RECAP: V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta (2006): James McTeigue
Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: In an authoritarian England, a masked man known only as V attacks the government and asks the nation to help him, in a year’s time, to make the Fifth of November one England will never forget.
These days, England sucks. It’s the future, and a religious sect has taken over the government. Trucks patrol the streets listening to the people for seditious speech. A chancellor rules the roost from an undisclosed location using a giant video board and a lot of fear.
Striking back against the government is a masked man named V (Hugo Weaving). V wears Guy Fawkes masks, inspired by the real man who, in 1605, tried to blow up Parliament to protest a too-powerful government.
V’s history comes out throughout the movie. Imprisoned in an experimental facility called Larkhill, V was one of several victims of government medical experiments. Most of V’s compatriots died, but V became a superhero.
We never see V’s face, or any part of his body, save a brief moment when he left his gloves off and exposed his wretchedly burned hands. V literally walked through fire to become who he is. This is a superhero story with consequences–V is powerful, but he can never show his face to anyone.
V might be the classiest person in Britain. He’s the kind of guy who (probably) won’t watch color movies or songs with electric guitars. So, uh, he’s fun?
V struggles to meet people. So when he meets a young lady walking the street after curfew, he latches on.
Pretty soon she meets some constables who nearly rape her, and she meets the masked man who saved her, V. At this point Evey has curly hair and dresses like a woman who has a job in TV, which she does. She accompanies V to watch him as he conducts a concerto while also blowing up the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales (but not Scotland).
V, “a musician of sorts,” blows up the Old Bailey on the “most auspicious of nights,” November 5th, the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’s foiled attempt to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James in 1605. For V, Nov. V (5/11 as the Brits might call it) should not be a day to forget.
V later hijacks the national TV feed and broadcasts his own message. He asks all his compatriots to join him outside Parliament in one year’s time on November 5th, and perhaps succeed where Fawkes failed.
Evey is wrapped up in this plot partly by accident and coincidence, though, from V’s lips, there’s no such thing as a coincidence. The more we learn about Evey, the more we understand. Her parents were activists, especially following the death of Evey’s brother in the St. Mary’s epidemic, a disaster that killed 80,000 Brits years ago.
V and Evey slowly reveal their pasts to each other and the audience, and their stories find more and more in common. V was victim of the government’s experiments in viral warfare that eventually claimed Evey’s brother’s life. Evey’s parents were renditioned by that same government.
These two are so similar that one suspects V tracked and found her. He never admits or alludes as much, so maybe not. The heavy hand of the storyteller can be seen in their similarities. “There are no coincidences,” he says, “only the illusion of coincidences.” Hmm.
V has trouble with Evey early on. He has to charm her to keep her from running away, being captured by the Fingermen, interrogated, and leading the authorities to V’s underground lair. She learns that he loves classic films. It should not surprise you that The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) is his favorite. The copious books he quotes are piled in his spare room.
Evey watches Monte Cristo and pities the Count. He cared more about revenge than he did for Mercedes. If V didn’t pick up on her criticism then he’s the most dense observer of human character. Evey has some choice things to say early on. She’s always wanted to act, and, she says, “I wish I wasn’t afraid all the time.” Well, dear, be careful what you wish for.
In the middle of the movie Evey is arrested and interned. She spends a few weeks reading the cast away notes from her neighboring prisoner. These notes give her hope and a reason to survive day-to-day.
After Evey’s stint in the slammer and refusal to say anything about V, she’s sentenced to die. On the morning of her execution, she declares to her jailor that she no longer fears death. That’s when he jailor tells her that she is ready to be free.
Cut to Even wandering from her open prison door to the underground lair of V. Yes, V imprisoned Evey to break her. In V’s defense, Even had said she wished she wasn’t afraid all the time. V helped her achieve that.
The prison interlude is the movie’s key moment. Only those who do not fear their government can overthrow it. V wants Evey’s help, so he must conquer her fear, she must conquer her fear, to do so.
High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) achieved his position when it was created for him after a period of riot and struggle. The United Kingdom’s troubles appear to coincide with the second American Civil War. Sutler rose to power through shock troops and a seemingly volunteer police force of plainclothesmen dubbed Fingermen.
Sutler runs the government from an undisclosed location through a giant video board filled with his face projected to a dark room, where his five underlings report to him on the state of the nation.
Casting John Hurt to play the Big Brother role was an inspired choice, given his portrayal of Winston Smith, aggrieved victim of the Outer Party in 1984. Sutler yells plenty, especially as V’s year winds closer to November 5th.
We hardly see Sutler outside his giant screen, which is a testament to his effectiveness. His wretched Fingermen patrol the streets enforcing curfew. Vans constantly surveil London’s streets with sophisticated listening devices.
One of the five men reporting to the High Chancellor compiles citizen dialogue into reports. For instance, at one point 80% of the population believes V is still alive, despite propaganda supporting the contrary. The vans obtained the information.
Sutler is the brains of the government, but, as he’ll discover, the body can sometimes defeat the brain.
Action is pretty light in V for Vendetta, because this is an action movie with a message. I can get behind those.
