Remembering “V for Vendetta” on this Fifth of November

Hollywood was just starting to wake up to the true potential of comic book adaptations in the early 2000’s, with Fox and Sony finding veritable gold mines in their X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Suddenly, every comic that sold in any quantity was being optioned for the big screen. One of the earlier adaptations was V for Vendetta, which published by the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics in the 1980’s.

Remembering "V for Vendetta" on this Fifth of November
Image Courtesy Warner Bros
“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.”

There is something staggeringly haunting about watching 2005’s V for Vendetta in today’s political climate. At the time that the movie was released, the Wachowski’s and director James McTeigue appeared to be weaving a cautionary tale about the appeal of fascism and nationalism, and how the moneyed elites of a culture could use fear to help a frightened populace to abandon their better angels.

Flash forward 14 years, and V for Vendetta feels, in many ways, more reflection than warning. We have seen the dystopian future, for we wake to it every single day.

V for Vendetta is very much cut from the same cloth as George Orwell’s 1984, with the population of England living under an oppressive regime that they have become too passive to resist. They know something is wrong, but the government, led by John Hurt’s terrifying Chancellor Adam Sutler, saved the country from terrorist attacks from Muslims, radicalized protesters, biological warfare, and the influence of a United States that is tearing itself apart after decades of a disastrous war.

Remembering "V for Vendetta" on this Fifth of November
Image Courtesy Warner Bros

The fact that this same government fabricated those attacks against its own people is unknown to all save V (Hugo Weaving), a sinister, enigmatic agitator who attacks the party elite with little more than quick wit, martial prowess, and a Guy Fawkes mask.

Early in the film, V rescues Evey (Natalie Portman) from a gang of cops who have more than policing on their minds. Soon, she becomes his fast confidant and co-conspirator, and V sets out to topple the fascist regime that has taken hold of the country.

“People should not be afraid of their government, government should be afraid of their people.”
V for Vendetta is, in many ways, a standard Hollywood action movie, with a lot of flashy fight sequences, scenery-chewing villains, and lavish set pieces. But that’s all on the surface. Beneath the shiny studio veneer, there is a strong anti-establishment tone, carried along with dire portents that feel more like prophecy than mere warning today. Politicians using fear to control the masses? Check. Portents of fake news? Check. Religious fundamentalists making legislating the masses? Check. Internment camps? Check. The United States fractured after decades of war? Uh, check. Political dissidents dying in detention? Oh, check. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that the Wachowski’s predicted that Epstein didn’t kill himself— all the way back in 2005.
Even this line feels like a prophetic, especially after an appeals court ruled that a certain “leader of the free world” needed to turn over near a decade of tax records:
“One thing is true of all governments – their most reliable records are tax records.”
It’s no surprise that the movie managed to be as anti-establishment as it was, with the source material coming from Alan Moore‘s long running comic book from the 1980’s. It’s easy to see how Moore found it possible for England to veer towards a fascistic future, especially in light of his feelings of distrust around the government of Margaret Thatcher. The comic series that Moore and artist David Lloyd created held a fertile landscape for the Wachowski’s to adapt two decades later.

“Words will always retain their power. Words are the means to meaning, and for those who listen, the enunciation of truth, and the truth is there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?”

 

Now, here we are, 15 years after the film’s release. It still stands as a wonderfully bold cautionary tale, even if some of the things we’re being cautioned about appear more familiar than we should be comfortable with. V for Vendetta does not flinch back from holding up a mirror to our society, and we shouldn’t be comfortable with what lies beneath the masks of our ignorance and fear.
Remembering "V for Vendetta" on this Fifth of November
Image Courtesy Warner Bros

 

About Leigh Kade

Leigh George Kade is a writer, illustrator, and sculptor who lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and two small Skrulls. Leigh has also been a panelist on the wildly popular Geek Show Podcast since 2008. He has been an Entertainment Writer for Bleeding Cool since 2018.