V For Vendetta

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

A revolutionary in a Guy Fawkes mask wreaks havoc in a future fascist-state Great Britain that took his life and his family from him. The masked man also kidnaps and psychologically tortures a young woman that he’s fallen in love with.

V For Vendetta (2005)
Directed by James McTeigue
Screenplay by The Wachowskis
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Given that the story of the film is inspired by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which happened on November 5 – my birthday – I have always had an affinity for this film. After all, I will always “remember, remember the Fifth of November,” as the poem opens. Also, I’m a big fan of Natalie Portman, so that helps, too. Most importantly, though, the movie adaptation of V FOR VENDETTA is a great movie created during a time of political unrest that holds up all these years later.

Obviously, the notoriously grumpy Alan Moore disagrees. He told MTV:

[The movie] has been “turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. … It’s a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives – which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about England.

Granted, the film does change a lot of the narrative of the original story, which was published from 1982-1985 in the United Kingdom and in 1988-1989 in the United States. And changes happen whenever you adapt for another medium. At the very least, Moore’s co-creator on V FOR VENDETTA, David Lloyd, had a different take on the film during an interview with Newsarama.

It’s a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I’d worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect. The “transformation” scene between Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving is just great. If you happen to be one of those people who admires the original so much that changes to it will automatically turn you off, then you may dislike the film—but if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it.

I admit, I never got around to reading the original source material before I saw the movie in theaters. And after discovering how much was changed from the book – Evey in the comic is a prostitute and V is depicted more as a ruthless killer than a freedom fighter. I enjoyed their depictions in the film and I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to get into the novel. I may try someday, but it never felt like a priority.

V FOR VENDETTA is a story of revenge and the lengths a man will go to exact it on those who have wronged him. Set in 2032 Britain, a masked vigilante identifying himself only as V enacts a plan to bring an end to the fascist state in the country after a decade-long pandemic ravaged the United Kingdom. His promise to blow up Parliament in one year is bolstered by his hunting down the leaders of the ruling Norsefire Party, who worked in the concentration camp where V was experimented on.

On the eve of his plan’s enactment, he rescues a woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) from police who plan to do some very evil things to here when she’s caught out after curfew. He brings Evey back to his lair and uses her to help forward his ambition. After she escapes, V eventually brings her back, under the guise of her capture by the government and tortured. While V claims to have fallen in love with Evey, putting her through the psychological terror of knowing she was going to be killed pushes her away, leaving V alone until the night before his final battle.

The most astounding part of the movie, I think, is Hugo Weaving’s performance as V. Weaving had a tough job, needing to convey various emotions without the benefit of facial expressions. But with his inflection and body language, it’s easy to forget that he’s wearing an unmoving face mask. His ability to overcome that limitation is pivotal to the success of the film.

Portman is also fantastic in her role. She carries much of the film’s emotional weight, from her initial kidnapping by V to her imprisonment and torture to the finale, where she takes up the cause for herself, standing up to lead inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea) and pulling the lever to finally blow up Parliament. Portman is one of my favorite actresses, and it’s because of performances like this one.

The final sequence is also just so visually stunning. V’s stylized battle against the police as the mob of protestors in Guy Fawkes masks grows builds tension, sure, but it’s also a moment where a change is coming. Even if Evey decides not to finish V’s plot, the tides have turned against the ruling party. Sure, V has killed most of the ruling party, but the people have woken up and are rising against them. There’s a sense of hope, punctuated by Evey’s final decision and the fireworks she sets off.