“Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot…”
Let me take you to a world where divisive leaders rule, a recent pandemic instils fear, and public trust is placed into the hands of right-wing zealots. This is the London of 2028 in V for Vendetta. But, it may also sound slightly too close to the world of today. Indeed in many ways, James McTeigue’s adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s comic book series feels spookily apt. With themes of political coercion, control and crumbling democracy reflecting many of our deepest fears in 2020. However, thankfully their vision of England is not yet our reality. But, that does not mean the ideas housed in V for Vendetta are mere fantasy.
Looking back, the critical response to V for Vendetta in 2006 is fascinating in itself. With many high profile critics of the day less than favourable of its worth. In fact, giving the movie all of one star, Peter Bradshaw proclaimed it “Valueless gibberish“. While at the same time, Christopher Orr of The Atlantic pronounced, “Whether or not one believes that governments manufacture crises and invent enemies in this way, there’s one group clearly guilty of the accusation: Hollywood filmmakers. What do movies do, after all, if not spin fictions intended to manipulate our emotions?”. Much of the critical backlash came from the film’s divergence from its comic book origins, with many critics voicing a concern that V for Vendetta tried too hard to earn its Hollywood stripes. The origins of the comic book sacrificed for a more modern exploration of global politics in 2006.
However, despite this, James McTeigue’s movie has gone on to become a cult classic; its style and vision continuing to inspire new filmmakers. While its themes of a dark, unsettling future of social paranoia, control and eroding liberty only grow with time. Alongside a narrative that clearly talks to the political manipulation of fact and fiction based on ideology; a trait, we have become more than familiar with over the past ten years.
Of course, that’s not to say V for Vendetta does not have its weaknesses. With its conversation on terrorism versus freedom, often muddy in design and scope. But, its bravery in the landscape of 2006 movies is to be commended. After all, how many blockbusters embrace a lead character, who is, in fact, a terrorist in a mask?. And how many dare to explore the interface between acts of violence and terror and the launch of new belief structures?. The answer to these questions is very few. And it’s here, where V for Vendetta has earned its place in cinematic history long after its original release. The dystopian future it imagined slowly becoming more and more of a reality, as democracy struggles to counteract growing right-wing beliefs. While at the same time, social media twists and turns fact and fiction into a dangerous echo chamber of personal belief.
As a result, the final picture is an ode to the power of the individual in shaping the future; embracing the rights of democracy and free speech. While at the same time, V provides us with a symbol of the need for us all to speak truth to power at any cost. The spirit of Guy Fawkes reborn in a man who understands the modern need for media, slogans and symbols in swaying public belief. The slow disintegration of democracy beautifully reflected through a letter he keeps close. One that echoes with the experience of those who lived under the slow rise of nazism in Europe during the early 1930s. The film itself a warning that past mistakes are easily repeated when people are fed on a diet of ideologically shaped fear and blame.
Therefore, V for Vendetta’s final message is ultimately one of hope that people can overcome fascism and hate when a spark of freedom is provided. A spark that often comes, from one individual who is unafraid to challenge the system. In a world where people freely give away their rights due to fear, ignorance and complacency. The enigmatic leaders who captivate minds as they shout from their political pulpits, nothing more than power-hungry gluttons. Their division of people based on a need to hold onto the control it affords them.
Director: James McTeigue
Read More: 50 Essential Comic Book Movies