V for Vendetta
Ground breaking. Insightful. Innovative. Dangerous. Brave. Do these words describe the Wachowski brothers’ newest movie? While I don’t necessarily agree that it is any of those things, I will say that it is a hard movie to sum up in a handful of syllables. And I will resist the temptation to come up with some cute play on the title in any attempt to do the same.
I’ll get the usual stuff out of the way. What we have here is a movie about V (Hugo Weaving), a terrorist who wants to open the eyes of his fellow Brits to the atrocities that their government has committed. I don’t use that word in any politically weighted sense. He uses violence to attempt to change his government. V wears a Guy Fawkes mask for a number of reasons and thankfully for the history challenged the significance of that is explained in the opening sequence. Evey (Natalie Portman) gets caught in the middle and swept along in his “gunpowder plots”. And the titular vengeance is wreaked on a number of excellent British actors while Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) tries to sort it all out. Yes I say vengeance, because politics isn’t the only thing on V’s mind. He has a large bone to pick with everyone from the Chancellor (John Hurt) to Britain’s chief talking head (Roger Allam).
All of the performances are excellent. Weaving’s face is never seen, I understand that’s the way it is in the graphic novel this is based on. Yet he manages to act well through it, emoting with voice and posture. That had to be a tough call, but it’s one I wish Stallone had emulated in Judge Dred. It was as true to the character as to the original story. Perhaps my favorite character was Finch, who watches all of this transpire. He is sworn to uphold the law in a country where politics and party are more important than truth and duty. His weariness at this and his desire to do that duty at any cost is clear and he’s very much an everyman.
I heard much talk before the movie came out that this was going to be an indictment of our current government and citizenry. That is certainly there and plain enough to see. V accuses the populace of being scared into immobility, giving their freedoms up for security. The government in V uses any means at their disposal, the media, religion, science to maintain that fear. Homosexuals are villainized by them as is anyone that is different. There are references to the current conflict in the Middle East and numerous references to terrorism. I’ll leave that discussion to folks more well versed than I in politics, but there is definitely fodder there. It’s my opinion though that this is all window dressing for some other more interesting ideas.
Underneath the wordiness, and yes the brother’s W love them some words, and the action which is used sparingly as any good spice should be, there is a love story, two actually. V loves his country passionately, enough to kill and die for it. Then along comes Evey, a kindred spirit. Their new love is a doomed one, that much is clear from the beginning. V is too much a slave to his desire for retribution and so he must see it through. I was reminded of The Phantom of the Opera and King Kong. Those leading “men” were just as unable to break the chains of their nature in spite of the love’s strength. So the question for me here is twofold. First, does vengeance have its place? I think the answer to this is also yes, but we must do our best to leave this vengeance in the hands that can take care of it appropriately. To do otherwise will destroy us and those we hold dear. ( Psalms 94:1; Romans 12:19) Second, are there limitations to what love is able to accomplish? The answer of course is yes. Human love is limited. You can’t change the person you are with by strength of love alone. The only love capable of that level of change is God’s love ( Galatians 5:22 ).
V also has much to say about the nature of the masks we all wear. He says that beneath his mask he is an idea. He also says that the flesh beneath his mask is no more his face than the muscles or bones beneath that. All of the characters wear “masks” and ultimately they all get stripped away. What that process reveals is almost never pretty, but the truth rarely is. Beneath the mask that we all wear lies a desperate creature in need of salvation. Trying to hide that with false piety ( Luke 6:42 ; 18:11 ) will only lead to destruction.
The nature of grace is also touched on in two scenes. I won’t spoil the surrounding plot points but the transgressions are very similar. One character asks if it’s ever too late to ask for forgiveness. The answer given is no, though in one sense it was. The forgiveness doesn’t erase the repercussions in either case, and the nature of the “mercy” shown by each differs radically. The picture of God’s grace is much closer to what we see in the second instance. Love puts the sin behind them and truly forgives (Ps. 103:12).
The main criticism I have with V is its heavy-handedness. It feels like they focused too much on homosexuality. A soliloquy by one of Evey’s friends, plus a flashback/letter drove the point too deep. It also went on and on about “there’s no such thing as coincidence” including dozens of non-coincidences so we’d be sure to understand. Finally, the veritable verbal avalanche (I tried, I had to) could certainly get on one’s nerves. The Wachowski’s and McTeigue have more than a few things to learn about subtlety, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you go in with this expectation and a willingness to go beneath the surface I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.— Overview