The big moment takes place in the final act, when V confronts Sutler and Creedy, his number two, in a dingy, abandoned Underground station. V had orchestrated a deal with Creedy. He would kill Sutler to allow Creedy to rise to power.
On the night of November 4th, V meets Creedy in the station. Sutler is brought with his head in a bag, as he ordered the redentioning of so many in such bags. Isn’t that often how dictators are destroyed?
Sutler begs for his life as his message on TV pledges justice that will be righteous and without mercy. Creedy draws a revolver and puts a sick bullet wound into Sutler’s head. Sutler was right, but he didn’t know how he was right. The transfer of power is complete.
Creedy has about a dozen guys with him, all armed, and all ready to kill V. Two guys approach to unmask him, and V kills both of them with his knives. Creedy says that V doesn’t fear death, like him. “The only thing we have in common,” V says, “is that we are both about to die.” Creedy asks how. “With my hands around your neck.” But, Creedy says, we have guns. “What you have are bullets,” V says, and after they shoot him and are forced to reload, V will have his moment.
They shoot, and V absorbs hundreds of rounds. Most seem to strike his upper body. Now, we know he’s wearing armor, but the force of the bullets alone should have knocked him down. He stumbles and slowly stands after the men have emptied their clips. “My turn,” he whispers.
Out come the knives. The sequence alternates between normal and slow motion. V draws two knives and throws them–with one hand–toward the men flanking Creedy. The effects team added ghostly lines to the knife points, the easier to follow their paths through the air, and an obvious homage to the film’s comic book origin.
A lot of guys are about to die, and they don’t look excited about it. V draws two more knives and slices at the nearest man. The next guy gets his throat cut and is stabbed in the gut hard enough to make him flip backward and land on his skull.
Another guy gets a knife thrown into him. More guys are dropping from blood-letting slash wounds. These attacks are cut amongst closeups of empty gun clips falling to the ground and guys desperately reloading before it’s their turn to die.
V slashes on man’s gun hand, stabs him in the crotch, and pins him to the ground with a torso stab. One guy finally reloads and takes aim. V spins and throws a knife into his skull.
V saves Creedy for last, who unloads his reloaded pistol into V, to no avail. The official leader of the United Kingdom for the past two minutes asks V why he won’t die. “Beneath this mask,” V says, “is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.” That’s a good line. V chokes Creedy to death, just as he promised.
And so ends the great fight of V for Vendetta. This movie wants to pack ideas in place of punches, and for that I applaud it. I just can’t give it a high score.
V for Vendetta‘s most interesting duo might be the cops hunting V. Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves play Finch and Dominic, respectively, detectives high in the government. Finch is one of the five reporting directly to Sutler, and Dominic his partner.
Finch is quiet, collected, and a seasoned cop. He’s annoyed to deal with politicians like Sutler and Creedy. He’s ordered to capture V, and he makes fine progress with great speed. Finch identifies Evey the morning after the Old Bailey’s destruction and learns that she works for BTN, the British Television Network.
That same day (still November 5th) V attacks BTN, and Finch is there with a SWAT team to arrest him. Dominic nearly catches V, but Evey is there to save V by smacking the cop in the head.
Finch and Dominic follow the breadcrumbs. They deduce V’s connection to a research lab called Larkhill. This deduction leads to an interview in which a uniformed man tells Finch, “We all did what we had to do,” as good an excuse for villainy as can be made.
Finch is one step behind V as V kills those who wronged him. The UK’s biggest TV host and prosthelytizer, a doctor who created him, a priest-turned-bishop who watched it all–these are some of V’s victims. Finch uses a government’s most reliable records–tax records–to identify these past and future victims.
All the clues point to an act so diabolical that Finch questions everything he believes. And he’s not the hero? Right? No, he’s a sidekick, though he doesn’t know it until the end.
Sutler’s chief subject is a man named Creedy. Creedy goes around wearing purple coats and throwing black bags over people’s heads. He might be more religiously inclined than Sutler, and has served as the arms and legs to Sutler’s brain for the entirety of their tenure running the UK.
I wouldn’t trust Creedy to mow my lawn without trying to burn down my house. He’s got the look of the criminally insane. Late in the film he’s visited by V, who offers him a chance at the top job. Of course Creedy takes the chance. And does it end well for him? It does not.
V is a prodigious wearer of capes, but they must hinder his tactical fighting skills. How do those knives not get stuck in the fabric?
In the beginning, V opens the film saving Evey from some Fingermen. One tactic involves sticking a knife inside a man’s belt and slicing it off. Good trick.
Also good: the tremendous explosion at the film’s end.
V for Vendetta wraps pretty quickly. Finch discovers that Sutler and those working at Larkhill manufactured a pathogen. Creedy thought the best way to obtain power would be by releasing the pathogen on British people. They did, and it resulted in more than 80,000 deaths, including Evey’s brother.
A scared populace allowed Sutler to take power and enact draconian powers on the nation. Also, a pharmaceutical company “found” a cure after Sutler’s election. Huh. Coincidences?
