one at the end. They are all very good, and very quick, but that’s all you get. Unlike the Matrix, hand to hand combat simply isn’t a big focus of V. Instead, it’s really more about the sociological “What If?” the movie poses, not the “fancy karate gimmicks”, as one character puts it. Instead, we’re left to wonder things like how similar BTN is to the big news networks of today, and how many men in shadowy power actually dictate who lives or dies.

I’m going to let this rest now, as I’m sure there will be Mutants a-plenty behind me to continue to pick over this one (and I’m sure government agents are coming for me right now, so I need to shake a leg). V for Vendetta will likely end up on my shelf as soon as it’s available. In fact, if I wasn’t so anal about alphabetizing my DVD’s, I’d probably put it right next to the Matrix and watch it just about as often. Good stuff.

Kyle’s rating: It’s all about those compromised solutions (nice work, Mick!)

Kyle’s review: Even though this is yet another one of those cases where the source material is vastly superior to the movie adaptation, V for Vendetta is so surprisingly good that it doesn’t even matter. Well, I mean, it does matter, but since the source material is a dreaded graphic novel (the sort of thing lots of people refuse to read because “it’s just a comic book!”) that you probably will never read, for you the movie is grrrr-reat!

I know Poolman has prepared an article of this film for Superhero Theme Week at Mutant Reviewers, but I’m not sure what he had to say. But what I have to say is that this is a “cool” movie. It’s so trendy and internet-driven to label films for utilitarian purposes nowadays; this film is a summer blockbuster, that film is so “independent,” this other film is a chick flick. So I apologize to just apply a label so brazenly, but V for Vendetta really does deserve that label of “cool.” For a variety of reasons, really, but the short version is that any film whose end credits start rolling to The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” can’t help but be called cool. It’s just how pop culture and the world work.

V for Vendetta is cool in that ineffable way that most British stories of revolution and political action are. I know that all the best actors seem to be British (Hugh Laurie being the most recent relevant example of such) and that so much stuff from either Great Britain or that area of the world just immediately becomes awesome (James Bond, Grant Morrison, The Prisoner, The Beatles, etc.). It’s so weird, but it deserves some further thought that I don’t really want to get into here, but would gladly discuss at some future point somewhere else. Bring it up in your college classes, if you’d like, and see what happens. Could be fun!

So, I guess my point is that in a efficient and stylish way, Vendetta manages to touch upon fascism, resistance, fostering anarchic action, and the way a single rebel (albeit one with superior powers of physicality and planning, as well as that titular vendetta) can fight the status quo by inspiring others to example just what freedom means to them. It sounds heavy, but the movie manages to do all this and more with broad sketches that don’t overwhelm the viewer nor insult anyone’s intelligence. It’s like looking at Brave New World or 1984 at the bookstore, thinking about possibly reading them and maybe skimming the back cover to remind yourself of what they’re about, and then going to a rave in a forest instead. All while wearing a surprisingly cool Guy Fawkes mask. Dig it!

Hugo Weaving is amazing as the (voice of the) central figure of individual rebellion, V, and Natalie Portman faintly coasts on her fanboy-derived love as Evey, a girl drawn into V’s world with a definite part to play in his scheme. Everyone is pretty cool; Stephen Rea is always reliable acting-wise, and he takes a complicated role from the graphic novel and essays it quite impressively. Pay attention during a flash of the future to come near the end of the film for a glimpse at Rea’s character’s future, and debate with your friends whether he deserves it or not. Great cast. Great British cast! Nice work, you guys!

I don’t know. I see that V for Vendetta has made it onto that vaunted “Top 250 films” list at imdb.com (via accumulated user ratings) and that’s good times and all. It’s a well-made film with style, The Matrix-esque violence, and some thoughtful situations that viewers might actually think about once the movie is over. But since Alan Moore’s original work is so strong, complex, and seemingly dedicated to making sure its readers put forth effort into thinking about anarchy, freedom, and what role government should play in the lives of the people, it seems like a real shame that the movie version simply has to be dumbed down to fit into a two-hour running time. But if you’re ignorant of the source graphic novel and don’t really care to read it or anything like the works of Michel Foucault, then you should be pretty entertained with this film. It’s enough of an action film to just be awesome and violent, with just enough subtext to intrigue any poly sci majors you’re watching the movie with. Surprisingly good!

