In the opening of the film V for Vendetta we are introduced to Evey, (Natalie Portman) and V in a cross-cutting sequence that immediately connects the two characters. As Evey is putting on heels and make-up for a night out, V (Hugo Weaving) sits in front of a mirror, in a chamber reminiscent of an actor's dressing room, putting on a mask and costume for his night out. There is the obvious desire to connect the notion of gender construction to V's costume. In the same way that Evey's heels and lipstick are paramount to a gender performance, V's mask is also part of a performance, an illusion that both hides his face from the outside world and a creates an identity to face the outside world with. In each instance it is an illusion -- malleable, inconsistent and evolving, just like the character of V.
The audience meets V, a verbose, Shakespeare quoting, knife wielding, ass kicking, anti-hero, whose face is obscured by a Guy Fawkes mask, as he gallantly saves Evey. Even in political films women are always in need of rescue. Once saved, their first unofficial date finds the pair on a rooftop with V orchestrating the demolition of the Old Bailey in time to the 1812 Overture blaring on government controlled loud speakers throughout the city. In one of many implausible plot turns, V reveals to Evey (a complete stranger) that he intends to blow up the parliament building on November 5th to commemorate the day Guy Fawkes attempted and failed in 1605, and to incite the masses to revolt against their oppressive government.
V for Vendetta, a morbid, dark and politically loaded film is set in the realm of a future dictatorship where all freedoms and liberty have been abolished in the name of security and order (sound familiar?). This future Britain, which looks too much like fascist Germany, is lead by Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt). The dictator rules with an iron fist, routinely making "undesirables" disappear, using the media as a tool to scare and subdue the masses, and commanding the twin ideologies of religion and nationalism to suppress any opposition to his power. The allusions to the present political regime in the United States are quite evident.
With its bombast and overly simplistic message of revolution, V could have turned into a cartoon, if it weren't for the present day political situation. I watched it just as the government mounted a media campaign to invade Iran, as former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned about how the erosion of the judiciary could lead to a dictatorship, and as the New York Times published an article about an elite special operations unit that converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center where soldiers tortured detainees while interrogating them. What would have been far-fetched and over the top, became all too creepy and real. The film explores a worst case scenario rooted in present-day developments. Subtlety is not the film's strong suite, but in the face of a media that is unwilling to critique the government, V for Vendetta is the most unflinchingly political export from Hollywood that I have seen in quite a while.
In the place of a succession of loud chases in Dolby surround sound pounding our eardrums, V is an action film where people occasionally stop to talk and images are allowed to unfold. With his penchant for theatrics, love of The Count of Monty Cristo and appreciation of art, music, and literature, V is a refreshingly flamboyant leading man and such a relief from the usual stony-faced, square jawed, silent and strong male protagonist.
Played against the backdrop of a corrupt and fascist regime, V could be considered a revolutionary, a terrorist, an anti-hero or a man with a bloodthirsty quest for vengeance. Perhaps, rather than being a hypocrite and inciting violence, while condemning the government for doing the same thing, V actually embodies all of these impulses. This is most obviously suggested by his name, which is not a real name, but merely a letter that can stand for multiple words and meanings. V is for Vengeance, V is for Villain, V stands for the Roman numeral five of the room he was kept in at a concentration camp, V is for Valerie, a fellow inmate, whose letter helps him transform into his present persona. Like his mask, his name is an illusion that hides his true past and present identity from the outside world.