V for Vendetta is a movie that you can sum up with a single phrase, “People shouldn’t fear their government; the government should fear its people.” The phrase has become so famous that I turned up 55,330 hits when looking for it on Google. Hugo Weaving (V) and Natalie Portman (Evey) provide an amazing depiction of an Orwellian world in which the government has taken over the lives of its citizens to protect them from a dire plague. The question of whether the loss of freedom is worth the perceived protection that government can provide is the locus of content in this movie. The location is England, but there are constant references to the United States, which is in chaos from the plague. The fate of the rest of the world is unimportant as far as the movie is concerned and knowing how the rest of the world has fared would only prove to be a distraction. (The movie is an adaptation of the V for Vendetta graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd.)
To understand the movie completely, you have to consider both recent and historical facts. The Gunpowder Revolution was a failed attempt to garner religious freedom during the reign of King James I in 1605. Knowing that most Americans know nothing about the Gunpowder Revolution or one of its favored participants, Guy Fawkes, the movie does take time to explain both in a short overview manner that doesn’t detract from the flow or entertainment value of the movie even a little. The reason Guy Fawkes is important is not the man, but the idea encapsulated by the man’s actions. Freedom to be who you want to be is the focus of both the movie and the history event. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated each November 5th with bonfires and fireworks.
Recent history comes into play because the movie makes constant references to the sorts of things that are happening in the American political arena today. Some people have gone so far as to cast the movie as anti-American, while others see it as a call for political activities, such as the Occupy movement. There are even some groups that are drawing a parallel between the events in the movie and the loss of freedoms engendered by the events of 9/11. Let’s just say that the movie is good at stirring a strong emotional reaction, no matter what your politics may be.
There are elements of the movie that will make people uncomfortable. It addresses a considerable number of sensitive topics and I have no doubt that some people are offended by the coverage. For example, it portrays gay and lesbian lovers in a relatively open way.
I don’t actually go to the movies to decide my political ideals and motivations, but any review of this movie has to necessarily include some information on that content. The biggest question is whether the movie is still entertaining, despite the message it tries to present (successfully or not depends on you). There are definite science fiction elements of the apocalyptic genre. You’ll also see strong emotional elements (other than the politics). In some respects, the movie is a hard core love story between V and Evey (no, you won’t see scenes of heavy breathing, but the tension between the two becomes obvious as the movie progresses). The movie draws most people in and you find yourself caring for the main characters quite quickly.
The surprising aspect of this movie is that there is also a mystery element. Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) spends considerable time trying to track V down. However, the chase leads Finch in unexpected directions. Telling you too much about them would ruin the surprises, but it really does make for a good mystery. While V tells you about the price of freedom and Evey tells you about the price of love, Finch reveals the story behind both.
If you’re looking for dramatic graphics and special effects, this movie does have some of both, but tastefully keeps them under control because it has such as strong story to tell. You may be disappointed if you truly expect to see an overwhelming assortment of chases, escapes, and pyrotechnics, but I think the makers of this movie made great choices in their selection of visual elements.
I’d love to say that this movie is pure entertainment, but you’d have to work hard to ignore the messages it presents. Despite your best efforts, it will likely cause you to think about things that you may not have otherwise thought about. The entertainment aspect really is top notch, but the strong story elements make this movie so much more than simple entertainment. Be prepared to have some aspect of your current viewpoints challenged because this movie seems to pick on a wide range of popular notions. V for Vendetta is an amazing movie.