“Terrorist vs. Freedom Fighter” as a Plot Device
The 2005 film version of V for Vendetta directed by James McTeigue and produced by the Wachowski Brothers is the most obvious example of the increasing desire for heroic cinematic revolutionaries. Films nowadays never hesitate to have the protagonist take the form of a revolutionary who is labeled a terrorist by the powers-that-be. The familiar ideas of revolution have been projected on-screen to the approval of the masses for the last decade. This is to be expected given the circumstances of our time with the rottenness of imperialism and capitalism leaving one alienated and in search of a new social order.
The film shows explicitly the connection between the ruling fascist party and the bourgeoisie of the pharmaceutical company. The film does embrace the Marxist perception of how the state operates, and also acknowledges that fascism is the most openly terrorist form of capitalist government. It also defends the rights of groups such as blacks, Muslims, homosexuals, women and communists. The horrors of fascism are not spared or whitewashed. There is systematic ethnic cleansing shown, as well as torture and medical experimentation on “undesirable” groups. At one point a character is executed for possessing a Qur’an, just like in America and the UK today it is certainly not fun being a Muslim.
The movie version of Britain is in a permanent state of emergency to justify persecution and free-for-all for corporations. The threat of terrorism is blamed for these measures. The movie conjures a mockery of Rush Limbaugh in the form of Lewis Prothero, a prescription-addicted TV and radio host that is a puppet voice for Norsefire. V for Vendetta shows a possible future given the decay of capitalism—a world ravaged by wars and plagues, and countries replacing bourgeois democracy with fascism.
V for Vendetta also endorses the right to rebel against reactionaries. Throughout the story, V personally kills state officials and individuals responsible for committing or aiding the crimes of the Norsefire regime. V’s idol is Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo, a novel based on justice by those wronged. V’s actions are shown as just retribution and there is no moral equivalency to be made between him and the Norsefire regime. Hugo Weaving does an excellent job voicing V and gives the character charisma and presence. This allows him to make his political speeches very well. The audience takes an instant liking to the character and he seems humanized in spite of his mask. Natalie Portman is competent in her performance as Evey, though before her “transformation” into a revolutionary her timidness and small physical size reeked too much of the damsel-in-distress formula. As always, John Hurt gives an amazing performance as dictator Adam Sutler. He is genuinely intimidating as Chancellor. The special effects and action are riveting as you would expect from those involved with the Matrix films.
This film is well-made, mostly well-acted and does endorse revolution, and because of that it gets a passing grade.
Anarchism & Political Perception of V
The film, while progressive, is in other places bogged down by anarchist politics. The events that happen are shown as merely the actions of a handful of greedy, power-hungry oligarchs and nothing more. Aside from the links between the bourgeoisie and the state there is not a lot of class struggle or anti-colonialist flavor to either the book or the movie. It is purely anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian and pro-revolution.
The character V in the original book is an explicit and self-conscious anarchist. This is not as clear in the film. The most “anarchist” scenes from Alan Moore’s comic were cut from the movie, such as the famous scene where V engages in a “conversation” with a statue of Lady Justice, claiming she has betrayed him and he no longer believes in justice under the system, he now only believes in anarchism. He then blows up the statue.
The result of these scenes being cut is two-fold. On the one hand, it does away with anarchist labels and allows the viewer to imagine V as any type of revolutionary one wants. This is a somewhat positive thing. However, as Alan Moore himself has complained, it allows the viewer to see the film as merely a fight between neo-conservatism and liberalism or as a cheap anti-Bush film with a more “radical” edge.
Individualism & Adventurism
The main weakness that bothers me about V’s revolutionary plans is that he seeks to smash the capitalist and fascist state, but no hint is given of what he wants in its place. I assume anarchy, but this is never discussed. V claims to be a personification of the power of ideas, and though he eloquently gives speeches about the horrors of the current system he seems to have no plan or example for how he thinks society should be organized. As well, his tactics are true to the anarchist form—he performs isolated, individual acts of adventurism by blowing up landmarks. In reality, stunts like this would not provoke an uprising in of themselves. Mass organizing and raising awareness would be required. One example of this is the scene where V hijacks a TV station, but his techniques mostly revolve around terror.
The final sequence of the citizenry storming the British Parliament in the style of the Winter Palace may be riveting, but the political goals of it are not clear. The story seems to think that the masses, cowed into submission by fascism, require the adventurist actions of a few superheroes to “wake them up.” This unrealistic view of revolution is somewhat excusable in a science fiction film, but not so in real life. This film does not blur the line between a terrorist and a freedom fighter so much as it blurs the line between a well-meaning idealist and a freedom fighter. Is this a way to run a revolution? Judging by V for Vendetta’s box office success (making three times its budget), audiences get it, scientific or not.
The APL recommends this film. V for Vendetta may not have a realistic portrayal of how revolutions actually happen, but for our time and for our age, it has served its purpose of putting the idea of revolution back into the hearts and minds of people.