I didn’t quite get around to rewatching V for Vendetta last Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th), and have been meaning to watch it in a vague way ever since. I finally did recently for a movie night with friends—and I think a good time was had by all!
V for Vendetta is set somewhere in the future, when England is run by an oppressive government that has sacrificed freedom, dissent and civil liberties in the name of safety, unity and strength. Onto this scene stalks V (Hugo Weaving), a cloaked figure in a Guy Fawkes mask, incredibly erudite and possibly mad, who at midnight on November 5th blows up the Old Bailey (with fireworks and the 1812 Overture), then broadcasts a message to the nation explaining his intentions: to oppose the oppressive government and demonstrate the power of the individual by blowing up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th, one year away. Evey (Natalie Portman) crosses paths with V by accident and is drawn into his world, literally and philosophically, while Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) tries to find “the terrorist code name V,” but stumbles on pieces of a much bigger puzzle about power, corruption and the pervasive influence of fear.
This is a hard movie to summarize! Complex and multilayered, even small pieces turn out to be important or to have immense impact. The movie also features Stephen Fry as Gordon, a flamboyant talk show comedian; John Hurt as the terrifying Chancellor Sutler, who draws from both Hitler and Big Brother (making a mind-breaking reversal of his long-ago role as Winston in 1984); awesome stylized fight sequences; a heart-breaking lesbian love story; a host of incredibly brilliant quotes; and did I mention the best explosions ever?
But let’s start with the title character. We know I’ve got a thing about mysterious masked men, yes? V is deeply fractured but brilliant, with highly questionable methods (to say the least) but a baseline philosophy of freedom and justice that’s powerful and important. And Hugo Weaving does an incredible job giving a nuanced, complex and emotionally ranging portrayal without ever being able to show his face. I know what’s going through V’s head so much more clearly than I know what’s going through, say, Christine’s head, and she’s not wearing any mask.
Natalie Portman is equally brilliant as Evey, going through intense emotional scenes and dramatic character growth with grace and realism. She has facial muscles to work with, and she does wonderful things with slight twitches and subtle expressions—and has impeccable comic timing at moments too. It all makes me want to ask…how did we go so, so wrong with Queen Amidala??? I am convinced, in my heart of hearts, that the more hideous moments of wretched melodrama with that character were not Portman’s fault.
There are a host of wonderful supporting characters to choose from as favorites here, but personally I love Finch. He reminds me of Commander Vimes, my favorite Discworld character. He’s a lawman, trying to pursue truth in the middle of a corrupt political tangle.
This is a movie to watch multiple times, full of little hints and significant moments that only make sense on a second (or more) viewing. The squeamish (like me) should also be warned that it does earn its R rating for violence. It’s bloody, not gory, but there are also (not gratuitous) brief moments of torture and a view of a mass grave. (There are reasons V feels a revolution is needed.)
I don’t know that I’ve really captured the brilliance of this movie…so I’m going to fall back on the movie’s eloquence and, rather than rattle on myself, offer you my favorite quotes. A handful of movies and TV shows out of all those I watch make me grab my quote notebook and write something down. This one had me filling the page.
V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
Gordon: You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.
V: There is a face beneath this mask, but it is not me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it or the bones beneath them.
V: A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having!
V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.
Finch: I felt like I could see everything that happened, and everything that is going to happen. It was like a perfect pattern, laid out in front of me. And I realized we’re all part of it, and all trapped by it.
Dominic: So do you know what’s going to happen?
Finch: No. It was a feeling.
And one trivia note: I am delighted to learn from IMDB that 4 professional domino assemblers spent 200 hours setting up 22,000 dominoes for a truly awesome scene that I’m so glad wasn’t done with CGI! Because real dominoes–so much more epic.