Sue’s rating: Remember, remember the 6th of November / A day with cult status, it’s not. / But on that early morn, my eldest was born / And I can’t finish this rhyme worth a squat.

Sue’s review: Although it sometimes puts a strain on my relationship with certain other mutants, (I asked Drew if Frank Miller was related to Sienna, and the next morning my car was saran-wrapped shut and my trees were blooming with Batman toilet paper), I’ve never dipped so much as a toe into the world of graphic novels. It’s not that I have anything against graphic novels, or that I wouldn’t invite them over for tea and cake if they lived nearby. I guess it’s just that at this late stage, I’d feel a little silly introducing myself and asking to be entertained by a form of literature I’ve ignored for so long. I mean, wouldn’t that be sort of rude?

And yet, curiously enough, when graphic novels make the transition to the big screen, I have not yet found myself disappointed. I totally dug both Sin City and 300. Seriously. The fact that I really dislike gore, no matter what color it is, has never mitigated my admiration or enjoyment. I’d watch ’em both again very happily — although admittedly on an empty stomach.

If I’m making a point here, it’s that when I watched V For Vendetta, a movie that came highly recommended by my offspringers, I approached it without any of the expectations that reading the source material might have brought about. That’s probably not a bad way to watch a movie. (Eragon made my eyes bleed and I didn’t even like the book all that much!)

For me, I have to admit, V For Vendetta got off to a bit of a rough start. Okay, chick is caught out after curfew, bad cops show up, hero saves the day, I’m following along – a little cliche, but no big deal – but then said hero breaks out in a nasty rash of alliterative regurgitation the likes of which I have never seen nor heard before. Clearly the man is either deranged or classically educated. (Probably both, since they’re pretty much synonymous anyway.) The insult to injury is that my hearing ain’t all it used to be, and neither is the television set, so sometimes I find it necessary to lip read dialogue. Uhm… ha ha. Joke’s on me. If not for the expectant grins on the faces of my heirs-who-just-know-Mom’s-gonna-luuuurve-this-flick, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have thrown in the towel right there and turned on Mr. and Mrs. Smith or something. But I soldiered on and I’m glad I did.

For one thing, I’m old enough to have read 1984 before 1984. Hmmm, I also partied like it was 1999 before 1999, and while I wasn’t playing a six-string guitar during the summer of ’69, at least I can say I was there, but that’s beside the point. I remember the Cold War and as a teenager, I pretty much bought into the expectation of Totalitarianism and dystopian futures and the whole ball of Orwellian Wax. (Available at Target, ShopKo and fine stores everywhere!) V For Vendetta chugs along that same familiar train of consciousness. The strong, security-minded, isolationist government seems like a good idea at the time, right up until it begins turning on its own population. Alternative lifestyle? Get smooshed like a bug. Free thinking? Smooshed. Muslim? Smooshed. Sense of humor? Smooshed. Listen to Tchaikovsky? Smooshed. Belch the national anthem? Smooshed. (Okay, the last one wasn’t specifically in the movie, but you just know that the head honcho would have gotten really honked off about something like that.)

The movie makes it clear that John and Jane Doe-Citizen aren’t feeling the love any more, but hey, no one wants to get smooshed either. Thus V, a masked Guy (Heh. Get it? Guy? Guy Fawkes? Oh never mind.) who dresses like Goth-Amish and was ‘done-wrong’ by ‘the man’, engages in a crusade to wreak vengeance, kick donkey, and incidentally cause the entire government to collapse. Well, except possibly for the postal service. He seems to like the postal service. At V’s side is occasionally reluctant ally Evey — also known as Natalie Portman. Hey, what’s up with Natalie and guys who end up wearing masks to cover their deformities? Is that some kind of Freudian kink or what?

