The Wachowski brothers have a history of working with themes of rebels working against a system of control. The Matrix trilogy worked with that theme by using rebels holding out against a planetary system of control, using consciousness and philosophy to press home its points. With V for Vendetta, the Wachowski brothers have the same chance to work with similar material and have constructed a screenplay out of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel that works fluidly and smartly.
V for Vendetta was directed by James McTeigue in his directorial debut. McTeigue served as an assistant director on the Matrix films, so he was acquainted with the Wachowski style and translated the material to the screen with efficiency and attention to detail. The results exist in the realm of graphic novel adaptation, political thriller, action movie, and dystopic drama. The film is more literary and less dominated by special effects, making it significantly different from most comic book/graphic novel movies.
There are extensive notes of interpretations when it comes to both the graphic novels and the film. The subject matter of V for Vendetta prompted many discussions about the state of the world, totalitarianism, anarchism, and various other political philosophies. People discussed the merits or lack of merits of the actions of the characters and debated the allegories of religious groups and governmental philosophies as relate to our current global climate. The graphic novels originated in 1982 and covered a dystopian future imagined in the U.K. from the 1980s and 1990s. As is readily apparent, the subject matter described by Moore and Lloyd is applicable in today’s world.
Hugo Weaving “stars” as V, the movie’s central character. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, V is a revolutionary trying to overthrow the government. That government, an extreme fascist political party called Norsefire in the graphic novel, runs Britain with an iron fist and visions of Orwell’s 1984 are instantly recalled by the curfews and pervasive single-channel media present. Evey (Natalie Portman) is a young woman whom V rescues from policemen who are about to rape her. V becomes enchanted with Evey and their relationship takes some twists and turns as V moves towards his goal and Evey struggles with her reactions to V’s violent revolution.
Instant comparisons can be made with The Phantom of the Opera and the character of V, especially as pertains to his relationship with Evey. Is V hiding something behind the mask? Is the mask symbolic or something? Does the mask hamper or harm V’s relationship with Evey? Both characters move through cavernous spaces, both control others through the use of thoughts and power, and both have a heart filled with a desire for revenge for past wrongs. The exploration of V’s political motives and how they relate to his heart of vengeance is compelling.
V for Vendetta works well because it is filled with a bevy of solid character actors. John Hurt plays the High Chancellor, Stephen Rea is the detective in pursuit of V, Stephen Fry is one of Evey’s colleagues, and Tim Pigott-Smith is an instrument of the dictator. The cast works well off of the presence of Weaving’s V, who is limited by his mask to one facial expression and uses one tone of voice throughout the film. It is the character of V, in fact, that is the least interesting from a cinematic standpoint.
Unlike most graphic novel compositions, V for Vendetta works in that it gives the viewer something else to do beyond watch the special effects and the fight sequences. There are ideas hard at work here and many questions to be asked. People will discuss the political motives of V long after the credits have rolled and the influences of our society on the plot and actions of such “terrorists” will be explored by intelligent audience members. Others will still have enough to marvel at, as the fight sequences and special effects that are in the film are dazzling.
V for Vendetta is a thought-provoking graphic novel adaptation that, like Sin City, is at its best when it creates a world all its own. The despair and hopelessness of Britain under fascist dictatorship is explored and the power of the people gives rise to action. Lovers of London architecture may be disappointed or oddly excited by the film’s brave finale and the build towards the “big moment” permeates the movie with a rising sense of duty and responsibility for the film’s characters. Everyone’s jobs become more important with the passing hours.
While Alan Moore has disowned the film, V for Vendetta is still a worthy adaptation of some very brave material. It is a visually pleasing film and the ideas presented within venture beyond normative comic book fare and into a realm inhabited by the free flow of thoughts and an open discussion about how free we really are.