27. V for Vendetta (2006)

Director: James McTeigue

Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Tim Pigott-Smith

By 2005, I had essentially abandoned all hope that any of Alan Moore’s graphic novels would ever translate into a good movie. “From Hell” I found largely forgettable, and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (regrettably the swan song of Sean Connery’s career) stands as the only movie to put me to sleep inside the theater. Alan Moore already had given up, and asked that his name be removed from the credits of any future adaptations of his work. Unfortunate, because what was to come would more than make up for the blunders of the past. Also facing a stigma at this time was Natalie Portman. Her skills as an actress were under a great deal of unjustified scrutiny as a result of her wooden performances in each of the “Star Wars” prequels. She needed a movie that would show her doubters that she was capable of much more than they imagined. Based on a graphic novel that took seven years to complete, from 1982 to 1989, thanks to a temporary cancellation of the story’s publication, the movie itself had to delay its intended release a good four months. But the wait was unquestionably worthwhile. 2006’s “V for Vendetta” victoriously validates the very valuable writings of Alan Moore and vigorously vindicates the talent of Natalie Portman.

The setting, England under oppressive rule in the not too distant future, is frighteningly realistic. We’ve seen this kind of evil in the world before. Regimes like this still manage to weasel their way into power all over the world as long as there remains a percentage of the population willing to go along with anything they read or are told. Before anyone realizes what’s happened, all the freedoms they took for granted are wiped away. This is the world in which Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) has grown up. Considering the very Orwellian nature of the whole situation, I absolutely love the casting of John Hurt as Chancellor Adam Sutler. In the film adaptation of “1984” (conveniently released in 1984), he starred as Winston Smith. In “V for Vendetta,” Hurt’s character is essentially “Big Brother.”

The story is of one man’s fight against the oppressive government which once imprisoned and tortured him, creating the “monster” that he has become, and his revenge against all who were responsible. He has no discernible identity, but his ideals take precedent over the mystery of who he is. This allows Hugo Weaving to provide the voice and the body of the man called V while always hiding his face behind a Guy Fawkes mask. What’s great about the character of V is that, like his graphic novel counterpart, it’s left up to the individual to decide whether he is morally right or wrong, sane or insane. I do not subscribe to anarchy, yet I agree with the need for any totalitarian form of government to meet a swift end, and I find V’s personal revenge story compelling.

There was a section which was my favorite part of the graphic novel, events which, as presented on-screen, also became my favorite part of the film:

Evey’s Awakening. Somewhere at or around the midway point, Evey is captured and thrown in a cell. She is told she will go free if she can offer information leading to the capture of V. Her head is shaved and she is tortured for an unspecified amount of time. While there, she receives a note from the cell next to her. It is the autobiography of a woman named Valerie, imprisoned for being a lesbian. It’s one of the most deeply personal moments of the entire movie. Evey is released when she prefers death over giving her captors what they want. She exits the prison, opens a door and finds that she’s been in V’s home all along. The emotion that pours out of Natalie Portman in this scene is some of her best work. Then she asks to be allowed outside for some air. It’s raining. V stands by and watches as Evey is baptized by the rain the same way he was baptized by fire. It could be said that the entire movie’s integrity hinged on this one section being handled with care. I can’t imagine it being done any better.

The fact that this movie was released in a post-9/11 world is significant. Who can hear the line, “This country needs more than a building right now. It needs hope,” and not think of the World Trade Center? Of course, it’s “hope” that’s the part to which everyone should be paying attention. How about the scene where Mr. Finch asks, “If our own government was responsible for the deaths of almost 100,000 people, would you really want to know?” Regardless of whether or not you buy into the 9/11 conspiracy theories (and I don’t), that’s still an important question to ask. Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s just ignorance, and it can lead to decisions that affect us all for the worse.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I think this is one of your most insightful reviews to date. Exceptionally well analyzed and composed. Again, kudos.

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