Imagine a world where everything is different. Not the same as you once remember it. Would that scare you? Well, given the circumstances and situations that can arise from such a probability, being scared would be the least of your concerns. V for Vendetta is a film that was an entertaining watch when it was released in the United States during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday in 2006, but seeing the film fifteen years later does warrant a different take. The film discusses a terrifying future where people are persecuted for who they are, essential rights and freedoms are taken away without mercy and one man stands alone in order to take back what was stolen from the people- their freedom! So, how has this film aged? What do we learn when viewing the film and how does any of that apply today? And, what about those Guy Fawkes masks?
V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel of the same name that first saw publication in 1982. Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by David Lloyd along with Tony Weare, V for Vendetta was subsequently published by DC Comics. Now, the graphic novel and film adaptation are vastly different; each working on their own terms but basically touch on the same themes. The British Government has gone under a dramatic transformation resulting in a something called a “Nordicism”. In easy terms, it’s easily similar to the Nazi Party that inflicted pain, cruelty and fear into their citizens back in the 1940s. In this time around, England is under the rule of a man named Adam Sutler (Sir John Hurt), he’s the appointed High Chancellor and is the authoritarian elected leader who’s also the founder of the so-called “Norsefire” political party. Under his rule, anyone who doesn’t commit to the newly established rule of law is to be dealt with by his political yes-men. People such as the Jews, homosexuals, immigrants and even political opponents are kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed location never to be seen or heard from again.
With England being in a police state, the citizens are subjected to a constant communication of brainwashing via the state-run British Television Network (BTN). The news anchors report the news on orders of the government to be told to the people they way it should be told. The people are basically treated like mindless slaves. They wake up every morning, go to work and stay at home due to a curfew that occurs every night. If someone were to be caught outside after curfew, then perhaps the Fingermen, or secret police, will arrest you. This is what happen to Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman working for the BTN even though she hardly agrees with the amount of lies they tell to the public. While caught by the Fingermen, Evey is threatened with sexual assault when a mysterious figure appears and rescues her. He’s a tall man who wears a mask that resembles Guy Fawkes (we’ll get to him in a bit). Instead of carrying a gun, this man carries an assortment of blades that allows him to slice up anyone that approaches too close to him. Not to mention, he also appears well-trained in martial arts as well.
He identifies himself only a “V” (originally played James Purefoy and later replaced by Hugo Weaving after six weeks of filming) and he seeks to make a drastic change to what is happening to England. We don’t know much about him except that he’s highly educated, resourceful and unfiltered by any determent. We do know that he holds a grudge and for that reason he is seeking vengeance. During the course of the film, he introduces Evey to a world that while she is familiar with, has no idea at what lengths one person will go in order to right a wrong. One of the stark differences between the graphic novel and the movie is the motivations behind V. In the graphic novel, he seeks to overthrow the government to protest the rise of fascism. In the movie, V is looking to inspire others to take back their freedom and stop the brutality of the innocence, plus his mission is to right all the things that have wronged him. He is seeking revenge for something that happened to him long ago. Think of a modern-day version of The Count of Monte Cristo. That’s essentially V for Vendetta.
What transpires are levels of violence that can be quite upsetting, something that the government actively participates in. More or less, when this movie was released, it largely targeted the George W. Bush administration, is somewhat parallel to George Orwell’s 1984 novel and is eerily similar to the Nazi regime during World War II. We see scenes of people being assaulted, kidnapped and even hear of mass graves resulting from a viral outbreak which could’ve been orchestrated by the British Government themselves. We learn of this mystery further when Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) investigates the newly labeled terrorist “V”. V for Vendetta has four storylines all happening at once. We have V’s quest for revenge, Evey’s relationship with V, Chief Inspector Finch’s investigation and the willingness of the government to suspend belief in what is actually happening. When something occurs, Sutler demands that it be blacklisted and that the public must refrain from ever listening to it, viewing it, or learning about it.