There’s action and excitement, a bit of drama, a bit of plotting and some nice misdirection. It’s entertaining and well paced. So, yeah, the kids were right and my graphic novel-to-big screen record of happiness remains intact.

Even better, there are a few things about V For Vendetta that made it stand out, at least in the recesses of my tiny little mind. First of all, I really like the cop assigned to track down V. How cool is it to find a cop who is, above and beyond anything else, a cop. Once he starts his investigation, he follows every thread and lead, even after it occurs to him that he’s wading into some shady covered-up political sludge that could prove to be very personally toxic. An honest, free-thinking man working for a government that derives its power by cracking down on honest, free-thinking men? I like that. There’s an edge to it.

Also, the citizens for the most part might have been cowed, but they weren’t not sheeple. (Pardon the unintended agricultural wit there.) The fact that they can see and think and judge for themselves makes our hero, V, not so much a savior figure as a catalyst for change. Lastly, I thought it was interesting that V himself walked the very fine line that distinguishes a “terrorist” from a “freedom fighter”. If I had me a decent eddukashun, I could probably go on about that at some length. I can’t, so I won’t, make of it what you will. I thought it was thought provoking anyway.

Chalk this up as another movie I wouldn’t mind watching again. But if I do, it’s going to be with headphones and possibly closed captioning. Then I can better judge the veracity of the vexing verbiage. Verily.

“THAT’S what you call a little off the top?!?”

Intermission!

  • Sutler’s pupils are seriously dilated when he’s on the big screen talking to his staff.
  • So… how DOES V gain access to the government broadcast network?
  • All the dead characters standing among the crowd in the final shot.
  • If you tilt your head, Evey’s scar on her forehead is kind of V shaped.
  • We see V practice his fencing with a rapier, but we only ever see him actually fight with the daggers.
  • The Benny Hill scene on Gordon’s show is priceless.
  • Those are cool eggs!
  • What exactly is the mask made of? It sure takes a beating through the movie.
  • Standard movie police procedure: when someone comes out of the fog, sobbing “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!”, SHOOT.
  • We’re never given full exposure to V as a person. For instance, it’s hinted at that he’s blind, but we see him watching television and sword fighting.
  • Join the church, get Natalie Portman in a teeny dress. I’m understanding Justin better all the time…

Guy Fawkes Night

    • The rhyme repeated throughout the movie is called ‘The Bonfire Prayer’ and commemorates ‘Guy Fawkes Night’, November the 5th, when a Catholic plot to overthrow the English parliament was foiled in 1605. There are several slight variations of the full words, one of which goes:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below, Poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring. Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King! Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed the Pope. A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down. A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar. Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head. Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah! Hip hip hoorah!

It is still recited in full at the famous Lewes bonfire night celebrations in East Sussex.

Groovy Quotes

V: Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
Evey: Are you like a crazy person?
V: I’m quite sure they will say so.

Evey: Who–who are you?
V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what… and what I am is a man in a mask.
Evey: I can see that.
V: Of course you can. I’m not questioning your powers of observation, I’m merely remarking on the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.

Evey: My father once told me that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use lies to cover the truth up.
V: Ah, a man after my own heart.

Dr Surridge: Are you going to kill me now?
V: I killed you ten minutes ago while you slept.
Dr Surridge: Will there be pain?
V: No.
Dr Surridge: Thank you. Is it meaningless to apologize?
V: Never.
Dr Surridge: I’m so sorry.

V: I have not come for what you hoped to do. I’ve come for what you did.

V: But again, truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty you need only look into a mirror.

Creedy: You’ve got nothing. Nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks. We have guns.
V: No, what you have are bullets, and the hope that when your guns are empty, I’ll no longer be standing. Because if I am, you’ll all be dead before you’ve reloaded.

Valerie: It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Matrix
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • A Clockwork Orange

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