V for Vendetta – Movie Club Review – July 2020

V for Vendetta

Released 2005 – Runs 2 hours 12 minutes

Directed by James McTeigue

Written by Lilly Wachowski & Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) and Alan Moore and David Lloyd (graphic novel)

Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry

2 stars out of 4

Apparently rated R in some countries – for language and violence. It didn’t seem that bad too me. There’s some sword/knife-induced-blood thrown around towards the end.

Viewing Notes: Good home theatre conditions. I originally saw this film I believe in a public theatre, not long after it was released. I may have seen it since then as well? But I’m not sure about that. Anyway, I had seen it before re-watching for movie club. I remembered being kind of…confused and not too enthused by it, and wondered if that was more because I wasn’t paying attention, or because it’s just not a movie I’m in to. I hoped that re-watching it now, 15 years after it came out, I would be smarter and it would be less confusing, at least.

And it was less confusing.

This film must have been conceived in response to “The War on Terror” ramping up back in the early 2000s, and it’s interesting to note that it also has resonance now, with it’s viral contagion backstory, as well as it’s discussion of the use of fear for governments, the danger of ceding civil liberties and continual rise of surveillance, the possible tipping points where people declare “this shall not pass” and begin to riot, etc.

I’m down with questioning surveillance and so forth. I’ve got my ad blocker on and haven’t had a Facebook account for years. ‘Course, I do leave my thoughts about films and books all over the place…

Unfortunately this movie has a “lead” character who is always wearing a full face mask – which as many of us now know from our actual lives – make it difficult to determine a person’s demeanour and emotion – it is, for me, a profoundly distancing tactic in a film, I’m sure there was a philosophical reason behind it, something, I gather from the dialogue, about an idea being more important that persons, but, I didn’t like it. (I’m not totally sold on the idea of ideas being more important that people, either, to be honest.)

So, here’s the basic plot, as I think I grasped it this time ‘round – there is a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask calling himself V, and he is seriously annoyed, because the dystopian fundamentalist future government of Britain was seriously mean to him. He’s decided that he’ll blow stuff up, and take over TV stations to deliver his message of resistance to the masses (and wait, is it all of Britain or is it just London that is being ruled by a despotic fist, because we never see anything but London and a smouldering America engaged in civil war on the news reports in this movie? And what happened to the internet? There’s not much about the internet as a mis/information source. We did have the internet back in 2005.)  But anyway, it’s dark in London.

Because plot, V gains a sort of… side kick, the Natalie Portman character, Evey, who has lost her family through the machinations of the evil government, but who also spent time in a re-education centre and was working, it seems, more or less contentedly as a regular cog in the wheel before V saves her from squicky government thugs one night.

V has a sort of bat cave. It’s never really explained how he’s got all the stuff he’s got beyond that he stole it – and apparently no one noticed or tracked him down for years despite it being, you know, a totalitarian government with surveillance everywhere. But he’s sort of a super-hero so that’s okay. In the bat cave he’s got lots of books, a juke box, paintings, movie posters (White Heat and Mildred Pierce were the posters I noticed.) And he quotes Shakespeare a lot and he watches the 1934 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo. He’s obviously a cultured, educated guy, and he talks like it, too. He uses a lot of unusually high-falutin’ language.

He’s planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament and hopes to “give hope” to the downtrodden masses and spark a revolution.

There is a police detective, who is a sort of sympathetic detective, he doesn’t like the secret police guys very much, but he also doesn’t like V going around blowing things up and killing people, since, you know, he’s a police detective, and stopping that sort of thing is kind of his reason for existence.

Evey sort of falls in love with V, it’s a … very weird… relationship as the plot progresses.

Since I had seen this movie before, I remembered a plot twist that might be surprising to first-time watchers. I also found some sequences just a bit predictable – but again, that might have been because I’ve seen this movie before.

I did find myself somewhat annoyed at the soundtrack. As I’ve previously established, I am fussy about soundtracks, and I dislike soundtracks where the ‘background’ music riots heavily over dialogue. No disrespect intended to the 1812 Overture.

When this film was made, I’m guessing the gay and lesbian representation was a bigger deal than it seems now.

Also, at some point while watching this, it dawned on me that the guy (John Hurt) playing the evil chancellor in this film was also in the Nineteen Eighty-Four film, and I was right. I’m sure that was not a coincidence. I watched Nineteen Eighty Four not too long ago, and I have to say that some of the imagery in V seems borrowed – perhaps deliberately? There is some philosophizing about whether anything is ever a co-incidence here in this film. It’s also pretty obvious that they borrowed imagery from Nazi rallies. And, Monte Cristo type swashbucklers.

The movie does, in general, have a consistent, deliberate, exaggerated look that is in keeping with it’s story, which you sort of would expect from a movie about symbolizing. And from a movie derived from a graphic novel.

Possibly because I’d seen it before, but I found the film’s pacing a bit “eh” and felt it was a bit longer than it need be.

I think it’s great that someone took a superhero character and used the opportunity to make social commentary and ask questions about where society could go, etc., it’s nice to have a sort of graphic novel super-hero-y film that’s not just about Chris Hemsworth running around shirt-less or whatever (hopefully he’ll get different roles if he wants them.)  

But…ultimately…

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

…..

……

I didn’t like V.

And I found it a bit hard to swallow that an apparently super-surveillance-y state failed to notice that the vigilante dude everyone has been hunting for a year has cleared the underground tracks that lead under Parliament and filled a train with explosives. I mean, come on, either this evil government is competent and a worthy opponent, or it’s not.

Also –

‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

Unfortunately for my full enjoyment of this movie, I happen to agree with Mr. Churchill on this subject. So, I have problems with enjoying a movie that ends by destroying an important symbol of democracy, and seems to be advocating for anarchy.

Yes, I’m a square and probably “part of the problem.”

I think this movie might be a 3 for people of a different political bent, and it may have been a 2.5 for me if I hadn’t already seen it, but as it is, I give it two stars today. I’ve seen it at least twice now. I wouldn’t run through the streets screaming instead of watching it again if someone wanted to watch it with me, but I don’t foresee me seeking it out for future watching myself.

P.S. – Apparently, when you’re a woman being held in prison, your torturous captors will not only keep your head shaved, but also your arm pits. Good to know.

You can read other movie club member’s reviews here:

JStar’s review

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