V for Vendetta (2005)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-6 ; L-5 ; S-1/N-1 . Running time: 2 hours 12 min. Warning: spoilers in the last paragraph of the review.

If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Exodus 21:23-25

The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
People will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’
Psalm 58: 10-11

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
Matthew 5:38-40

V for Vendetta

“(Revenge) is a meal endlessly cooked and seldom eaten.”
The old Abbe in The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Vengeance gets another work over in the Wachowski brothers’ version of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s mid-’80s graphic novel, written in protest against the Thatcher government. The filmmakers must have seen a similar relevancy to developments in the U.S.—or at least I am sure many viewers will, with America’s fear-driven slide toward security at almost all costs. James McTeigue, a protégé of the Wachowskis, keeps us glued to our seats, not just for the action and pyrotechnics, but also during the exchanges when ideas about justice and revolution are expounded. We might disagree with our masked hero V (Hugo Weaving), but we will agree that although he shares the element of a mask with the hero of Phantom of the Opera, he is a far more interesting person.

It is a number of years in the future. A deadly virus has swept through the world, reducing it to chaos. The U.S. is in ruins, but in Great Britain the people have turned to the fascist politician Sutler (John Hurt), trading their freedom for the security that he promises. Reminding us of George Orwell’s Big Brother, Sutler speaks to the people through giant television screens. Even his closest advisors, led by the opportunistic Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), see him only by this means.

Evey (Natalie Portman), a complacent TV reporter, is about to be raped by a group of “fingermen,” the secret police that harshly enforces the curfew, when V swoops in, quickly and ruthlessly killing the goons with his sword and knives. He takes her along to witness his spectacular feat of blowing up Old Bailey Court. Impressed, Evey goes her way, encountering V again when he invades the TV center where she works and commandeers it for a brief time so that he can broadcast to the nation that the story about the destruction of Old Bailey put out by Sutler is a lie, that he, V, blew it up as part of a revolution to rid the nation of its dictator. V starts to leave, when a police officer gets the drop on V. Evey comes up from behind and hits the officer on the head, thereby rescuing her rescuer.

V, making the quick decision that he must take her with him now that she will be regarded as a traitor, conducts her to his large lair where he has gathered many of the art treasures banned by Sutler. We gradually learn in the following scenes why V wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and why he has adopted the name V. Years before he had been part of a government experiment on a group of people that had gone horribly wrong. Kept in Cell V (the Roman numeral for 5), V had been terribly burned when the laboratory blew up. His mask and gloves cover up his disfigured skin. He has latched onto the figure of Guy Fawkes because in 1605, in an attempt to re-establish a Catholic King, Fawkes had plotted to blow up Parliament on Nov. 5. Ever since then, English children have recited a ditty about Fawkes and lit bonfires symbolizing the burning of his effigy.

In a series of gruesome killings, V exacts vengeance on the leaders of the camp where he and others had been subjected to so much suffering. These leaders include a right-wing TV host (Roger Allam), a bishop (John Standing) with a taste for boys; and the chief coroner, a lady physician (Sinead Cusack), the only one whom he kills gently because of her remorse for what she had done. To Evey V justifies his killing rampage by calling it justice. Hot on his trail is the apolitical, earnest Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) and his assistant who often go against the wishes of Creedy.

The grand finale a year after the film begins—V had promised the nation that a year later, on Nov. 5, he would carry out Guy Fawkes’ intention of blowing up Parliament—is spectacular, with thousands of citizens, energized during the year by V’s continual defiance and elusion of Sutler’s minions to capture him, marching right up to the line of police and soldiers prepared to open fire. All of the demonstrators wear the identical Guy Fawkes masks that V had sent out to them. Viewers might enjoy debating whether V is a terrorist justified by the film, or whether he is a freedom fighter like Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin or Irish rebel Michael Collins, both of whom had used terrorist tactics in the cause of their nations’ struggle for freedom. And where does Jesus’ words to Peter, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” fit in?

For Reflection/Discussion

: 1) The film begins with the original Guy Fawkes plot, his arrest and execution: what do you think his attempt to overthrow his government and put a Catholic back on the throne has to do with injustice and freedom?

2) What do you think of V’s statement, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Is this something that Patrick Henry might have said?

3) How do you feel about V’s use of violence, and his claim that “violence can be used for good?” Does vengeance and justice belong together, or does the former sometimes overwhelm the latter? Which do you believe defines V better: a terrorist, or a freedom fighter?

4) What other revolutions that did not turn out so well justified the use of terror and violence? How do they contain the seeds for future perversions of justice?

5) V’s favorite film that he shares with Evey is the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo: how does this fit in with this movie? And yet, how do they differ in regard to an understanding of vengeance and justice—at least in the 2002 version from which the above quotation is taken?

6) Christians concerned about alternatives to violence must deal with such writings in the Hebrew Scriptures as Psalms 58 & 18, as well as the wars of extermination in the books of Joshua and Samuel. Compare these to what Jesus taught in Matthew: if we consider the entire Bible as the word of God, how do you deal with the discrepancies?

7) What do you think of V’s statement, “Artists use lies to tell the truth, and politicians use lies to cover up the truth? (Recall the source of the first half—Picasso’s famous statement about art?) What are some examples of both portions of the statement that you know about?

8) If you really become interested in the issues the film raises, you might want to research what people who have suffered great wrongs in various are doing in regard to justice and vengeance. The United States Institute of Peace is a great source of information on all of the Truth Commissions that have been set up in countries once dominated by oppressive regimes, such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Guatemala. Go to http://www.usip.org/library/truth.html, where you will find background information and links to every TC now at work. This film is but a slick fantasy, but it deals with real issues that deserve serious thought.

