"Remember, remember, the fifth of November; gunpowder, treason and plot.
I know of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot."
science fiction authors write of the future, they stage
it in one of three ways – all of which have become archetypes
of the genre in recent times. The first is the utopia: either
a paradise of technological or philosophical perfection,
or a world that is very much like our own, yet peppered
with asides and one-liners reassuring us that the problems
of today will be cured in the future. Star Trek provides
an example of the former; Arthur C Clarke's The Fountains
of Paradise gives us the latter. The second archetype
is the faux-utopia: the world may seem very much like it
is today, but – as most stories built around this vision
go – there's something rotten in Denmark. The Matrix provides us with the perfect example of this. The third
archetype, and arguably the most popular, is the dystopia.
In such a future, the world as we know it has changed terribly.
Evil men are in power; there are secret police lurking around
every corner; your every action is watched, monitored and
stored to later incriminate you in a crime you didn't commit.
can't comment on a dystopian plot without mentioning the
father of them all: George Orwell's now-legendary Nineteen
Eighty-Four. Orwell postulated the inevitable end result
of the growing "nanny state mentality," with one stroke
defining the archetype and providing us with a dire warning
of how not to shape the future. There have been countless
variations on Orwell's theme ever since his book was first
published in 1949 – its influence ranges from the torture
methods employed against Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A
Clockwork Orange, to the political systems of sci-fi
series Babylon 5.
dynamic directing duo Larry and Andy Wachowski. In 1999,
they released The Matrix, their magnum opus;
set in a layered faux-utopia upon a nightmarish Terminator-esque
future Earth, ruled by machines. It combined two of the
most popular aspects of science fiction and set many a benchmark
with its innovative (and some might say, trademark) "bullet-time"
action scenes. The Matrix worked because
it balanced its two defining aspects; aspects that have
now almost become the defining characteristic of a Wachowski
Brothers film; its breathtaking martial arts and gunplay
action, and its philosophical visions of the future.
balance is precisely the reason why the two sequels, The
Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, were
critical failures. By splitting the second part of their
movie into two full-length features, the Wachowskis were
forced to drag out both the philosophy and the fighting,
stretching them to lengths that were no longer innovative
or thought-provoking, but merely laughable and predictable.
The philosophy became cod-philosophy, drawing its
ideas inside itself, unable to reconcile them with truly
modern visions of the future. And by the time of the sequels'
release, in 2003, "bullet-time" had been copied and ripped
off so many times that it was no longer as exciting as it
had been, when it was first pioneered in 1999.
when the Wachowskis announced their intention to make a
film version of Alan Moore's critically-acclaimed 1982 graphic
novel, V for Vendetta, it was seen by many as a return
to form for the duo – casting off the mistakes they'd made
with the Matrix sequels and recreating
Moore's dark, Orwell-inspired dystopian Britain. Between
the releases of the Matrix movies, there
had been many attempts to "cash in" on the trilogy's success
– first and foremost was Equilibrium, the 2002 Christian
Bale movie which married The Matrix's kung-fu action with
a classic Orwellian dystopia. Some might say that the Wachowskis
have unwittingly popularised the dystopian archetype in
science fiction. V for Vendetta, as a contrast to
Orwell and to Equilibrium, is not cold and clinical in its
vision of the future – instead, it is very much like the
world of today, only with certain elements that would strike
most present-day viewers as abhorrent.
there are the "Fingers", a state-sanctioned Gestapo-like
secret police, whose primary task is the apprehension of
suspicious-looking citizens in an attempt to pin crimes
such as "sedition" and "treason" upon them. These innocent
victims are then paraded to the public in Stalin-esque show-trials.
Britain also has a curfew; citizens must be in their homes
by 10pm on the dot, or they risk becoming a target of the
Fingers. Countless signs on walls and vehicles reassure
the populace that these curfews are "for your own protection".
people are manipulated further by the television, the only
channel being the BTN – British Television Network – which
receives falsified news stories from the government and
features the "Voice of London", Lewis Prothero, who acts
as a mouthpiece for the government and pontificates about
how all of the world's problems are caused by terrorists,
Muslims, homosexuals and various other degenerate groups,
and how only the power of God and Christianity can save
mankind. He stops short of turning into a Christian evangelist,
but it's very clear that – as in Escape from LA –
Britain has become a partial theocracy. The punishment for
possessing a copy of the Qur'an is death. In short, the
media tells the people what the government wants them to
the midst of all this is a man whose only name is V, played
by Matrix alumnus Hugo Weaving. Horribly
disfigured in a terrible fire many years ago, he wears a
Guy Fawkes mask whenever he is to be seen by others. Mimicking
the story of the Gunpowder Plot, where in 1605 Guy Fawkes
attempted to overthrow the government by destroying the
Houses of Parliament, V times all of his major plots to
occur on the fifth of November. He destroys the Old Bailey,
in the name of justice, and promises that on the next November
5th, he will destroy Parliament and bring down the corrupt
government, headed by the perpetually-enraged High Chancellor
Sutler (John Hurt).
