V for Vendetta: Easy Crowd Pleasers from the Anarchist Cookbook

By Rebecca Porte

My reaction to the recent film adaptation of V for Vendetta, and to most anarchist philosophies for that matter, can be summed up in one sentence: I was with you until the last 10 minutes. Based on Alan Moore’s 1980’s graphic novel of the same name, V for Vendetta is the story of a terrorist crusader named V (Hugo Weaving) who preys on the government of a totalitarian future Britain from behind a Guy Fawkes mask. Our window into V’s world is Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), a young woman V saves from assault by government officials and later makes his apprentice. Having read the graphic novel, I can say that this movie is by far the best that has been adapted from Alan Moore’s work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, only that it does so with a little more grace than, say, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which managed the trick of shooting itself in the foot while simultaneously making me wish it had, instead, shot me in the face.

V begins with a history lesson on Guy Fawkes’s failed attempt to blow up Parliament. It dispatches Fawkes at the end of a rope (Remember the fifth of November, children) and we segue into the future where V saves Evey Hammond from…well, Fingermen, as they’re called. Draw your own conclusions.

Later, when Evey jeopardizes her life in V’s cause, he spirits her away to his lair to protect her. The hideout, which is filled with the forbidden art V has salvaged from government censors, is a monument to the freedom of expression lost in the new regime. And though I too would probably take my Cat Power CDs with me if the bombs were falling, I sincerely hope that, when I step out of my fallout shelter and into the light, the first thing I see isn’t a poster for Mildred Pierce. In hiding, we see Evey reach a rapport with V while learning some of what motivates his acts of violence. There, she reveals to him her vulnerability, a weakness that is the same as her society’s. “I wish I wasn’t afraid all the time,” she says. “But, I am.”

What cures Evey of that fear makes for one of the film’s most disturbing sequences, and also its most successful. The scene, taken verbatim from a pivotal letter in the graphic novel, is one of the most delicate and effective things that Alan Moore has ever written. V’s protAcgAc comes to a difficult self-awakening, all the more compelling when contrasted to the botched contrivance of the love story between terrorist and apprentice that follows. That development, a Wachowski innovation, confirms my opinion that the brothers should never be allowed near any dialogue that doesn’t deal with either the preparation or the avoidance of explosions. (While I’m on the subject, as one of the final scenes of the movie demonstrates, the Wachowskis were obviously unaware that bullet time has become the great joke of special effects, so unaware, in fact, that they thought dagger time would be the next logical step. Insert your own joke about sharp objects and retrograde motion.)

In the end, the Wachowskis feel it necessary to kill a child as the catalyst for the type of maudlin full cast scene best reserved to the State of the Union and second rate Broadway musicals. We knew there was evil and that it was worth fighting five minutes into the movie. We didn’t need the addition of a dead girl in pigtails nearly two hours later. Any emotional credit that previous scenes had racked up is undermined by the final sequence in which, finally, Guy Fawkes’s mission is carried out. I don’t deny that I have always wanted to see the houses of Parliament explode to the soundtrack of the 1812 Overture. Destroying the symbols of oppression and fear culture is a heady thing. I could have done without the adoring populace looking on in their very own Guy Fawkes costumes. But what I most object to is V’s insistence—a flaw in the graphic novel as well—that instead of being a means to an end, destruction is an end unto itself. V offers us a vision of the burning down but it gives us nothing to build in its place. The movie ends in explosion. It has to. There is no way V can tell us what happens afterwards, when the bystanders gathered to watch Parliament detonate have to take off their disguises and treat the people wounded by flying debris, the ones suffocated in the press of the crowd. We see the glory of change through violence; we see none of the casualties. Revolutionaries tend to be superfluous after the violence is finished. There is a reason Thomas Paine died alone and disillusioned. What, then, does a city of people who have put on V’s mask, who have become V, do when the revolution is over?