V for Vendetta is a timely movie with an incredible message, but is it a good movie? The Wachowskis’ movies are regularly like this. Let’s look at their filmography. The Matrix trilogy, incredible concept, a lot of philosophy undertone, filled to the brim with style, but lackluster execution and almost no coherent story line, aside from the first one. Speed Racer, filled to the brim with style, promising concept, fails spectacularly thanks to a lackluster script and an absence of a coherent storyline. Cloud Atlas, promising concept, incredible visual flair, but it was criticized for the chaotic story which a lot of the audience struggles to understand. Despite having a budget of more than 100 million dollar, it had a worldwide box office of 130.5 million, one of the biggest financial failures for a film published by an indie publisher. Jupiter Ascending, I felt like I am repeating myself here, good visual flair, promising concept, utterly terrible execution, and an incoherent storyline. The Wachowskis are very similar to an infamous director, Zack Snyder. Incredible visual filmmaker, with a love for symbolism, but utterly terrible storyteller who can’t write a compelling human dialogue to save their lives. Style over substance, great concept, lackluster execution. The Wachowskis are not the directors of V for Vendetta. They were only the writers, the director was James McTeigue. It was the first movie directed for the guy, who go on to make masterpieces such as Ninja Assassins (25% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), a movie starring Kpop star Rain as a disillusioned assassin looking for retribution against his former mentor, played by ninja film legend Sho Kosugi, The Raven (22% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), a fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet and author pursues a serial killer whose murders mirror those in Poe's stories, Survivor (8% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), a straight to DVD action thriller and Breaking In(26% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), another generic action thriller. Yeah, I don’t think this guy had much control on V for Vendetta. This is a Wachowski movie, through and through, is it a good thing?
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It is. V for Vendetta is an example of how style over substance isn’t a bad thing and how an incredible concept and underlying message can overcome mediocre execution.
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V for Vendetta is based on the 1988 DC limited series of the same name by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Moore, the creator of Watchmen and the writer of Batman: The Killing Joke, were disappointed by the two previous adaptations of his works, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), declined to watch the film and asked to not be credited or paid royalties.
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The film is set in an alternative future where a Nordic supremacist and neo-fascist totalitarian regime has subjugated the United Kingdom. It centres on V (portrayed by Hugo Weaving), an anarchist and masked freedom fighter who attempts to ignite a revolution through elaborate terrorist acts, and Evey Hammond (portrayed by Natalie Portman) a young, working-class woman caught up in V's mission.
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On November 4, a vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask, "V," rescues Evey Hammond, an employee of state-run British Television Network, from members of the "Fingermen" secret police. After the stroke of midnight, they watch his demolition of the Old Bailey, accompanied by fireworks and the "1812 Overture". Inspector Finch of Scotland Yard investigates V's activities. V hijacks a BTN broadcast to claim responsibility for the destruction, encouraging the people of Britain to rebel against their government and meet him on next year's Guy Fawkes Night outside the Houses of Parliament. The police attempt to capture V. Evey helps him escape but is knocked unconscious.
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V takes Evey to his home, where she is told she must remain for one year. V kills Lewis Prothero, Norsefire's chief propagandist, and Anthony Lilliman, the Bishop of London. Evey offers to help but escapes to the home of her boss, talk show host Gordon Deitrich. In return for Evey trusting him, Gordon reveals subversive paintings, an antique Quran, and homoerotic photographs. V confronts Dr. Delia Surridge, who experimented on him and others at Larkhill concentration camp twenty years earlier; seeing her genuine remorse, he kills her painlessly.
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After Gordon satirizes the government on his show, his home is raided, and Evey is captured. She is tortured for information about V, her only solace being a note written by Valerie Page, a prisoner tortured and killed for being a lesbian. Evey is to be executed unless she reveals V's location. When she says she would rather die, she is released, finding herself in V's home. V staged her imprisonment to free her from her fears. The note was indeed real, secretly passed from Valerie to V when he was imprisoned at Larkhill. Initially enraged, Evey realizes she has become stronger. She leaves him, promising to return before November 5.