V, meanwhile, has sent thousands of Guy Fawkes masks across London. You have to wonder where he was hiding those. The common folk don them. One is a young girl who plays in the street. She’s shot by a Fingerman, who is in turn killed by a mob. “Violence,” as V says, “can be used for good.”
You can probably guess what V does next. He builds a huge domino link in his home. Yes, what a way to use one’s time. He topples these dominoes to reveal a red V on a black background. Interestingly, one domino refuses to topple. V plucks this domino and saves it.
Sutler speaks on the TV to the people, but the people are not there. They have left their homes and pubs.
V finds Evey at his jukebox, their first meeting since he imprisoned her. Evey, still shaven-haired, is no longer afraid. “I worried about myself for a while,” she says, until one day she locked eyes with a former coworker who did not recognize her, one of England’s most wanted persons.
Evey then asks V to pause his revolution for a dance. “A revolution without dancing,” V says, “is a revolution not worth having.” They dance.
V takes Evey for a walk. Deep beneath his home lies a forgotten extension of the Underground. V spent 10 years unearthing the track, fixing the train, and, oh, packing it with thousands of pounds of homemade explosives.
V tells Evey that the train and his home are his final gift to her. At the end of the day, when the clock strikes midnight on November 5th, a new world will dawn. It will be Evey’s world, not V’s, and the choice to blow up Parliament or not blow up Parliament should be hers, not his.
V leaves Evey and completes his vengeance quest. That’s what his revolution was really about. To kill those who wronged him he had to bring down the government that protected them, that was them. And he does. As Sutler is on the TV explaining about how justice will be righteous and without mercy, he’s getting exactly that from Creedy on wet concrete.
V is heavily injured and returns to Evey. For 20 years, he says, he sought only this day, until he saw Evey and fell in love with her. Theirs is a strange relationship.
He soon dies. Evey dresses his body with roses and places him on the train. Suddenly, from nowhere, emerges Finch. He’s trained a gun on Evey, and he looks as much in danger of falling asleep as shooting her.
Back on the surface, thousands of citizens wearing V’s masks surround Parliament. The army is there, of course, guns locked and loaded. Problem is, the commander can’t get hold of Sutler, Creedy, or any of the top brass. They are at a loss. The movie’s most dramatic moment comes when the commander chooses between killing the unarmed citizenry or standing down.
Evey convinces Finch that she must start the train. Finch allows it; he was only there out of duty to his job. Evey starts the train and steps off. She’s not a martyr.
The Army commander orders his men to stand down. The Vs flood past them and surround Parliament.
The 1812 Overture blares through London’s speakers as Parliament explodes deafeningly. Somehow, V-shaped sparks blast upward.
Finch and Evey watch from Evey’s new flat. Finch asks who V was. “He was Edmund Dantes,” she says, “and he was my father and mother. He was you and me. He was all of us.”
V for Vendetta is as humorless as its society. V is the funniest person onscreen, and he lives underground beside a fake prison he built to psychologically break the woman he loves. Yeah, he’s a laugh.
Authoritarian London looks pretty good under the Sutler administration. The streets are clean, the buildings look well, and the rich are living fine.
Sure, no one is on the streets at night except the Fingermen and some listening vans, but that means they’re safe!
V lives underground, in a repurposed gothic vault, or so it appears. Sandstone archways are everywhere, and his walls are decorated with classic paintings and movie posters.
Also, V has a fake prison. Why does he have this? Did he build it after meeting Evey, waiting for her to screw up so he could mentally condition her? These questions are not answered.
Props to the set design team for projecting John Hurt’s face on a giant video screen.
V for Vendetta has plenty to say about its world, and a little to say about our own.
V seeks vengeance on the men and women who tested biological weapons on him at Larkhill. He drapes that vengeance in righteous indignation at the government that would allow such a thing.
V has a problem with a government that oppresses its people’s thoughts. He thinks that destroying such a government, perhaps through violent means, is justified. He tells Evey that “Violence can be used for good.”
And V uses plenty of violence. The government calls him a terrorist. Is the blowing up of buildings terrorism? I say yes, if the people are given no warning. He destroys the Old Bailey with no warning. Someone could have died. Blowing up Parliament is different; the people had a entire year of warning.
Is V’s world any better? More Patrick Henry than Thomas Jefferson (sorry, don’t have the comparative British historical figures), V refuses to offer a solution to Sutler’s government beyond its death. V loads the train with bombs, but he lets Evey choose to start it or not. He recognizes, perhaps only at the end, that the new world he’s created will not be his. There’s some redemption there.
Sutler’s government undoubtedly committed one of history’s greatest atrocities in plaguing its own people, ranking it with the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge. V was right to orchestrate its destruction. Was he right in his means? His society is not free, so the freedom of ideas is not recognized. Violence is the only speech the Sutler government knows, and V speaks in it as well as he does English.
Unless you feel strongly about the picture painted of religion in this movie, there’s not much to complain about.
- V empties the dictionary in his opening monologue to Evey, using all the “V” words he could think of. “However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.” I bet he practiced that a lot.
Summary (28/68): 41%
V for Vendetta has style and solid dialogue. Hugo Weaving, as usual, is terrific. Portman brings energy and anger to her role, and she looks great with a shaved head.