Yes, V is for Vendetta, and quite a grudge he has, too.
But V also stands for Vigilance, the kind of dogged resistance
we need to ensure that fear and lies and political rhetoric don't
undermine the human and civil rights that people have fought for
and earned in the past century. This is a film whose themes are
firmly rooted in the now, despite it actually being set in the
not-too-distant future. It asks us, how do we define a terrorist?
Who defines what a terrorist is? Who is pulling our strings as
a thinking and moral society, and why do we let them do it?
If you had read widely on this film and still had no idea that
it even contained lesbian content, I wouldn't blame you. For a
film whose middle section is all about gay and lesbian persecution,
the queer storylines have been all but erased in the reviews and
critiques from the straight press. Only in queer circles is this
content being discussed, and I can tell you, these themes are
not just incidental. Everyone who has seen the previous
work of Larry and Andy Wachowski knows what a commitment they
have as filmmakers to the GLBT community. The gay content is not
in the original graphic novel, it was added because the writers
thought it was important.
The story centres on Evey (Natalie Portman), a girl with a horrific
past she is trying desperately to move on from. Evey is out after
curfew in this futuristic, militant society and is set upon and
almost raped by government officers. She's saved by the mysterious
V (Hugo Weaving), a seeming lunatic in a Guy
Fawkes mask and cape, whose introductory monologue uses more
V words than I actually knew there were in the dictionary, and
who manages to both charm and repulse the naturally curious Evey.
She follows him to a desolate rooftop where he promises to show
her something spectacular, and she watches in horror and fascination
as he proceeds to blow up the Old Bailey. This is just the first
in a series of actions V intends to take. It is also a huge turning
point in Evey's life. She's caught on security camera and linked
with the vigilante (who the government immediately labels a terrorist)
and her life as she knows it is over. Pursued by a persistent
detective (Stephan Rea) and haunted by her own growing feelings
for V, she's no longer able to hide behind her normal life and
normal fears. She's forced to become tough to survive, because
being friends with V means sacrifice and pain in the pursuit of
What does all this have to do with gay people? It's hard to explain
without spoiling a vital part of the story, which could possibly
explain why most critics aren't touching on it in their reviews.
Let's just say that at first Evey is a little reluctant to give
up her way of life and commit to the cause. It is through the
stories and courage of one gay man and one lesbian couple who
make a stand, as well as remembering the sacrifices made by her
own parents, that Evey begins to understand the possible role she
could and should play in making things right again.
Like NAZI Germany (and the allusions linking fascism with the
rise of modern terrorist "policing" are unflinching),
the government in this England of the year 2020 is rounding up
all so-called "dissidents", imprisoning and killing
them. While we see many different victims of the regime suffer,
the film lingers on the stories of what is suffered by gays and
lesbians. The fantasy setting takes much of the edge off the horror,
but one scene in particular of a mass grave is as in-your-face
as it gets.
I was at times moved to tears. My straight friends watching with
me thought I was mad. They couldn't understand why I was so touched.
In fact, one even remarked that she thought the storyline involving
the two women went on for too long and dragged down the pace of
the movie. Well, maybe they're right. Maybe sticking the lesbian
love story in the middle of an action movie does somewhat halt
the narrative flow. But it pulls you in. It isn't too difficult
to imagine yourself right there, being "bagged" by the
totalitarian government and dragged away, never to be seen again.
You start to question yourself. What would I do if this happened?
If a Christian Conservative government came to power and started
stripping away my rights and freedoms, how would I fight back?
What drives the protagonists in this film isn't just freedom
and rights and lofty ideals, it's love. Yeah, it gets a bit cheesy,
but it works nonetheless. There's lots of talk about how you can
kill a man, but you can't kill an idea. There's also the flip
side about how ideas might be immortal, but that you can't talk
to an idea, you can't hug an idea. That takes a flesh and blood
person. What V for Vendetta also drives home,
better than any film has in a long time, is that those flesh and
blood people who love and have courage and ideas worth preserving
are gay as well as straight. Big deal, you say? Well, tell me
the last action movie you saw that said that. Actually said
it. It was probably made by the Wachowskis.
So, in the midst of all this blow-em-up action and intrigue I
suddenly found myself feeling represented. What an odd feeling.
A straight guy might be the hero, but the knowledge that in the world of this film my rights as a human
being were also being fought for by the mysterious and enigmatic
hero heightened the enjoyment factor tenfold. I didn't have to
imagine myself there. I could get caught up in it with no personal
reservations, no nagging feelings in the back of my mind. Because
its politics are in the right place, the fantasy becomes that
much more enjoyable.
After all that, because V is behind a mask, it's easy to imagine
him as anything you want him to be. Far from making him disembodied
and difficult to relate to (as some reviewers have suggested),
the mask actually helped me to avoid imposing a unique identity
on him. He is himself, yet he represents us all. Within the V
for Vendetta world, only Evey understands this. She loves
both the man and the idea, his two distinct halves, with equal
The plot of V for Vendetta occurs over exactly one
year. One year to turn a world around. Imagine that. Imagine if
in one year we could take the voices of the all the people who
give a crap and make some significant change. I'm not talking
about blowing up a building. For starters I'm talking about solidifying
rather than eroding the rights of the GLBT community.
Of course, V for Vendetta is also a ripping
good action film. There's obvious influences in form and style
from crime capers, the swashbuckling, heroic epics of the 1920's
and from the film noir tradition. It has the kind of special effects
you'd expect from the team that made The Matrix,
but it is not at all cartoon-ish despite being loosely adapted
from a graphic novel.
There's a better-than-average love story, with a drop-dead gorgeous
heroine, even (especially?) when she gets her buzz cut. There's
a mystery to solve, and some smart villains to overcome. Sometimes,
thanks to casting the superb Stephen Fry, it is even laugh-out-loud
funny. It's also just a damn fine way to spend two hours, and
for all the reasons I've already mentioned, I think gays and lesbians
will enjoy it even more than most.
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