The legendary Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The Wachowskis. The demure yet sexy Natalie Portman character. Hugo Weaving in a Guy Fawkes mask spouting famous sonnets and poetry to top it all. It’s all a heady mix.
V for Vendetta is set in a future that is Orwellian. Where the television shows are mere propaganda of the state machinery and you’re likely to encounter the ‘Fingermen’ if you are out past the deadline as the day draws to a close. At the end of the movie, you will be convinced that a totalitarian, oppressive regime curtailing the freedom of speech and other basic civil liberties must be dealt with in the exact same manner. But is this how we fight corrupt and authoritarian governments?
A lot of movies have tried to say stories similar to this. About state oppression of the people, curtailment of civil liberties, the interference of religion in state affairs, forceful drug trials on humans by pharma company behemoths, systematic corruption at all levels of the society, oppression of people of different sexual orientation and what happens to voices of dissent. We’ve had our own version of dystopia and outrage in Rang De Basanti, all Shankar movies so far except Nanban and even George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road qualifies for this genre (maybe every boring Karan Johar family movie is a rich person’s disguised outrage against systematic corruption and Kajol’s eyebrows).
I think a movie in this genre is successful if you are convinced about the idea the movie wants to convey and the suspension of belief is sustained for a longer period of time after watching the movie. Maybe the idea stays with you and doesn’t really wear off.
This is exactly what V for Vendetta wants to say, that you can’t kill an idea no matter how oppressive a regime is or how hard the state machinery can strike. Even if it goes all out to systematically wipe out the voices of dissent.
The movie can take the credit for making the Guy Fawkes mask a part of pop culture and symbol of revolt against oppressive regimes all over the world. We can also safely say that Alan Moore saw into the future because of the eerie similarity between how the revolt spreads in V for Vendetta and the recent Arab Spring that started with some social media posts!
Hugo Weaving (the guy who plays Agent Smith in the Matrix franchise) has a very difficult role to play here. There’s no scene in the movie he is without the mask. Perhaps the whole idea is that it doesn’t matter who starts the revolution or how it starts. All it matters is that it has to start somewhere and the ideology is more important than personal preferences or personalities. And it has to sustain to usurp oppressive regimens. Weaving with just his voice is able to express the emotions the character goes through, playing the charismatic leader of the revolution in the best possible manner.
Natalie Portman plays the character of a lowly assistant in a broadcasting studio. Perhaps she is the representation of the common man. The story is said from her point of view and how the character undergoes transformation after she meets V. It’s basically how an indifferent citizen that meekly submits to state brutality and censorship finally comes into her own and decides that status quo isn’t something that leaves a better world for the future generations.
Though Alan Moore didn’t want to be credited with the story for V for Vendetta, it’s a great screenplay by The Wachowskis all the same. Moore had claimed that the script and the movie were entirely different from how he had conceived the graphic novel.
James McTeigue, who wasn’t that well known before V for Vendetta, is the director. It’s an amazing job he has done with this movie. The brilliant script is the backbone of the movie, but he has taken it to a different plane altogether. It’s a very violent movie about overthrowing an oppressive government through absolute bloodbath, but you don’t get to see actual violence much on the screen and that’s a plus point. Guess McTeigue believes that words can hurt and influence more than what swords can do.
There are a variety of themes handled in the movie including the nexus between the state machinery and the church, censorship of media, snuffing out voices of dissent, pharma companies making profits through monopolizing market at the time of deadly epidemics, and criminalization of people with different sexual orientations.
Well, the pen is mightier than the sword and when a flamboyant Shakespeare-quoting revolutionary starts a chain of events that changes the world forever, we can’t stop but admire the aestheticization of violence. It’s like going back to the Old Testament rule of an eye for an eye and we find the perfect justification for any act of violence! But will the civilization survive if everyone starts thinking on the same lines? ‘V’ may not have an answer, but we need to keep asking ourselves this question again and again.