Reviews

V for Vendetta (2006)

"He's a pretty complex man," says Hugo Weaving of V. "He's been imprisoned and tortured and abused mentally and physically... and then burnt in fire."


V for Vendetta

Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Sinéad Cusack
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-08-01
Now of course, it's tricky. It's not entirely realistic. It's not meant to be.

--Stephen Rea, "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta"

It's more like 1984 meets Alien, if you want to do one of those modern meetings, than it is Orwellian.

--John Hurt, "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta"

You may recall that V for Vendetta arrived in theaters attended by some controversy. This concerned graphic novelist Alan Moore, who so disliked the film that he had removed his name from it. Not surprisingly, the secondary materials on Warner's Two-Disc Special Edition disclose nothing about this mini-conflagration. Indeed, the lack of discussion of this subject is deafening. According to co-creator David Lloyd, on "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta," "We were always aware that there was a possibility of a movie of V." Consider the careful parsing of this observation: "we" remains undefined, the "possibility" intriguing, and "a movie" as vague as can be. "My only expectation and desire for any adaptation I've been involved in, is that it's good." And "good," as everyone knows, is a relative term.

Joel Silver extols the genius of the Wachowski brothers, who transposed this "strange world" in stages, drafting a V script even before they wrote The Matrix (a draft that was, Silver says, "dense"), and director James McTeigue notes that in an "adaptation, I guess, there's always things that you're gonna have to leave out, put in, take out. So we tried to condense it, and make the graphic novel more filmic." At the same time, McTeigue continues, the graphic novel is "very cinematic." So there you are.

All this rhetorical angling frames the titular protagonist V (Hugo Weaving). Swirling a black cape and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, V claims inspiration from the Catholic activist who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. V is, as McTeigue puts it, "very altruistic and thinks he can bring about great change in the government by bringing the people together... but on the other hand he has this great murderous vendetta against everyone who's ever done anything wrong to him." V first appears in a dark alley, where he saves Evey (Natalie Portman) from being raped by a brace of policemen assigned to keep London's post-WWIII curfew.

"He's a pretty complex man," says Weaving during an interview for the making-of doc. "He's been imprisoned and tortured and abused mentally and physically... and then burnt in fire. So that has created a vengeful angel, if you like." Evey isn't immediately won over by this character, though she does appreciate being saved, of course. Repeatedly during this rescue, the camera looks up at a placard displaying the new national credo: "Strength Through Unity Unity Through Faith." "The most interesting thing about making this movie," observes McTeigue, "has been the chance to say something about the political climate we live in... It's not saying, 'This is right' and 'This is wrong,' because, you know, the morality's very ambiguous at times."

Such investment in ambiguity seems to oppose V's very strict moral sense, he being a victim and so a product of state and institutional violence. His rage makes him a "terrorist," and the film argues that his violence only replicates and extends the state's tactics. And yet, he's intriguing and romantic, and Evey likes him. When he essentially kidnaps her -- and so, she learns of his background -- she puts together his pain with a recent history of increasing violence. This has been instigated by "America's war," referenced in the film by occasional television reports (which also show the States' "second civil war" and ongoing unrest in the Middle East and Eastern Europe). "What was done to me was monstrous," V tells Evey, who sees its effects: "And they created a monster."

This cycle, as John Hurt remarks, tends to be conceived in ideological terms. As he ponders the script's thinking on "terrorism," he asserts that all forms of warfare are "atrocious, it's peculiar that one form of warfare should be regarded suddenly as being not on." While the movie allows that torture reproduces terrorism and violence, it also presents V's own scheme as revolutionary and effectively symbolic. He says he detonates the Old Bailey "to remind this country of what it has forgotten." A PA at the tv station that broadcasts the proudly conservative "voice of London," Evey is intrigued by V's promise of a new state, where information is accessible and citizens are unafraid.

Such was the vision set forth by the graphic novel, the point of departure for one of three short documentaries on the DVD's second disc, "England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics." Stephen Fry, who plays the closeted tv host Gordon Deitrich, says he was "really impressed by [the book's] literacy, by the fact that the hero V quotes Shakespeare and Bacon and Marlowe and has a marvelous zest for the use of language."

He also cites Fawkes, of course, and as the DVD's "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" lays out, this background (especially helpful for U.S. consumers). V also reflected British comic book aesthetics and politics of the '80s: unlike U.S. comics, obsessed with superheroes, the Brits, and in particular, Alan Moore, created work that was "radically outside" and also published by a mainstream house. V was not "for children," but was instead "very politicized," according to the interviewees who fill in a brief comics "history" for this documentary.

Lloyd says the "original plan" for V was to have him be an "urban guerilla," but Moore pushed for a more "theatrical" effect. The Guy Fawkes mask provided drama and a bit of hysteria. As V take son Evey as a protégé, she doesn't ask to see beneath that mask, but instead, assumes his performative tragedy as part of his politics. The fact that her social activist parents were murdered by the government ("It was like these black bags erased them from the face of the earth") makes her a ready candidate, but he presses her when she hesitates, in the only way he knows how, by locking her up and torturing her. The result is another seeming "monster," though she remains a girl too -- compassionate, earnest, vulnerable -- which makes her able to rethink strategies as V apparently cannot.

While V is set off against a set of obvious villains -- the popular conservative "voice of London" Prothero (Roger Allam), child-abusing Bishop Lilliman (John Standing), and Secret Police Chief Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), all operating under the auspices of the big-brotherish Chancellor Sutler (Hurt). Their oversight is not so much organized as it is unthinkingly repressive; they put their creative energies into squashing perceived opponents, and feel especially frustrated by the enduringly wily V.

Sadly, where the graphic novel was allusive and dark, the film is mostly heavy-handed. Its investigation of "terrorism" as a state product, part of a process rather than a departure, is surely well-founded. But its execution is disappointing, whether literal-minded ("If you're looking for the guilty," asserts V, "You need only look into the mirror") or repetitive (a scene showing young V's abuse is replayed several times).

Such distrust of the audience makes V's political and social commentary seem more cartoonish than shrewd. It's clear that imperialism and Nazis (referenced visually) are bad. Honestly, V has no answers, and that does make sense. "Freedom and justice are more than words," he says, "They are perspectives." And as such, they need rethinking at every step.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.