There are some classics that it takes time to get around to reading, watching, and appreciating. I recall the hubbub around the movie premier of V for Vendetta but for some reason, I didn’t go see it or even take interest in the comic book. Somehow, the other big hits of 2005 – Star Wars III, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Jackson’s King Kong (with the delicious Naomi Watts), Brokeback Mountain, and Walk the Line (amazing interpretation of the Man in Black by Joachim Pheonix)…come to think of it, 2005 was a BIG year in cinema and for me, V for Vendetta fell through the cracks. I was also not into comics back then… Well, there is a time for everything and the time to explore Alan Moore‘s apocalyptic vision of the United Kingdom in V finally arrived. I will talk first about the comic book, then about the movie, then about my general impressions. Hope you enjoy it.
The comic book from 1982 is definitely a classic. From the same author as the superb and similarly pessimistic Watchmen (reviewed by yours truly here), the story takes place in a future England following a global nuclear conflict with England tightly ruled by a vicious, vindictive, totalitarian Fascist party, the Norsefire, that has killed off the “denizens” of society (minorities, homosexuals, etc) in concentration camps. A mysterious terrorist arises called simply V who threatens the established order. His destructive path crosses that of Evey and their relationship is the primary focus of much of the comic. The government is run by various entities ingeniously identified by various body parts: The Eye (visual surveillance), The Nose (regular police), the Finger (secret police), the Mouth (propaganda), the Head (executive Brand embodied in the “Leader” Adam Susan) and the Ear (audio surveillance). There are several interweaving plot-lines besides the V-Evey story primarily focussed on the lives and sometimes deaths of various members of the government as well the cat-and-mouse game between Eric Finch of the Nose and his target V. It is a surprisingly complex tale – more so than I had imagined – and requires concentration to fully understand and follow. The artwork of David Lloyd is pseudo-realist sort of like that of Frank Miller, but a bit darker in color choices (primarily black, white, blue, and yellow throughout). It is a long read, but ends up being very rewarding – at least as much as Watchmen in terms of a standalone story.
The film as previously noted came out in 2005. It did a respectable $132m at the box office given the $50m production cost. The performances of Hugo Weaving as V and Natalie Portman as Evey were both outstanding. There are lots of signature Wachowski moments (overhead views of rain falling on Evey after her “liberation” just like the Matrix shot before they go in after the Oracle or the slow motion V fighting scenes) and the action is pretty much non-stop. There are quite a few divergences from the comic here – two example: Evey does NOT take on the mask after the death of V, V is presented more as a liberator and lover of freedom (while still being a “monster”) than in the comic where his persona was far more ambiguous. Another major departure from the book was the confrontation at the end between V and the Finger where the blood splashes as V hacks through the secret police troups – again classic Wachowski (Hugo Weaving borrowing some of his Smith moves from Matrix) but still lots of fun to watch. The great thing about this movie is that it is relatively timeless and shot in such a manner that it will probably still look fresh in another 10-20 years. As for Portman, despite my skepticism about her (I have a real problem with anyone associated with The Phantom Menace and the rest of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy), she was extraordinary in this film as Evey. The final kiss notwithstanding, it was not overacted and was challenging (shaved head, torture – lots of difficult acting choices to make), so I regained some admiration for her acting skills. Overall, this is a keeper for sure.
As for the themes and atmosphere in the universe of V, I can’t help but wonder at this seeming obsession with fascism in the early 80s in the UK. I got to thinking about The Wall which came out in 1979 and also showed a fascist side to England (Roger Water’s interpretation anyway). I also recall some of the criticisms aimed at punk rock having a strong fascist vein to it (associations with swastika tattoos, jackboots, etc). I have only really known the UK since the late 90s and I find it so far removed from fascism today that I have a real hard time suspending disbelief and imagining a fascist dictatorship in place of the parliamentary democracy. Perhaps some of my UK readers that remember the 70s and 80s can speak in the comments about how prevalent and realistic fears of a fascist coup d’état were at the time. Was it really a reaction by artists to the strictures of Thatcherism or perhaps preoccupation with the Irish crisis and unrest at home? I am really curious about this. Another thing that is a bit forward looking perhaps in the book is the treatment of the pedophile Bishop Lilliman. I don’t believe that the scandal of pedophelia in the priesthood had quite made the news back in 1982, but it is at the center of one of the key V kills where Evey was the bait. Was this visionary on the part of Alan Moore as well or had there already been some high profile scandals back when it was written?
The relationship between Evey and V is a fascinating one that ebbs and flows throughout the graphic novel and the film. The love that V has for Evey has a fatherly aspect, but also a brother-sister aspect as well. It does not seem sexual in the least but it is profoundly important to V. Evey comes to love V profoundly as well as she is the only one to see behind the mask – while respecting his desire to never glance behind the mask – because she sees his indomitable spirit despite the suffering he endured at the hands of the government and she realizes that despite the violence, his integrity is intact. In the best fiction and film, our values of good and bad are challenged (Walt in Breaking Bad, Tony Soprano, Julien Sorel, Raskolnikov…) and here we want to root for V despite his massive acts of violence. The author and film makers did a great job of putting us in Evey’s shoes as we understand and sympathise with V’s motivations. I think that is the essential timeless quality of this V for Vendetta and why it will remain a cult classic for years to come.
- V for Vendetta (lafworks.wordpress.com)
- V for Vendetta: Revisted (www.welovemoviesmorethanyou.com)
- 1984 Vs. V for Vendetta (aamyint.wordpress.com)
- V for Vendetta – The Themes and Ideas behind the movie (nwarders.wordpress.com)