V For Vendetta at 15: An Underappreciated Cultural Phenomenon

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When it comes to Western holidays, Hollywood pretty much has you covered for films to watch. There are countless Christmas films, so much so that maybe one could argue there are too many. There are hundreds of Valentine’s Day films and even more if you consider any romance film to be a suitable celebration. The same goes for Halloween and the horror genre. There are even quite a few Easter films. But there is only one Bonfire Night film. This is for a variety of reasons. One being that the aforementioned holidays are celebrated widely across the Western world. Guy Fawkes Night is very much a solely British affair. The other reason being that there is no point in making any more November 5th films because the perfect one already exists in V For Vendetta.

Die Hard is a film that many consider to be a Christmas film. But if you take Christmas out of the plot and replace with say, Thanksgiving, you’re left with virtually the same film. Sure, some one liners don’t work as well without the context of the Yuletide but Hans Gruber isn’t trying to stop Santa Clause. If you remove Guy Fawkes Night from the plot of V For Vendetta, you’re left with a much more hollow yet still slightly unique revenge thriller. The holiday is the entire essence of V’s character and without that he is essentially just a British version of The Punisher.

 

November 5th is a date where we remember a man who tried to stand up against persecution from an orthodox government by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. This is exactly what V succeeds in doing by the end of this film which cuts to black on Bonfire night. Though we now know that Guy Fawkes wasn’t quite the hero of the people that V seems to think. He was indeed a distraction to disguise the real masterminds of the terrorist plot. His image and what his holiday symbolises nevertheless lives on. As mentioned in V For Vendetta, the idea is more important than the man.

That idea is epitomised by the mask that covers V’s face for basically the entirety of the film. The Guy Fawkes mask is an iconic design that is not only a symbol of revolution in the context of the film but has since transcended to the same purpose in our world. The mask has become more recognisable than the film itself. Whenever people around the world protest against their government you will undoubtedly see at least a few people wearing that mask. Anonymous, a famous and mysterious group who spread their messages of protest online, wear the Guy Fawkes mask whenever they make an appearance. This group in turn inspired fSociety from the ground breaking television series Mr. Robot. fSociety wear Monopoly Man masks whenever they make a protest speech. Art and what it inspires comes full circle.

Films are obviously very often referenced by all sorts of people. Usually for a joke or maybe as a citation for an influence on other films. It is rare that a film is referenced in a political setting such as protest. V For Vendetta is a film that is not only referenced by film buffs but by people trying to make a difference in the world. That is something very hard to come by.

 

Why then do we talk so little of this film? It’s by no means regarded as poorly as films like X-Men: The Last Stand. But it’s certainly never mentioned in the same sentence as The Dark Knight. This may be because of the author of the original comic book, Alan Moore, denying its existence. Like with Watchmen, V For Vendetta is based on an original graphic novel by Alan Moore, but in the credits, he’s not mentioned. Only the illustrators behind both comics are mentioned in their respective ending titles. Moore famously never wants to be associated with any adaptations of his books. He argues that the films’ various screenwriters never understand the meaning behind what he writes.

If you have never read the original V For Vendetta comic, then you most certainly should, especially if you’re a fan of the film. There are some points that the film brushes over and other stuff that the screenwriters understandably decided to cut. But if you compare the film to the book, you can definitely see the same spirit there. The film definitely adapts the dystopia to reflect the world it was going to be released in. Moore’s writing is very much a comment on Margaret Thatcher and what she was doing politically in the 1980s. Whereas, James McTeigue’s film takes more of a stab at George W. Bush and the Patriot Act. This is largely Alan Moore’s issue. Whether you agree or disagree with Moore, however, you must admit that without the film, the comic would not be as well known outside of comic fandom.

It is therefore quite poignant that we should be celebrating the anniversary of V For Vendetta in such politically distressing times. After all, the film centres on a Britain that has been forced into strict restrictions due to the outbreak of a virus hat has killed hundreds of thousands. The film also shows politicians and commentators not unlike some of the kind we see on the web today. Though of course the world of V For Vendetta is much darker than ours. The St. Mary’s Virus was released by the Government under the guise of terrorism to win votes. Capital punishment is an all too common occurrence. All media and entertainment is controlled and monitored by the government. Though you can’t help noticing that the people are still allowed to go to the pub.

 

Putting all of the influence and predictions aside, V For Vendetta at its core is simply a perfect vigilante revenge film. The film contains some of the best monologues in cinematic history and never fails to produce tears in the audience by the end credits. Hugo Weaving gives what is one of his best ever performances in V. He’s obviously unrecognisable under the mask but also under all of the various alter egos that V becomes throughout the course of his plan. The film shows a very fluid and varied side to Weaving as an actor. A side that many casting directors neglect to see. Natalie Portman’s character arc of innocent young girl turned revolutionary is enthralling and heart-breaking for every minute. All of this supported by a fantastic ensemble including the late John Hurt and Tim Piggott Smith, Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry. Add to that some brilliant drama and action filmed with awesome production design and direction, sound tracked with a phenomenal score. With all of that, you’ve got yourself the quintessential revolution film.

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Freddie Deighton

Freddie is a Critic, Reporter and the Resident Batman Expert at FilmHounds. He has a degree in Digital Film Production from Ravensbourne University London. To find out all of Freddie's film opinions go to his Letterboxd - TheDeightonator

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