When I was a kid, Guy Fawkes was a name I only ever experienced in passing and learned minute details of through osmosis– I vaguely remember the personified teenage version of the British holiday from an episode of MTV’s “Daria” looking like Sid Vicious and overhearing the too-cool-for-school Goth kids talk about building bonfires for the holiday’s nighttime celebration. But then, like most, I was exposed to a better understanding of who he was and what he did with the 2006 release of V for Vendetta. Adapted from the Alan Moore graphic novel by the symbolism-loving siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski, V for Vendetta is about twelve months in post-nuclear war totalitarian London following the exploits of a masked anarchist terrorist and the girl that comes to personify the hope he has for a better life for his fellow citizens.
Lorded over by dictator Adam Sutler (John Hurt), the British people, amongst them the lovely young TV reporter Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), live in a world of fear. One evening while on her way to visit a friend, Evey is attacked by government goons but is rescued by a sharp-tongued stranger in black garb and a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V. He invites her to join him under false pretenses and she unwittingly becomes a witness to his bombing of the government building the Old Bailey. The next day Evey tries to go about her usual day at work at the TV station, but V shows up there too to broadcast his call to arms to join him a year later on Guy Fawkes Day to witness his bombing of the parliament building which will supposedly trigger the fall of the evil regime. Evey is hurt while V is making his escape, so to protect her he takes her to his secret lair. At first reluctant, Evey soon becomes V’s ally as he slaughters his way through a line of fascist party members who turn out to be directly responsible for not only V’s dark past but also the terrifying events that lead to the current state of government.
Ever since the film was released, people have been assigning their own meanings to it –anarchist iconography, libertarian manifesto, anti-American think piece, post 9/11 allegory, modern day Phantom of the Opera, and of course the hacktivist collective Anonymous’s use of the masks. It couldn’t possibly be just about freedom and the power of ideas could it? Either way, this is a very tonally accomplished film for James McTeigue in his first true directing effort. As comic books based action movies go, V for Vendetta is certainly in the top echelon. Hugo Weaving’s performance as V is insanely expressive despite wearing a mask the entire film, a vocal prowess on par with Morgan Freeman and Vincent Price. Portman is wonderfully sympathetic, but then she always is. What I really love about this movie is how thrilling they manage to make the fights between the knife-wielding V and the gun-wielding coppers. The fight scenes, especially V’s final fight, are so slick that it could inspire the reversal of the old idiom – “You just brought a gun to a knife fight.” Viva la revolución!