Directed by James McTeigue, V for Vendetta (2005) is not just a story of a retributive plan by a masked vigilante; it is a tale of an idea. It is the planting of an idea; the idea that political awareness and participation can prevent and subvert even the most vicious of regimes. The display of Islamophobia and homophobia by world leaders, conducting cyber espionage by political administrations and social media networks all over the world mirror the situation in the movie, writes Manita Islam
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder Treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
THE 132-minute film, beginning with an emphatic reading of the historic nursery rhyme, could elicit an immediate collective groan of boredom and annoyance from its target audience, the youth and young adults, who are used to colour-popping, bubble-gum-chomping, promiscuous reality TV or mindless action-filled comedies. However, the audience are soon captivated by the mysterious anti-hero, V, a Shakespeare-spouting, silver-tongued anarchist-revolutionary in a Guy Fawkes mask.
The storyline explores V, in all his hooded glory, taking down the fictional totalitarian regime of the Norsefire Party with the help of a young news company employee named Evey. Despite some peculiarities in execution and mixed reviews from the critics, the film hit the mark with the general audience with its strong ideological intent and thought provoking content.
The film is set in a dystopian alternate future in the year 2020. Britain is under the rule of a fascist dictator, Sutler, the corrupt homophobic, Islamophobic leader of the totalitarian Norsefire Party. They have systematically stripped the citizens of all their civil liberties; detached and apathetic, the public live in a politically-lethargic state.
V, the central character of the film is introduced while saving a young woman named Evey from the clutches of the secret police. He delivers a long alliterative speech to Evey and persuades her to join him in his secret lair to witness the explosion of the Old Bailey, the central Criminal Court of England, set up by him. He proceeds to inform Evey of his ultimate plan of blowing up the parliament on November 5, 2021, quite evidently inspired by Guy Fawkes, a religious extremist, who failed to destroy the British parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
The story progresses with V murdering multiple corrupt and tyrannical figure-heads of the state with the Scotland Yard on his tails. One particular cop, the lead investigator of V’s case, Eric Finch traces V’s true identity back to an illegal secret bioweapons program in Larkhill, where V and many other ‘undesirables’ were tortured and experimented upon. Shocked by what he has found, Finch works to collect more evidence of the government’s biological attacks on the British population and capture V.
V makes a deal with Creedy, the leader of the ruling party to surrender in exchange for the execution of Sutler. On November 5, Creedy kills Sutler but V reneges on his deal and kills Creedy and his men. Mortally wounded, V meets Evey in the subterranean passages of London where an abandoned train filled with explosives lie ready to carry out his plan. V hands over the decision of the explosion to Evey and professes his love for her with his dying breath. Evey is discovered by Finch, however, appalled and disillusioned by the government’s misdeeds, he does not stop her when she pulls the lever to start the train towards the parliamentary building. Soon, the parliament is destroyed by the explosion witnessed by thousands of onlookers, all dressed in the hooded attire and Guy Fawkes mask resembling V.
Released during the Bush regime, the film resonated with the US crowd and tapped into their intense dislike for the war-waging and fear-mongering ways of the administration. Moreover, the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers by the terrorist group Al Qaeda also mirrored the notion of destruction of symbolic structures to foment fear and political instability.
Even though the film was a seeming success, multiple ambiguities and oddities confused the audience. Firstly, the introduction of Guy Fawkes as a martyr as opposed to a religious extremist and a terrorist raised a few brows. Secondly, as most of the dialogues of V were re-dubbed, they seem detached from V’s masked grinning visage and disconnected from the emotional intensity of the scenes. Thirdly, even though swift justice was brought to the corrupt leaders by V himself, and the fall of the regime was ensured, V stuck to his original plan of destroying the parliament and never gave a proper reasoning behind his incendiary intention other than a remark that, ‘A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it…with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.’ As for the ambiguous nature of V’s character, it is up to the audience to decide whether he should be deemed as a terrorist or a freedom fighter.
Directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowskis, the film is based on the 1988 DC/Vertigo Comics series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd of the same name. The character of V is portrayed by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman plays Evey. The film received mixed reviews from critics. It holds a 74 per cent approval rating based on 247 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. It also received a metascore of 62 based on 39 critic reviews on IMDb.
While some critics panned the movie, others lauded its revolutionary intent. According to Peter Traverse from The Rolling Stones, ‘The explosive V for Vendetta is powered by ideas that are not computer-generated. It’s something rare in Teflon Hollywood: a movie that sticks with you.’
Claudia Puig from USA Today called it ‘visually exhilarating, provocative and disturbing.’ Namrata Joshi from Outlook however, was not impressed by it. To her, the movie was a ‘bizarre, farcical, political allegory-cum-thriller.’ Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian seemed to mirror her sentiments, calling it ‘valueless gibberish.’
Despite all its flaws and ambiguities, the significance of the movie in the current world cannot be denied. The display of Islamophobia and homophobia by world leaders, conducting cyber espionage by political administrations and social media networks all over the world mirror the situation in the movie.
As Bangladeshis, we can proudly claim that in our country, no phantom-like figures or masked avengers are required to fight for the welfare of the public. The citizens of our country, especially the youth and the student community has fought and even sacrificed their lives to ensure the entitlement of civil rights and liberties for all since before our inception as an independent state.
Some notable figures in our history who has stood up against political repression are Shaheed Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Jabbar, who were killed during the Language Movement of 1952; Shaheed Asaduzzaman, a student activist who was shot during the 1969 mass uprising in East Pakistan; Shaheed Nur Hossain, an activist killed during the anti-autocratic movement against the Hussain Muhammad Ershad regime and many more.
However, people of our country have on some occasions found unusual ways of fighting back against socio-political vices. Recently, traces of vigilantism have been noticed around the country. In February 2019, with the increase in cases of sexual violence, a vigilante, proclaiming to be ‘Hercules’ has killed more than three alleged rapists in different parts of the country.
The ‘Subodh’ graffiti-series around Dhaka, a figure of a running man with a call for ‘good sense’ has also been the talk of the town, with the government thinking that these artworks are politically charged and part of an anti-government propaganda.
Politically active citizens of our country have always been vocal and have fearlessly condemned, dissected and opposed any act of political repression, censorship and violation of civil rights. For as V quotes — People shouldn't be afraid of their government, governments should be afraid of their people.
V for Vendetta is not just a story of a retributive plan by a masked vigilante. It is the planting of an idea; the idea that political awareness and participation can prevent and subvert evens the most vicious of regimes. The key is to stay aware, or as millennials say, to stay ‘Woke’!
Manita Islam is a senior at the University of Dhaka.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Art Culture