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Reading Surridge's journal, Finch learns V is the result of human experimentation and is targeting those who detained him. Finch searches for V's true identity, tracing him to a bioweapons program in Larkhill. Finch meets William Rookwood, who tells him about the program. Fourteen years earlier, Sutler, Secretary of Defence at the time, launched a secret project at Larkhill, which resulted in the creation of the St. Mary's virus. Creedy, the current leader of the Norsefire Party, suggested releasing the virus onto the UK. Targeting St. Mary's School, a tube station and a water treatment plant, the virus killed more than 100,000 people and was blamed on a terrorist organisation. Norsefire used fear and chaos to elevate Sutler to the office of High Chancellor, win an overwhelming majority in Parliament, and profit off the cure for the virus. Although Finch later disbelieves the story after discovering Rookwood is V in disguise, his faith in the Norsefire government is shaken.
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As November 5 nears, V distributes thousands of Guy Fawkes masks. Riots begin to break out as the United Kingdom slowly descends into anarchy. On the eve of November 5, Evey visits V, who shows her a train filled with ANFO explosives in the abandoned London Underground, set to destroy Parliament. He leaves it to Evey to decide whether to use it. V meets Creedy, with whom he made a deal to surrender in exchange for Sutler's execution. After Creedy executes Sutler, V kills Creedy and his men. Mortally wounded from the hail of gunfire during the battle, V staggers to the tunnel where Evey is waiting and finally admits he loves her before dying in her arms. Despite their earlier experiences, Evey has grown close to V and is visibly heartbroken by his death.
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Finch finds Evey placing V's body aboard the train. Disillusioned by the Party's regime, Finch allows Evey to send the train. Thousands of citizens wearing Guy Fawkes masks march toward the Houses of Parliament. Without any orders, the military allows the crowd to pass. As Parliament is destroyed, Finch asks Evey for V's identity, to which she replies, "He was all of us."
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Let’s settle the elephant in the room. The political symbolism is very very apparent. I am not in the “Art should not be political” crowd. Some of the greatest arts have been created with politics in mind. Picasso’s Guernica was a response to Franco’s slaughter, Star Wars according to Lucas, is a metaphor for the Vietnam War. MGS 2 explores themes such as the Information Age, memetics, social engineering, political conspiracies, censorship, artificial intelligence, existentialism, postmodernism, virtual reality, and the internal struggle of political liberty and freedom of thought, which is still surprisingly relevant 20 years after its release. As long it is not blatant propaganda for a certain political ideology, I am fine with it. David Lloyd stated: "The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way." The parallel to real life authoritarian regimes are uncanny. Dividing the population by putting various labels on people, causing conflict between one group and another. The population’s infighting causes their inability to work together to limit the government’s power. Divide and conquer. Rounding up opposition and minorities to let them be the target of the public’s wrath. All are very common practices for authoritarian regimes. Hitler did it in Germany, Stalin did it in Russia and Mao did it in China. The reflection in reality is a major reason why so many activists and freedom fighters identify themselves with V. This is why V for Vendetta becomes a symbol for many social movements in the world.
