V for Vendetta: Movie Review

What if the US was in a state of chaos verging on civil war? What if the UK had come under the rule of a fascist dictator? What if the “Phantom of the Opera” was more interested in politics than music? What if that same man was the people’s only hope? That’s the gist of the latest movie from the Wachowski brothers—the creative force behind the Matrix trilogy. Set in an alternate London of the not-too-distant future, V for Vendetta is the big-screen adaptation of a comic book series about a masked terrorist/freedom fighter named V and his protégé, Evey Hammond (played by Natalie Portman). V has two agendas: to liberate the people of London from the tyranny of a despotic leader and to avenge the government sanctioned bio-medical experimentation performed on prisoners in an internment facility by assassinating those responsible. Evey is swept up into V’s plans when he rescues her from the assault of some secret police agents and he starts to re-educate her on the need for individuals to stand up against unjust government.

Like the Matrix movies, the visuals in V for Vendetta are slick and the action is well-choreographed. Also like the Matrix, there are a lot of talky scenes when V pontificates about his principles, and the nature of justice and right. At times it could get a bit confusing but not enough to harm the movie. It’s interesting when sci-fi is used to deliver a message (or provoke thought). On one hand, setting an issue or conflict in a non-real-world context allows the filmmakers to leave out a lot of the complications that make the issues difficult—they can clearly spell out what’s good and what’s bad. On the other hand, the viewer may not care as much since it’s only metaphor for issues in the real world. However, real-world message movies don’t attract the same audience. In 2005, two message movies (North Country and The Constant Gardener) came out and received critical acclaim but I had no desire to see either one—but I was eager to watch V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta has a message about complacency in the face of injustice, but even after feeling a surge of excitement at the movie’s climax when the people rallied to V’s cause, it took a real-world situation for the message to hit home to me. Part of Evey’s story is that her parents were political activists and had been taken away by the government before her horrified eyes. Nevertheless, she developed a fear and complacency that kept her from acting out against the government despite the unjust way it had treated her family. On my way home from the movie I walked passed a court house where a rally was starting to form. Police were waiting and there were a few placards around indicating that the protest was against Canadian (and US) involvement in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I walked by with my head down and easily dismissed it as a cause for the political-minded, the neo-hippie college students, etc. But then as I crossed the street away from the rally area, from the opposite side crossed a family: father, mother, and two young daughters. They were carrying signs as well and I deduced that possibly they were from Afghanistan or knew people there. They seemed so normal and non-political, and probably wouldn’t have been protesting the war if it had been going on somewhere else. The message of the movie hit me clearly: We cannot wait until we are directly affected by injustice before we get involved and speak up.

Well, I don’t really know where I’m going with that. Like John Stewart acknowledged during the Oscars after the montage of social message movie clips, a movie does very little to actually change reality. Nevertheless, what if a thought-provoking yet exciting semi-sci-fi blockbuster was actually able to change the way you think? (4 out of 5)

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