Louder Than Bombs
Ideas Fuel This Sci-Fi Thriller For the Terrorism Age
The year is 1605 and Guy Fawkes, a Catholic revolutionary who opposes the oppressive Protestant King James I, rolls 36 barrels of gunpowder into a tunnel under London’s Houses of Parliament. His intention is to bring down the monarchy, even though he never gets that far. He’s discovered, and the king has Fawkes and his men hanged, drawn, and quartered. Flash-forward to a not-too-distant future more than four centuries later, when a disfigured man disguised by a Guy Fawkes mask blows up Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. His intention is to bring down the oppressive Big Brother-esque dictatorship that now presides over his nation, and he is called a terrorist.
V for Vendetta asks some pretty unsavory questions: Is V (the man in the Fawkes mask, played by Hugo Weaving) a revolutionary or a terrorist? Is V blinded by his own vendetta against a government that turned him into a physical monster and his own self-important view of himself as London’s savior, or does he truly represent the philosophical ideals of freedom he preaches? And most importantly, is terrorism ever acceptable as a means to an ends?
Our window into this future where homosexuality and Islam are outlawed by High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt)—an autocratic leader who rose to power amid a conspiracy-laden biological attack and Christian fervor—is young Evey (Natalie Portman), the daughter of murdered activists who opposed Sutler’s regime. When V rescues her from some Fingermen (secret-police goons), she becomes witness to the Bailey explosion and is caught on government spy-cam. V winds up with no choice but to save her from interrogators by secreting her away in his Shadow Gallery—basically the Batcave, but filled with “censored art” he has stolen back from the censors. Her only chance to live is to hide away in this subterranean haven for one year, when V intends, like Guy Fawkes, to spark revolution by blowing up Parliament. In other words, Evey becomes V’s Robin, a young protégé in terror.
Delicious even with a shaved noggin, Portman is up to the challenge of conveying a young woman so weakened by the fear programmed into her by the government that torture is the only way to escape it. It’s Weaving, however, trapped behind a full-face mask for the entirety of the movie that is its heart. His voice creeps in the timbre he used as Mr. Smith in the Matrix trilogy, but doesn’t ooze Smith’s sliminess. Instead, it’s tinged with the passion V always struggles to repress; V has transformed himself into an idea and, in the process, buried his humanity.
Also worth mentioning is how well the Wachowski Brothers (producers and writers here) capture the soul of their source material, the 1981 comic series of the same name created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, a sci-fi attack on what they saw as abuses of power by then-U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In fact, that’s what you get here: not a comic-book movie but a science-fiction one about ideas—not costumes, action sequences, and special effects, all of which are kept to a minimum here.
And while Moore is infamous for abusing the movie adaptations of his projects (From Hell, Constantine, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), he’s got no reason to whine here. The changes don’t compromise his vision and, if anything, simply update the social context in a way he probably would’ve done himself if he’d written the series two decades later. Americans will almost certainly read the movie as an attack on the Bush administration, and there’s little doubt it is. After all, this future dystopia is triggered by “America’s war” and a Christian fundamental backlash via Sutler. Just remember that V is a British cautionary tale interpreted by a pair of Americans. Through that filter, Thatcher becomes not only Bush but the embodiment of fear-mongering that the current administration has turned into an art form.
V for Vendetta does the unthinkable: It’s a big-budget, sci-fi, comic-book movie that presents a clear explanation of how ideas and ideals create revolutionaries/terrorists and how those ideas and ideals can transform them into martyrs. Moreover, it makes you root for a character who straps explosives to his abdomen. Hell, you want to punch your fist in the air just to show your support.