I remember-remembered the fifth of November and re-watched V for Vendetta for the n-th time. Loosely based on the story of Guy Fawkes and his failed Gunpowder plot against the British monarchy, V for Vendetta uses the famous rhyme about the Bonfire Night — “Remember, remember! /The fifth of November/ The Gunpowder treason and plot;/ I know of no reason/ Why the Gunpowder treason/ Should ever be forgot!” — as an entry point to a new imagined reality. Whether it is set in an imaginary past or future, the audience cannot really tell. It is all part of the mystique and masterful direction of the Wachowskis that has the viewers even question whether they are really watching a piece of fiction.
Set in a dystopian United Kingdom, V for Vendetta tells the story of a person known as V, who aims to reveal the dark secrets of the authoritarian government of this imaginary world. Since this is a spoiler-free review, this is all I am going to share as far as the plot of the movie goes. But this film is so much more than a piece of art.
Even though it was produced in the early 2000s, there is still so much to learn from it. For starters, it does question the meaning of celebrating Bonfire Night. After all, what happened some four centuries ago was an attempted coup organized by Guy Fawkes. So, why did the Brits create a whole festival around such an act of violence? One answer the movie gives us is that celebrations are never about the person, the event or the object of the festivities. It is more about the act of getting together and establishing a symbol that defines a common identity. In short, the Brits are probably not celebrating the Gunpowder plot itself, but rather the resilience of their national symbols.
The movie itself created a powerful political symbol. The mask, which the main character V never takes off, has become synonymous with activist demonstrations of silenced or marginalized peoples around the globe. It has naturally been abused as an excellent Halloween costume which goes to show that even the simple act of dressing up as someone, doing an impression of a character or a real person both, is in itself a political action or expression of a political view because, in a way, you represent your values and feel freer to express them when not “wearing” your own face.
Finally, the director James McTeigue and the Wachowskis chose to center the movie around the idea of media exploitation. In the age of information, it is all the more important we remain vigilant about what information we consume and how we consume it. We already know the harrowing results of the investigation on how social media influenced the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. Yet this is far from the limit of the influence media can have on our perception of the world. It can make us feel so small and so lost in a vast ocean of stories, important or insignificant, that we give up our agency and sense of purpose and power over our own lives, which is exactly what has happened to the society in V for Vendetta.
The movie does not lack stunning visuals as well: it is one of the most cinematically mesmerizing movies I have ever watched. And everything is done with such attention to detail and genuine love for cinema, that even the action scenes seem imbued with meaning. Even if you are simply looking for an entertaining watch, V for Vendetta would be a great choice. But I do encourage all that have not seen it before to approach it with a learning mindset and reflect on the messages hidden in all the stunning visual effects, especially watching it in the post-pandemic times … .
Yana Peeva is Senior Columns Editor. Email them at email@example.com.