There’s a point about halfway through V for Vendetta when a character is looking at headlines and sees one that reads: “80,000 Dead.” The thought that some singular event could have killed so many people is meant to shock both him and the audience. In 2006, when V for Vendetta was released, it probably did. But in 2021, in the midst of a global pandemic that’s killed almost three million people worldwide, it feels not just plausible, but all too relatable, and revisiting the film reveals far, far scarier notions than anyone involved could have possibly imagined.
Oh, and those 80,000 people were killed by a mysterious virus let loose by a conservative religious leader rising to power through fear and division with fanatical, violent followers who believe made-up news stories on a singular TV station. Yeah, safe to say V for Vendetta plays differently today. This is why everything that happens around those tragic fictional events feels unbelievably hopeful, inspiring, and cathartic in 2021.
V for Vendetta—from first-time director James McTeigue—was released 15 years ago, on March 17, 2006. Adapted from the comic book by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (though Moore isn’t credited in the film), the screenplay was written by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who a few years prior made The Matrix Trilogy. McTeigue was their first assistant director on those films and, in the years since, rumors spread that it was the Wachowskis, not McTeigue, who ended up directing most of the film. It’s only worth mentioning because it’s become one of the main talking points around the film which may have taken away from the simple fact that the movie is fantastic. Whatever the actual truth of the films’ creation is, there’s no mistaking it all worked out in the end.
V for Vendetta tells the story of London resident Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) who is attacked by local law enforcement and saved by a mysterious masked vigilante named V (Hugo Weaving). V is a “terrorist” who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and is fighting back against an oppressive government lead by High Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) who, we later learn, helped turn V into something of a super human. But V is wise and cunning and has an intricate plan to turn the world upside down.
Though we might remember V for Vendetta as primarily an action film, it’s much more of a political thriller. V’s plan for change is slowly revealed to the audience both through Evey’s story and a detective named Finch (Stephen Rea). Finch is on the inside of Sutler’s government so while at first he’s against V, he slowly starts to see he may be right. As additional details are revealed, things go from a simple tale of defiance to one of revenge, love, unity, and more.
As Evey, Portman is given an incredibly rich character to work with and she puts it all together beautifully. Evey starts as a seemingly normal woman who goes to work at the state-run British Television Network, has a demanding boss, and is fine with any fear she feels in the world. She befriends V after he takes her back to his home, intending to keep her there for a whole year, but runs away when she has the chance. She’s eventually captured, tortured, and threatened with death. All she has to do is tell them where V is. She won’t.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie before you know Evey’s imprisonment is a complete lie. V is behind it, simultaneously making sure she’s a trustworthy friend and removing all of Evey’s doubt within herself. It’s a dramatic, downright cruel course of action to be sure, but the ruse allows V for Vendetta not just to dig into the characters of V and Evey, but to tell its most lovely story. It’s the story of Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a young actress arrested, imprisoned, and eventually killed for being gay. Her life experience is told through notes (and flashbacks) on toilet paper passed through the walls of the “prison” to Evie. But we come to realize Valerie is already dead and it was V who first heard the tale from her.
Valerie’s tragic story of love lets us know what really matters in life and it gives the film an unexpectedly big heart. Even the way McTeigue shoots the scene gives it a bright, ethereal feeling which is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, which is mostly dark and shadowy. In an evil world filled with hate and violence, love has a way of making it all worthwhile.
There’s huge emotion beating in the middle of the film as V’s complex plan gets deeper and becomes clearer. Evey grows and becomes her own person, the supporting characters choose their sides, and eventually, dozens of little setups and story beats from throughout the film come together resulting in a finale that’s powerful and poignant, but also joyous. “Inspiring” is almost not strong enough a word to describe how you feel seeing a country band together against the bad times with hope and purpose. It’s exactly the kind of thing we could all use right now.
V for Vendetta was a moderate hit when it was released 15 years ago and, for some reason, isn’t quite as revered now as it could be. Maybe it was a bit too dark. A bit too bleak. A bit too on the nose. Nevertheless, almost everything about it is perfect, from the incredibly robust, introspective dialogue to the universally incredible performances from well-known actors. Portman may have won an Oscar a few years later for Black Swan but her performance as Evey is definitely on par with that. Plus, though you never see his full face, Weaving’s bravado-filled portrayal of V is absolutely electrifying.
No, this isn’t a movie to put on when you want a big dose of kick ass like you may remember, but it truly does kick ass in terms of inspiration, hope, and seeing a unique, fascinating hero for the ages.
V for Vendetta is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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