The movie is never boring and encourages the audience to really think about what the movie is telling us. It’s rather interesting how the movie humanizes the character of V making us understand him better and to see his point of view more clearly. In the novel, he’s much for abrasive with in comes to violence or the act of killing, whereas in the film, V has a heart even though he is a broken man. We only learn of V’s past, but the individual himself is never revealed to the audience. With his plan, anger and thirst for revenge and retribution, V allows his mission to identify himself. He is the revolution that he wants to see happen. He even breaks into the BTN office to play a recorded message for all citizens of London to witness. What’s interesting is that his wrath is targeted towards specific people but he lays blame at the people for standing by and doing nothing. He makes this his objective. He blows up government buildings, murders key political figures and will stop at nothing in order to achieve his goal. “Remember, remember the fifth of November” he often says. Now, what does that mean?
The movie opens with an explanation of the Gunpowder Plot. A man named Guy Fawkes was caught and arrested after it was discovered that he lit a fuse under the house of Parliament. Over thirty barrels of gunpowder was placed in the cellar under the government building which would’ve resulted in a mass casualty event involving the Royal Family. The date of his arrest was the fifth of November 1605. After being convicted of treason, he was hung until death.
While some of this is true, Guy Fawkes played a small role in the so-called Gunpowder Plot. In reality, the plot itself was to overthrow the rule of King James I after his continued persecution of the Catholics in England. The man behind the plot was Robert Catesby, although most people tend to remember Guy Fawkes instead. Fawkes was an expert in explosives after serving in the Spanish military during the Eighty Years’ War. The Gunpowder Plot was a result of the persecution of the Catholics via the Protestants. It was Catesby’s hope that by blowing up Parliament and thus killing the Royal Family, that the Catholics would rise to the occasion and take back their country. The plot failed and everyone involved was eventually hunted down, arrested and executed for the crime of treason. Fawkes himself was tortured in order to obtain information as to his conspirators and prior to being hanged along with drawn and quartered (the punishment for treason in England), he fell off the from the scaffold and broke his neck killing him instantly.
That all happened over four-hundred years ago and still his name lives in infamy. While he played a pivotal role in the plot, he wasn’t the man who led the charge nor inspired others to rise to the occasion. Still, his participation led to the national holiday that is observe in England on the fifth of November (better known as Guy Fawkes Night) and his appearance has led to him being associated with anarchy, protesting politicians and government, banks and financial institutions. Does anyone remember that group called “Anonymous”? Yeah, they too don the mask of Guy Fawkes as well.
V for Vendetta was a financial success, saw the directorial debut of James McTeigue and sat well with critics and audiences alike. While the film did differ from the graphic novel, on its own merits, the film itself is an astonishing piece of work. The story is well-conceived (courtesy to the Wachowskis who wrote the screenplay) and the acting is finely tuned. Hugo Weaving is such a joy to watch in the film even though we only see him through that iconic mask. There were some distractors though and that included Alan Moore who was less than pleased with how the script vastly differed from his original work. After his displeasure with From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being adapted to the big screen, he distanced himself from V for Vendetta completely. He had his named removed and refused any billing or association with the film adaptation. On the other hand, David Lloyd was impressed with the film acknowledging that while the film wasn’t exactly like the graphic novel, he did enjoy the movie for what it was.
Watching the film when it first released back in 2006 here in the United States, I didn’t put much thought into the film. Consider that I was still in High School, and just didn’t give it much thought then. Now, after all these years, V for Vendetta is a hard-punch of a film especially when one considers the Covid-19 pandemic that has vastly affected the world and America especially. The movie doesn’t make me want to commit illegal actions but it does make you think about how a comic-book inspired film can have such a lasting impression and, in some ways, predict the future in ways we never expected. The political allegories, tones and themes will make the average movie-goer stop and wonder to themselves and after all these years, is there any movie out there that feels so relevant today? Outside of all the violence, depravity and cruelty that this film shows, V for Vendetta is an explosive film that has a lot of heart, action and thought-provoking ideas to keep anyone entertained.
I will admit that the graphic novel is nothing short of exceptional and if you haven’t read it yet, then I strongly urge you and be sure to read into the origins of how the story came to be. In all honesty though, while the graphic novel is impressive, we shouldn’t expect a film adaptation to fully comply with the original work, as long as it captures the spirit, the film itself can suffice just about anyone. Besides, if the movie was exactly like the book, then why see it? Just read it again and be amazed!