Textual Analysis: V For Vendetta (Film adaptation)

 First released in 2005, the film V For Vendetta attempts to tell the story of a fictional anarchist who fights to discredit, and eventually dismember the seemingly fascist regime that rules modern day England. The film has often been paraded as an inspiration for many
anarchists and social activists alike, with the story’s protagonist as the figure head. The protagonist in the story is particularly interesting due the agency he holds, and how the protagonist maintains a certain type of anonymity throughout the entire film. The protagonist dresses in all black, wears a wig, a top hat, a Guy Fawkes mask and simply goes by the name V. By doing this, the film makers attempt to create a persona, that is identified not by it’s name, or the gender, but by it’s convictions. In the case of V, they attempted to create an embodiment of anarchy. However they were not successful, and instead created a character with a history, a story, and even a lover. While V For Vendetta may be aesthetically pleasing, and amusing it does not create an embodiment of anarchy, and thus fails on it’s central theme.

 The movie begins with a promising and intriguing scene in which the viewer sees two people getting dressed (simultaneously yet in different rooms) while watching the “BTN News” network. One character is a beautiful woman, slipping on her black dress (the viewer later learns this to be Evey). The other character in this scene is V, and as V is putting on the mask, wig, and cape, the viewer is confronted with some ambiguity (V For Vendetta). This scene leaves the viewer with questions such as; Who is this person in a wig? Why does this person need to wear a mask? Is this person a man or a woman? These, all being legitimate questions would remain unanswered through the end of the film if the film makers had succeeded in creating a true embodiment of anarchy. However, in the immediate next scene the ambiguity is lost.

As Evey is walking to her uncle’s apartment, she is confronted by a group of corrupt “policemen” who attempt to rape her. These men would have succeeded if it wasn’t for the entrance of V. After V disposes of these men in a very violent fashion we learn that V is actually a man. V tells Evey in a deep masculine voice that; “What I am is a man in a mask” (V For Vendetta). This simple response gives away so much of the ambiguity created in the beginning of the film. No longer is the viewer asking who is it? The question instead becomes who is he?

Several scenes later we find several detectives who have been tasked with determining who this masked person could be. Just like clockwork, Dominic says; “I don’t get it. Why does he wear a Guy Fawkes mask and then blow up the Bailey? Didn’t Fawkes try to blow up Parliament?” (V for Vendetta). Dominic’s specific use of the pronoun “he” continues to help leave no grey area, by which a viewer could suspect V to be more than “A man in a mask” (V For Vendetta). Thus, in this scene V is simply painted as a male psychotic terrorist that must be apprehended, or more destruction and chaos will ensue.

Beyond the simple instances in the film where characters refer to V as “he”, or “him”, there are several other choices that were made that work to create a human, and destroy the theory of V as an embodiment of anarchy. Many of these instances occur in scenes with only Evey and V. One of these instances occurs when Evey finds V cooking a meal for her in the kitchen. The viewer first sees a shot of a terribly burnt hand holding a skillet as the melody of “Girl From Ipanema” plays in the background. As Evey enters the room she immediately notices the deformed skin and incredulously stutters “Your hands!”, V then responds by hastily putting on his leather gloves again and quickly changing the subject (V For Vendetta). In this scene the viewer knows that there is something that hasn’t been revealed about the history of the protagonist. The viewer is privy to the fact that V’s hands are deformed and one can inference that perhaps the rest of his body is deformed as well. This choice turns the focus of the film further away from what V wishes to accomplish politically, and more towards V’s history and his character.

The next thirty minutes of the film are dedicated to a history of what atrocities occurred at Larkhill Detention Centre. This is where the viewer learns more about V’s history and character. The viewer learns how V was tortured for several years, and how all the prisoners at the centre were abused and treated like less than human beings. While the viewer learns all this information, they also learn how V found a way to rebel and eventually cause a deadly explosion to facilitate in his escape from the prison (V For Vendetta). This particular subplot of the movie further leads the viewer away from the V’s plans for taking down the fascist government, and incite anarchy. Instead this subplot, appeals to the emotions of the viewers and paints V as a victim. Instead of explicitly supporting V for his political agenda, the viewer is opened to the option of supporting V’s actions because it acts as a type of vigilante justice against those who committed these atrocities. The story then becomes much less about the evolution of the society, than the V’s plans for revenge.

Perhaps one of the most emotional scenes in the movie shows how, towards the end of the film, not even V can justify his actions as anarchy anymore. Following the scene in which Evey is set free, she comes to talk to V and confess that she must depart from his shadow gallery. V walks her over to a giant bouquet of flowers and a conversation ensues. This conversation leads V to admit that the murders that were committed were fueled by what occurred in Larkhill. V is retaliating for the torture he had to endure. After V admits to this, Evey exits and doesn’t come back for some time. However when she does return, Evey seems suddenly to have romantic feelings towards V. As they slowly dance Evey whispers; “I don’t understand, how you can be one of the most important things that has ever happened to me and yet I know almost nothing about you. I don’t know where you were born, who your parents were, whether you have any brothers and sisters. I don’t even know what you really look like” (V For Vendetta). It becomes evident that Evey sees something in V that she did not see the first night in that alley. Evey had undoubtedly gone through a transformation during the film, however after her transformation Evey became more interested in V as a man, than the ideas that he stood for. Evey’s expression of love all culminates in an emotional scene where she grasps V’s mask and kisses it’s lips (V For Vendetta). This great display of emotion just further defines V as simply a man, and takes the character the film has created further away from an embodiment of anarchy.

Often when film makers attempt to tell a story that has a primary theme, they are successful in doing so, however sometimes they become too caught up in aspects of film that we have learned to understand as necessary. Cinematic themes such as love, and revenge work their way into stories just as they did in V For Vendetta, and dilute the meaning. V For Vendetta fails to create an embodiment of Anarchy, instead it creates a man. While V may be an extraordinary man, in this film he is still nothing more than a man.

Works Cited:

V For Vendetta. Dir. James McTeigue. Perf. Hugo Weaving & Natalie Portman. Warner Home Video, 2006. DVD.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.