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James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta

Voracious violation of volition and a vichyssoise of verbiage

The concept of one’s favorite film is an elusive one to me but if I’m allowed to name only a handful or two handful, V for Vendetta will always make the cut. It’s a film that has left its mark on me ever since I first saw it in the cinema at age 16 and it has continued to affect me, move me and comfort me various times over the years because its mood, its characters, its sense of sights and sounds just resonates with me. So much so in fact, that I felt compelled to finally put all my thoughts on it over the years into one cohesive review, celebrating the sum of its parts by celebrating its individual strengths. Its themes are timeless and its storytelling is engrossing and affecting. It’s an instant classic if I ever saw one and I shall hold the film dear to my heart for as long as I live.

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Nov 5, 2022

© 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The fact that I've seen this film numerous times since it originally came out — and once a year for at least 9 years in a row now — should tell anyone how much I love this film. Like clockwork, I come back to it every year to honor the day, the 5th of November, the symbol, the ideas that V stands for and to never forget about the cruelties that people are capable of inflicting on other people if led by self-serving leaders, who use an ideology they don’t even subscribe to themselves just to gain and remain in power, until they’ve wrung out the country and its citizens, distracting the ignorant away from humanity’s problems by giving them someone to other and to blame for their personal ones.

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that this film is getting more and more relevant and documentary-like with every passing year and that is likely a fact to be lamented rather than celebrated but, in the aftermath of authoritarian bullies who clung onto power in vain and nationalism — despite singing renewed hurrahs in certain parts of the world —being defeated in others, it equally fills me with a sense of bittersweetness and hope. If enough people truly want the world to change for the better, it can happen if each one of us fights for it the best way we can — even if, while we’re in the fight, it may feel like we are getting further and further away from that desired reality rather than closer to it. The parallels between the film and our recent past and present are shockingly obvious and, having witnessed a Usurping Strongman Administration’s rallying cry to stop legal votes from being counted, it becomes hard to view this as inspiring escapism but it's all still in there: The emotion, the characters, and the ideas they stand for, fight for, die for.

© 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“For three years I had roses and apologized to no one.”

There's so much beauty in this film that I cannot help but choke up various times throughout every single time I watch it, despite knowing how the events will unfold. While flashbacks are sometimes considered lazy, resolution-delaying storytelling devices, they are so much more than that if they're done right and done as well as they are in V for Vendetta. They’re told in such a vivid way and are so supremely moving as are the side stories told within them. Then again, they're not really side stories after all. Every event in the past has an echo into the present and every present action will echo into the future, all falling into place like dominoes set in motion — all it takes is one domino to push the others forward. That's the ultimate statement the film makes and it's an emotionally engaging one at that, captured in beautiful images by late cinematographer Adrian Biddle. For the cinephiles among you out there, there are split diopter shots aplenty in Biddle’s stunning cinematography and the score by Dario Marianelli is both marvelously somber and epic, weaving in unforgettable classical music needle drops but also finding the action beats where needed.

On the casting side it is truly a crying shame that Hugo Weaving’s performance wasn’t recognized by the Academy as it is a truly remarkable testament to the man and his craft that he can act like this through a mask without his real face ever making so much as an appearance. The rest of the casting is equally astonishing, with Natalie Portman in particular selling her transition from demure errand girl into a self-assured, fearless human being, but the most ingenious performance is probably that of the late John Hurt as the despicable Adam Sutler, who is only ever seen shouting from screens until showing his miserable true face at the very end.

Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.

That quote right there is my view on the relationship between filmmaker and audience, telling you how you're meant to watch films in a nutshell. And yet, there are so many more great lines that the film has to offer:

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November…”

There's no certainty, only opportunity.”

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Every time I've seen this world change, it's always been for the worse.”

Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”

A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.”

© 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Any film is lucky to have one or perhaps two instantly quotable lines of dialogue that will stay with you, or enter the zeitgeist even, but there are so many good lines in V for Vendetta that I could go on quoting them all day.

While the film closes with a sense of hopefulness, in the end these aspects always tend to give way to the tragedy and saddening events for me and they put me in a somber, reflective mood, which is a mood that I wish more people would be open to experience — as a life only ever filled with joy and positive vibes is just as empty as one that can't see or find the joy in the simple and beautiful things this world occasionally has to offer. I wish more people in the world would see films the way I see them, feel them as I feel them and seek as I seek to let them in emotionally rather than trying to internalize them rationally. If that happened, we would have a world full of people celebrating the fact that different does not equal detestable and that the importance of freedom and a true openness to the plight of others — however challenging it may be to put yourself in their shoes — should never, ever be forgot.

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