V for Vendetta Rated R. Our ratings: V-6 ; L-5 ; S-1/N-1 . Running time: 2 hours 12 min.

Warning: spoilers in the last paragraph of the review.

If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:23-25

The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.

People will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’ Psalm 58: 10-11

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Matthew 5:38-40

“(Revenge) is a meal endlessly cooked and seldom eaten.” The old Abbe in The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Vengeance gets another work over in the Wachowski brothers’ version of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s mid-’80s graphic novel, written in protest against the Thatcher government. The filmmakers must have seen a similar relevancy to developments in the U.S.—or at least I am sure many viewers will, with America’s fear-driven slide toward security at almost all costs. James McTeigue, a protégé of the Wachowskis, keeps us glued to our seats, not just for the action and pyrotechnics, but also during the exchanges when ideas about justice and revolution are expounded. We might disagree with our masked hero V (Hugo Weaving), but we will agree that although he shares the element of a mask with the hero of Phantom of the Opera, he is a far more interesting person.

It is a number of years in the future. A deadly virus has swept through the world, reducing it to chaos. The U.S. is in ruins, but in Great Britain the people have turned to the fascist politician Sutler (John Hurt), trading their freedom for the security that he promises. Reminding us of George Orwell’s Big Brother, Sutler speaks to the people through giant television screens. Even his closest advisors, led by the opportunistic Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), see him only by this means.

Evey (Natalie Portman), a complacent TV reporter, is about to be raped by a group of “fingermen,” the secret police that harshly enforces the curfew, when V swoops in, quickly and ruthlessly killing the goons with his sword and knives. He takes her along to witness his spectacular feat of blowing up Old Bailey Court. Impressed, Evey goes her way, encountering V again when he invades the TV center where she works and commandeers it for a brief time so that he can broadcast to the nation that the story about the destruction of Old Bailey put out by Sutler is a lie, that he, V, blew it up as part of a revolution to rid the nation of its dictator. V starts to leave, when a police officer gets the drop on V. Evey comes up from behind and hits the officer on the head, thereby rescuing her rescuer.

V, making the quick decision that he must take her with him now that she will be regarded as a traitor, conducts her to his large lair where he has gathered many of the art treasures banned by Sutler. We gradually learn in the following scenes why V wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and why he has adopted the name V. Years before he had been part of a government experiment on a group of people that had gone horribly wrong. Kept in Cell V (the Roman numeral for 5), V had been terribly burned when the laboratory blew up. His mask and gloves cover up his disfigured skin. He has latched onto the figure of Guy Fawkes because in 1605, in an attempt to re-establish a Catholic King, Fawkes had plotted to blow up Parliament on Nov. 5. Ever since then, English children have recited a ditty about Fawkes and lit bonfires symbolizing the burning of his effigy.

In a series of gruesome killings, V exacts vengeance on the leaders of the camp where he and others had been subjected to so much suffering. These leaders include a right-wing TV host (Roger Allam), a bishop (John Standing) with a taste for boys; and the chief coroner, a lady physician (Sinead Cusack), the only one whom he kills gently because of her remorse for what she had done. To Evey V justifies his killing rampage by calling it justice. Hot on his trail is the apolitical, earnest Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) and his assistant who often go against the wishes of Creedy.

The grand finale a year after the film begins—V had promised the nation that a year later, on Nov. 5, he would carry out Guy Fawkes’ intention of blowing up Parliament—is spectacular, with thousands of citizens, energized during the year by V’s continual defiance and elusion of Sutler’s minions to capture him, marching right up to the line of police and soldiers prepared to open fire. All of the demonstrators wear the identical Guy Fawkes masks that V had sent out to them. Viewers might enjoy debating whether V is a terrorist justified by the film, or whether he is a freedom fighter like Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin or Irish rebel Michael Collins, both of whom had used terrorist tactics in the cause of their nations’ struggle for freedom. And where does Jesus’ words to Peter, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” fit in?

For Reflection/Discussion

: 1) The film begins with the original Guy Fawkes plot, his arrest and execution: what do you think his attempt to overthrow his government and put a Catholic back on the throne has to do with injustice and freedom?

2) What do you think of V’s statement, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Is this something that Patrick Henry might have said?

3) How do you feel about V’s use of violence, and his claim that “violence can be used for good?” Does vengeance and justice belong together, or does the former sometimes overwhelm the latter? Which do you believe defines V better: a terrorist, or a freedom fighter?

4) What other revolutions that did not turn out so well justified the use of terror and violence? How do they contain the seeds for future perversions of justice?

5) V’s favorite film that he shares with Evey is the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo: how does this fit in with this movie? And yet, how do they differ in regard to an understanding of vengeance and justice—at least in the 2002 version from which the above quotation is taken?

6) Christians concerned about alternatives to violence must deal with such writings in the Hebrew Scriptures as Psalms 58 & 18, as well as the wars of extermination in the books of Joshua and Samuel. Compare these to what Jesus taught in Matthew: if we consider the entire Bible as the word of God, how do you deal with the discrepancies?

7) What do you think of V’s statement, “Artists use lies to tell the truth, and politicians use lies to cover up the truth? (Recall the source of the first half—Picasso’s famous statement about art?) What are some examples of both portions of the statement that you know about?

8) If you really become interested in the issues the film raises, you might want to research what people who have suffered great wrongs in various are doing in regard to justice and vengeance. The United States Institute of Peace is a great source of information on all of the Truth Commissions that have been set up in countries once dominated by oppressive regimes, such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Guatemala. Go to http://www.usip.org/library/truth.html, where you will find background information and links to every TC now at work. This film is but a slick fantasy, but it deals with real issues that deserve serious thought.