(UMCom)—“Explosive” is an apt word to describe the political thriller V for Vendetta, and I wouldn’t just be referring to the main character’s preferred instrument of change. V for Vendetta burst onto the screen with the action and style of great adventure filmmaking. But its theme is what’s most explosive—the eternal struggle for freedom against tyranny. V for Vendetta tackles the subject with urgency and excitement, but floats some intriguing questions as well: Can we embrace a story that portrays the government as the villain and the terrorist as the hero? And if we accept the right of the people to rise up against a repressive regime, can we also accept the violent acts of one man to launch that uprising?
In the year 2020, America has splintered and descended into chaos. Following a bioterrorist attack, England (where our story takes place) has fallen under the grip of a totalitarian regime that has rescinded most civil rights in the name of national security. Media talk show personalities spew hate, nationalism and a stern, narrow strain of Christianity over the airwaves. Undesirables—Muslims, homosexuals, dissidents—are rounded up and “disappeared” by government thugs called “finger men.” Internment camps where government sanctioned torture awaits all those whose actions, words or thoughts do not strictly align with those of the Supreme Chancellor (John Hurt).
By exploiting the public’s fear of terrorism, the Chancellor—who first promised to protect the people—has now built a government that is itself the people’s primary source of fear. Out of this bleak and repressive dystopia rises a dark and deadly dissident who claims, “People should not fear their government. The government should fear its people.” Calling himself simply “V,” he prowls London, clad in a black costume, cape, and an eerie grinning mask in the likeness of famous British proto-terrorist Guy Fawkes. V, played by silky-voiced Hugo Weaving, sets out to expose the truth behind the government’s role in that bioterrorist attack and to stir the numbed and dumbed-down citizens into revolt. His grand gesture will be to try to succeed where Guy Fawkes failed and blow up the Parliament building on November 5.
Before anyone thinks this film is an anti-Bush screed, be aware that Moore wrote the original graphic novel 18 years ago as an indictment of the hard-right leanings of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. In fact, because it owes so much to Orwell’s 1984, V for Vendetta is best seen as a cautionary tale about how power corrupts and how easily the will of the people can be broken—once they are convinced their government is protecting them from some shadowy, but ever-present, threat. Of course, similarities could be drawn between events in the film and current U.S. climate—the Patriot Act, domestic spying and what has now been dubbed “the long war,” against terrorism (all represented in some form in the film).
It is also a film about crossing lines—lines that, once crossed, turn something into its polar opposite. For example, where is the line that divides a freedom fighter from a terrorist? At what point does government protection become enslavement? Where is the line between truth and propaganda? When should conscience override obedience? At what point does a citizenry slip from patriotism to blind, bigoted nationalism? Is V a hero, madman, defender of liberty, or seeker of vengeance? V for Vendetta is a challenging film, with violence and wrongdoing on both sides. But it’s rich in ideas, human emotion and a thrilling ride.
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
________ out of 20 Name:________________________________________
Dystopia’s and Revolution Date: ____________________Period #:______________
Directions: As you watch the film, respond thoughtfully to the questions below.
Do you think violence is a justifiable means for social change? Did the situations in the film justify it? Consider our own current economic and political situations. We have the Tea Party with its inflammatory rhetoric and close association with the NRA, and we have a growing “Occupy” movement that has started to become more aggressive, pushing past the boundaries of typical protests. Is violence ever a reasonable and justifiable means to change a system of repression? Explain.
Do you think V was out to change an oppressive regime, or was he seeking personal revenge? Could it have been both?
Think back to your reading of 1984. How is this story different from that of Orwell’s dystopia? Consider the endings – which has a more realistic outcome? Explain.
Do you consider V a terrorist? Why or why not? How would you describe him?
V said “People should not fear their government; the government should fear its people.” Discuss the meaning and implications of this statement. Do you agree with its message? Why or why not?