Sunday, December 10, 2017

Resistance Through Cinema: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta2005.
directed by James McTiegue, written by The Wachowskis
starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman

"In a future British tyranny, a shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of "V", plots to overthrow it with the help of a young woman." (IMDB)

The Bad Guys: The Government--High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) and his team of propagandists, secret police, doctors, and religious leaders. The "A" and the "--tler" in the name? Yeah, that's intentional.

The Good Guys: The Resistance--V (Hugo Weaving), accused "terrorist" in a Guy Fawkes mask who opposes the fascist acts of the government; Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), daughter of two fallen revolutionaries who gets caught up in V's opposition.

Based on a British graphic novel by Alan Moore and adapted by the Wachowskis and James McTiegue (writers/directors and first assistant director of The Matrix), this film does everything right. The system of British tyranny is visually portrayed through amazing technique: the blacks, whites, and reds provide dynamic aesthetic contrasts while symbolizing the all-or-nothing totalitarianism and bloodshed inflicted by the government in power. The composition and depth of each scene, as in The Matrix, recall graphic novel panels so skillfully that pausing the film at virtually any moment provides the viewer with what could be considered artful, still photographs. Where the audio is concerned, well, without giving too much more away, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" has never had a better context (BOOM!).

"There is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

"People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be
afraid of their people."


The themes explored in this film combine violent historical events (Guy Fawkes' attempted Gunpowder Plot and subsequent execution, Hitler's totalitarian regime and concentration camps) with self-reflexive nods to the arts as opportunities for resistance. Thought police, a paranoid leader upon a screen, and actor John Hurt's past portrayal of Winston Smith provide homage to the novel 1984, whereas V, the swashbuckling, omnipotent savior who suffered years in a dungeon for crimes never committed is Monte Cristo's Edmond Dantes. 

Do you need to know about any of these references to enjoy the film? Not at all; the film explains itself perfectly without requiring any foreknowledge from its viewers. Maybe put the subtitles on during the opening sequences to get all of the voiceover explanation of Guy Fawkes and why he matters, and try to appreciate the little things in every scene: what people are eating, what's being watched on television, what kind of personal items are present. I found V's bunker to be a visual wonderland, filled with books, art, and music, items which aren't allowed in Sutler's England anymore, forcing us to wonder what kind of threat these things pose to the government? (Ideas!)

Is this story relevant today? Very much so. The politics of Sutler's philosophy involve media cover-ups, ruling by force, spying on citizens, and going further back in the narrative, atrocities much, much worse. Several times throughout the film we are shown direct reaction shots of citizens in their homes, in bars, or at work, grimacing at the televised acts of their government leader but powerless to do anything but accept them. But are they really powerless or just made to feel this way? The film uses explosives, knives, and guns to examine the more physical acts of resistance, but mental resolve and the preservation of culture through art and music, while a bit underrepresented in the mainstream, are given equal attention here, making this film both a super hero and thinking person win. 

"Ideas are bullet-proof."