a character, V is exquisitely eloquent, an embittered but
educated enigma. He is a skilled wordsmith, and loves both
alliteration and quoting from various literature – most
of all, Shakespeare. He is influenced not only by Guy Fawkes
and the Gunpowder Plot, but also by the title character
of The Phantom of the Opera, who also wears a mask
to hide his scarred face. V lives in a subterranean archive
of forbidden art and music, but instead of playing a piano,
he listens to a jukebox. V's favourite film is The Count
of Monte Cristo, which has also become his inspiration
– he fights with a rapier and knives, never using a gun.
the picture comes Evey (Natalie Portman), a young worker
at the BTN, who saw her parents dragged away by the Fingers
when she was a child. In some ways, her character parallels
that of Keanu Reeves' Neo of The Matrix; both he
and Evey know that there is something wrong with the world,
and yet are powerless to do anything about it until they
meet a mysterious "terrorist" who shows them the light.
After meeting V in a dark alley, she helps him to escape
capture when he tries to destroy the BTN Tower (the real-life
BT Tower). Evey is at first horrified by V's nonchalant
standpoint that "violence can be used for good", after both
witnessing his spectacular and very stylistic "demolition"
of the Old Bailey, and when he calmly tells her that he
has killed people, and will do so again to achieve his goals.
This leads her to run away from him, into the arms of her
sympathetic friend Gordon Deitrich (the excellent Stephen
Fry), a TV presenter. Eventually, she is captured; she refuses
to divulge any information regarding V, who rescues her
and releases her into freedom after she loses her fear of
for Vendetta is as much Evey's story as it is V's.
It's her emotional journey from toothless outrage at the
government for the deaths of her parents, to standing up
for herself, being unafraid to take them on and aid V in
his plans, with no thought of the repercussions her actions
may have upon her life and career. Portman brings her character
to life with a fantastically emotional performance.
the explosive first act, V for Vendetta then follows the reactions of the public, the hunt for V
by police chief Finch (Stephen Rea), and the attempts to
drown out the growing waves of anarchy by the incandescent
Sutler and his "shadow council" of cronies, who put out
headline after headline of negative propaganda in order
to counteract V's influence on the population. The middle
of the film takes place over the course of one year; from
one November 5th to another. There's a lot of talking in
this middle segment, which at times shows signs of dragging
its narrative to bridge the gap between the well-executed
action scenes – it's one of the only criticisms I could
level against it.
Does V for Vendetta end in V's promised
anarchy? To tell more would be to give too much of the plot
away; suffice it to say, there are plenty of explosions
both in the first and last acts of the movie. It's a little
strange to see the destruction of major London landmarks,
especially when you realise that these actions are good in the context of the story. In fact, this destruction was
cited as the main reason that the release of V was put back to March, from its initial 5th November 2005
release date – after the July 7th bombings, the scenes of
this movie would hit too close to home.
can V's actions truly be called "terrorism"? There's a fine
line between terrorism and political activism, and society
tends to draw this line where it sees fit. This is one of
the aspects of V for Vendetta that is left
for the viewer to decide. Does inspiring opposition to a
corrupted government inspire terror, as is the definition
I've mentioned, V's expertly-choreographed destruction of
the Old Bailey is very stylish; set to music, V conducts
the various stages of his plot as he would an orchestra.
Music in V for Vendetta is a mix of classical
pieces, 50s-era ballads, and some more modern tracks. In
general, it's used well, and I can't fault it. The pyrotechnics
– explosions and fireworks – are carried off with grace
and flow smoothly. V's action scenes, while
not quite Matrix-level, are excellent,
employing pseudo-"bullet time" slowdowns and shots of flying
knives leaving "echoes" in the air.
casting is pretty decent. Weaving, as V, owns every scene
he's in, delivering his verbose monologues with perfect
precision and timing, once again showing that there's more
to him than Agent Smith and Elrond. Portman, as mentioned
above, is great, especially in her scenes in the prison,
while supporting cast members Rea and Fry are superb as
always. John Hurt, as High Chancellor Sutler, performs his
role with just the amount of arrogance and presence that
a dictator needs.
have the Wachowski Brothers succeeded in maintaining the
all-important balance between philosophy and action? For
the most part, yes. The middle of the movie sees the characters
get very talkative, with most of the action taking place
in flashbacks, but the suspense of Evey's incarceration
and torture keeps the audience from feeling bored by the
lack of ultraviolence. V for Vendetta atones
for the Wachowski's and the film studio's earlier mistakes
with the Matrix trilogy, and does it with
both style and a clear message.
for Vendetta's final message is that everyone has
a little of V inside of them. V is not simply a physical
being; he is mankind's way of seeing through the propaganda
and realising that things are horribly wrong. He embodies
the courage to stand up for what we believe in; to campaign
for free speech; to oppose dictatorships and any who would
force us to live our lives in constant fear of violence
and reprisals. In short, V represents mankind's hope for
a better future. Some might say that this is too high a
goal to ever reach, that mankind is already halfway along
the path towards Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don't