V for Vendetta (2005)

After The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one can't really blame famed comic book writer Alan Moore for saying "screw this" and refusing to watch any movies made from his works.  In fact, he has even gone so far with V for Vendetta as removing any mention of him creating it at all, instead letting his illustrator have all the credit.  That's a shame because this, like The Watchmen, isn't a horrible adaptation at all.

That, of course, is being said by someone who has never read the actual comic.  I never read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen either, but I don't have to when it comes to being able to say that it is an awful movie.  I understand that V, as written, was an anarchist, and a lot of backstory about racial cleansing is lost.  Still, it is understandable that some changes were made, as the two are 20 years apart.

In the movie it is inferred that the events are taking place in the early 2020s, with the Norsefire Party coming to full power in the government around 2013.  Increasingly fearful of terrorist attacks after thousands of people die of the St. Mary's Virus, which is supposedly the biggest terrorist attack ever perpetrated, Adam Sutler (John Hurt), a politician in the Conservative party, sets up a new political party and has himself elected Chancellor.  Using a combination of evangelical Christianity and fearmongering, he subjects Britain to ethnic cleansing as well as the jailing and execution of homosexuals.  Constant propaganda runs showing how the British are under his protection while the rest of the world falls apart.

Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is caught after curfew one night as she travels to the house of her boss Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry), the host of a popular variety show on the state-owned television network.  Accosted by Fingermen (agents of the government's secret police), she is rescued by V (Hugo Weaving), a sword-wielding man in a Guy Fawkes mask that disposes of the agents and then takes her to witness his first act - the destruction of Old Bailey. 

Enraged, Sutler demands that V be captured.  Following the lead on Evey, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) attempts to bring her in for questioning before secret police head Creedy (Tim Piigott-Smith) can get ahold of her.  The search leads him to Jordan Tower, the headquarters of the British Television Network, where she works as a low-level assistant.  While there, V interrupts a news broadcast to send out his own announcement: the destruction of Old Bailey was his doing, and he invites the population of London to witness the destruction of Parliament one year later.

Evey is taken by V to his hideout, where he keeps a "Shadow Gallery" of forbidden artworks and other items.  Held prisoner, she escapes after she is used as bate against Bishop Lilliman (John Standing), a pedophile priest who once worked at a facility called Lark Hill, where it turns out that V was interred and experimented upon.  His other victims through the next year include Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), a government mouthpiece who was the head of the facility, as well as Delia Surridge (SineĆ”d Cusack), the head scientist at Lark Hill who is now employed as a coroner.  Finch realizes her connection, arriving only to find that V has gotten to her first.  She leaves behind a diary, however, detailing what went on at the camp.  Sutler warns Finch that any public revealing of the contents of the diary will be treated as treason.

Sutler has his own reason to worry as Lark Hill was a special camp initiated by him.  Knowing that Creedy has men around Sutler waiting for the word so that Creedy can assume power when necessary, V plays on that lust for power in order to draw him out.  Meanwhile, it appears that Evey has been captured by Creedy's men and is being repeatedly tortured in order to give up V.  And, despite Sutler's warnings, Finch continues to investigate Lark Hill, as it appears that the St. Mary's Virus may have been something completely different than what it was made out to be.  He is also closing in on V, and must decide what to do.

In reality it is difficult to see England going down this road.  While there have been incidences of xenophobia and reactionary behavior in the past, that particular country has endured far worse and never truly fallen into the grip of true fascism, at least not since Oliver Cromwell.  Keep in mind that in the comic it took a nuclear war to get England to this position, not a mere terrorist attack.

I believe Alan Moore did have Cromwell in mind in a lot of cases when he came up with Adam Susan (Sutler's name in the comic), and it seems that parallel was pushed even further in the Wachowski Brothers' script for the film.  In history, though, the extreme religious rule of Cromwell eventually led to a reestablishment of the monarchy and the Stuarts to power, while here it just leaves some government figures dead, a military confused temporarily and the beginnings of a popular revolt.  It doesn't leave anyone better in charge, or any hint that things may go back the way they were prior to the Norsefire Party seizing power.

Though it is an interesting an well-made movie, we are constantly hit over the head by the message that the Wachowskis are trying to make about how people must be free.  Unfortunately, despite their intended message,  I think the film brings up more questions about popular rule.  Sutler, after all, was elected (just like Hitler was) by the people, and it does not appear that a large part of Britain in the movie is in an impoverished state.  The middle class still exists.  Free speech does not, but it is obvious they were willing to sacrifice their liberties for security.  Who says that after a few months of anarchy following V and Evey's actions that they will not crave the same thing and put someone even worse in power?  Yes, it is shown the people for whom the revolution is for, but most of those are the dead and not the living. 

I do agree with Moore that the way the Wachowskis changed things that the venue should have been largely changed to the United States.  Many of the questions brought up were ones we were postulating in the years immediately following 9/11.  As it stands, the movie embodies more American fears of the time, seemingly set in Britain to soften the blow.

V for Vendetta (2005)
Time: 132 minutes
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt
Director: James McTeigue

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