When We Repeat History, Bad Things Happen (Sometimes): “V for Vendetta” (2005)

I imagine almost every film has a lesson for its viewers, whether it is buried deep within the symbolism of the story, or it is a walking, talking character illustration. “V For Vendetta,” directed by James Teague, stars Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and Stephen Ruca, and lessons are hurled at us from every member and stage of this production. Lessons about the overreaching power of government, lessons about personal strength found within the banishment of fear, lessons about the mind-bending effectiveness of propaganda- all of these are present, along with so many more.

Based on a graphic novel by Alan Moor and David Lloyd, the film adaptation took certain liberties with the story and found inspiration from the current events of 2005. The character of Evey Hammond has undergone a complete overhaul; everything from the political involvement of her parents to her occupation and age, Evey is almost unrecognizable from the original in the graphic novel. “V” is also more developed in the film through his dialogue, a clear attempt by the director to give him a richer identity to resonate with the audience.

Despite the deviation from what I consider superior plot points in the graphic novel, I think this film accomplished what it set out to do, which, I believe, is force us to think about the future. Natalie Portman’s performance as Evey Hammond, though flawed, was a lovely counterweight to our mystery shrouded “V.” Her small stature coupled with her timid demeanor made her look like something that fell off of a charm bracelet. It was exciting to see her develop the character into something stronger. Hugo Weaving’s “V,” however, was on point. His voice sent shivers down my spine, the use of vocabulary initially establishing his identity was a thing of beauty. The idea of stripping down your identity to a living, breathing, walking, talking embodiment of an idea is inspiringly raw. Like a Tibetan monk, or Mother Teresa. Both religious in nature, I know, but those are the only equivalents I can think of. “V” embodies a “back to basics” approach to government: give it back to the regular people.

Now let’s pause for a moment to address something I put in the title of this review: “When We Repeat History, Bad Things Happen (Sometimes.)” I felt I had to bring this up considering the many, many parallels between Nazi Germany and the dystopian Britain of “V for Vendetta,” such as the concentration camps, propaganda, the clear parallels between the fictional Norsefire Party High Chancellor, Adam Sutler, and Adolf Hitler, etc. That piece of history is horrific, to be sure, and to repeat it would be a crime against humanity. But V’s entire identity is built upon Guy Fawkes and The Gun Powder Plot of 1605. The film chronicles his attempt to finish what the conspirators of The Gun Powder Plot began; restore power to the people by destroying the symbol of an oppressive and unwavering government: Parliament. Sometimes history needs to repeat itself if only to finish what was started long ago.

Though I have seen this film before, today I watched it with something else in mind; this film came out twelve years ago, and I think it is even more relevant now than in the days of G. W. Bush. We are living in a precarious time, and regardless of their job title, family status, or tax bracket, people are angry and scared. This film highlights, repeatedly, the power of saying the right thing at the right time, especially if you are talking to a group of terrified survivors in the clutches of a pathogen unlike anything they have ever seen, or perhaps, a nuclear war that threatens to wipe them from the face of the earth. A strong voice to guide people away from the face of something terrible (or perhaps threatening something terrible) is a powerful current in the river of life, and even the most educated people can be taken adrift.

This film was released twelve years ago. The original “V for Vendetta” story was altered by the Wachowski Brothers who nod at the potential for a decaying democracy in the United States in 2005. Let’s use that as a backdrop to compare with today, and look how much we have improved! (Pause for uncomfortable laughter.)

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