V for Vendetta (2005)

Julia Roberts is good at smiling, as is Tom Cruise, but Hugo Weaving’s specialty is frowning. We’ve seen him as Elrond in LOTR, as Agent Smith in The Matrix, and as Old Georgie et al. in Cloud Atlas… the man is seriously good at frowning! Sadly, in V for Vendetta, we don’t get to see his face any more than we do when he voices Megatron.

Roger Ebert says:

“I was reminded of my problem with Thomas the Tank Engine: If something talks, its lips should move.”

I’m with you, Roger. The mask makes the quasi-romance between Evey and V particularly weird. By the way, which one is the protagonist? Evey is the, um, vehicle for our vicarious viewpoint, and the more prominent face on what seem to be the official materials promoting the film (see above).

If Evey once was the protagonist, certainly V has now eclipsed her. Or rather, the mask has. It now has a life of its own. It’s been appropriated (perhaps ironically; buy one here) by various groups, especially the hacker network Anonymous, as a symbol of their desire to stick it to the man. I mean, okay, I guess. It’s a handy symbol, for sure, since apparently it can mean almost anything you want it to, as long as you’re, you know, against something.


For more thoughts, including SPOILERS, see below.

Though I’ve yet to read the comic book (which is sitting just over there on a shelf in the hallway), by all accounts the Wachowskis made the story happier than it started out (as with Cloud Atlas). Hit films need heroes, not depressingly unassailable tyrannies. Yet while I’ve been known to condone any number of implausible plots involving teen heroes, Batman and other fragile humans, this story about a girl who meets a weird guy in a mask and singlehandedly overthrows a totalitarian dictatorship struck me as overly fanciful. The problem could be that ridiculous speech at the beginning that’s full of v-words, which sets a tone that is rather more silly than philosophical, or it could be, fundamentally, this kind of thing:

CREEDY: You’ve got nothing. Nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks. We have guns.
V: No, what you have are bullets, and the hope that when your guns are empty I’m no longer be standing, because if I am you’ll all be dead before you’ve reloaded.

DOMINIC: What do you think will happen?
FINCH: What usually happens when people without guns stand up to people *with* guns.

How is it that, the people with guns lose against knives in the one case and passive resistance in the other? (I’m okay with armies of stormtroopers who always miss losing to a handful of rebels who don’t, perhaps because at least both sides have guns.) I guess bloody battles plus the triumph of hope just doesn’t compute. Or, like Robert, I don’t like architectural icons being demolished for the sake of rhetoric.

Actually, you know what it is? It’s that I’m uncomfortable with a hero who clearly believes the ends justify the means. He doesn’t acknowledge anyone’s authority, or perhaps even the idea of authority per se. That makes him a loose cannon. Maybe his methods would have seemed justified if the tyranny were bleaker; at some point, any violent act can be interpreted as self-defense.

Time to read that comic book.