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However, is V really someone we should admire over? Is he really a hero? He is clearly an anti hero. In the same category as Walter White, Arthur Fleck and Tyler Durden. He did the right thing in the wrong way. The collateral damage of a revolution is often ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan maintaining the status quo especially when said status quo is unfavourable to the average people. However, people who idolise V and think his way of political activism are in any way, shape or form able to be replicated in real life. The entire revolution of V revolves only one man, with very few participation from the people which V claims to work to liberate. The people’s will were not respected. V was not a leader, as he did not lead anyone. A lone wolf would not make a great revolutionary. V was manipulative, the entire arc of Evey is her being manipulated. During the midway point of the movie, Evey is captured. She is tortured for information about V. She is to be executed unless she reveals V's location. When she says she would rather die, she is released, finding herself in V's home. V staged her imprisonment to “free her from her fears”. Clear manipulation attempt. If a sane person did not have Stockholm syndrome, they would freak out and stay away from V forever. He kidnapped you, manipulated you with a made up story about the government and put you through various mental and physical trauma, you would not side with him. Is his action similar to those of a totalitarian ruler. What’s the difference? In the movie, the dictator and his cronies suggested the plan of researching a deadly virus, and releasing it into public spaces. Then pin the virus on a certain terrorist organization, to create a strawman for fear. The virus killed more than a hundred thousand people along the way. The ruling party Norsefire used fear and chaos to elevate their leader Sutler to the office of High Chancellor, win an overwhelming majority in Parliament, and profit off the cure for the virus. Manipulating the public’s fear for the gain of the people in power. V’s schemes are in the same blood, but much smaller in scale. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” If V survives at the end, he would most likely be another tyrant. After the revolutions, if the revolutionaries were not properly regulated or set up rules for the new age, it would only devolve into chaos. Look at the French Revolution, and the chaos ensues from it. Or the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Communists in China, it only births an increasingly brutal authoritarian regime in the Soviet Union and the PRC. Then what's the point? If fighting an authoritarian regime only turns you into an authoritarian regime, then the whole struggle for freedom is utterly without purpose. Anti-heros are often idolized by the public. I have heard a lot of people who felt Walter White’s exploits and violence are somehow perfectly reasoned and he is someone worth cheering for, even in the later seasons. It’s not. V was not a good person, who used authoritarian tactics to swindle his supporters. Supporting his ideal makes sense, but supporting his method of execution is a little ridiculous.
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The style of the movie is very fascinating to me. V for Vendetta is a very good example of a neo noir movie. We need to understand what is noir first. Noir is basically about the use of Dutch angles, interplay of light and shadows, unbalanced framing; blurring of the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and thematic motifs including revenge, paranoia, and alienation. The light and shadow in the movie is beautiful. The heavy contrast nailing the pain and suffering for the public, and the scenes with the higher middle class are very brightly lit, as a clear contrast between the suffering of the public and the oblivious living ways of the higher ups. It is easy for dictators to keep their regimes alive, if they use the aforementioned divide and conquer method and keep most of the public away from political issues. From celebrity gossip to various trivial “news” with little significance. These techniques are incredibly effective to distract from what really matters. V’s anti heroism had been discussed before, The motifs are very apparent in the movie, where people will lose trust to one another in a world where any action not to the liking of the government may end in death. The world has seen similar events before. Mao started the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to preserve his power in China. In order to eliminate his rivals within the CPC and in schools, factories, and government institutions, Mao charged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society with the aim of restoring capitalism. He insisted that revisionists be removed through violent class struggle, to which China's youth, as well as urban workers, responded by forming Red Guards and "rebel groups" around the country. They would begin to hold struggle sessions regularly, and grab power from local governments and CPC branches, eventually establishing the revolutionary committees in 1967. The population became even more distrustful of each other, fearing their neighbour would accuse them of being a bourgeois and die horribly. The right had the same thing as well, remember Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare or the Chiangs’ White Terror? Both sides will use the same tactics to create distrust and fear among the population to boost support for their ideology.
The world of V for Vendetta felt so close yet so far away from us in a weird way. The art design and cinematography give London a steampunk kind of look, but the real life parallels are hard to unseen. London and England in the film is in the timeless era that a lot of comic book stories are in, which makes it simultaneously exciting and relatable.
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A movie’s impact is not only judged by awards or box office. It is judged by the following and the impact it has left on the world. The Room is one of the worst movies ever, but it's cult following makes it more impactful than your generic Marvel movie #21. V for Vendetta’s cultural impact is incredible. Nobody knows who Guy Fawkes was besides those in England. However, now, the mask is a symbol of the fight against authoritarianism and tyranny. It was used in protest in India, Bahrain, Thailand and Hong Kong. This impact is something not a lot of art can claim. V for Vendetta is deeply rooted in politics, which makes its legacy become even stronger than before. V for Vendetta is a movie filled with political ideals and a hope for a better future. And, we all hope this will become a reality.
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All stills, promotional material and poster’s right belongs to Warner Bros.
The poster of Metal Gear Solid 2’s right belongs to Konami.
The final pictures’ right belongs to the Associated Press.
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