V for Vendetta – A Dystopia with a utopian view of the world.

Written by on February 19, 2019

V for Vendetta, the 2005 film based on a graphic novel of the same name, has been one of my favourite films since it was released, and was in my DVD collection (remember those) as soon as that was possible. The theme of the film is not only revenge but freedom, with severe political overtones, which, in the best tradition of dystopian fiction, can be applied to the world today. The overall messages of such stories are pointed out so often that the vast majority of people are numb to the meaning, to the parallels, or even to the message itself. There are shrugs, platitudes of the “well there’s nothing we can do about it” variety, or outright dismissal.

Since it’s release the adaptation of graphic novels and comic books into big screen casual effects displays have reached fever pitch and maximum popularity. In doing so the exploration of political ideas and themes in any real way has all but disappeared, with perhaps the exception of Black Panther and Infinity War, but you can read about those films in your own time. There is perhaps a notable exception with Watchmen in terms of this trend, but overall there is a great deal of style with little or no substance to speak of.

V as a whole looks at one man’s search for revenge upon a group that were responsible for his imprisonment, experimentation and torture over a number of years. In his search for revenge his actions bring about the toppling of an authoritarian government and the unveiling of a plot to manufacture a health crisis in order to seize power, which was ultimately successful. The film showcases the lengths that people will go to for power, and to hold on to it. There can be questions raised as to the government’s actions and reactions, as well as the media’s involvement in driving up the ‘fear factor’ in terms of public perception.

Terrorism has been a huge focus of the world’s media and governments since 2001, with large scale attacks occurring on a semi regular basis all over the western world. As a result of these attacks the social freedoms that the people held in the 20th century have been gradually, or not so gradually in some cases, eroded. This has usually done with little lasting outcry due to the level of fear that was instilled in the public, who then turned to the government for protection and were willing to sacrifice freedoms in order to get this.

Such is the level of fear that the very people who were once hailed as heroes for exposing the over reach of such programs and laws are now vilified as we get more comfortable in our captivity. There is so much to distract us that the fact that I have gone over 400 words will mean that there is only a fraction of people that will have read this last sentence. There is only a 40% chance that any potential audience has read past the headline (or rather that was the case in 2015 when studies were done on such things, and the chance is potentially lower now).

There is a question that is raised in V for Vendetta when the conspiracy to seize power is revealed to one of the investigating police officers, when he asks a colleague “would you want to know?” to the scenario of the government being behind the attacks. The question is whether they should go public with the information. This is a very important moment, not only in terms of the film but for us to consider in real life. Would you rather know what is happening or exist in blissful ignorance? I would always argue in terms of more information, but then what can you do about it?

V solves this problem by appealing directly to the people. With a number of high profile stunts the public is won over to his side, politicians are exposed and the government is shown to be corrupt. In an act of defiance, the public dress as the character V and convene en masse to watch the ‘terrorist’s’ final act, blowing up the houses of parliament. The film ends with the presumption that the people rise up against the government and win back their freedom. The message is uplifting, and in a sense, shows us that one person can make a difference, and can right an injustice.

However this is where the parallel to real life ends, and perhaps this film shows the differences in generations, given that it was released in its original graphic novel form in 1982. The film was released in a time when laws had been changed and there was more fear. There were also more people trying to show the injustices of government than they are now. The world has settled into the soft malaise caused by the actions of a few in the earliest times of the current century. The people who wish to upset this now, such as V, are seen as enemies and the smallest social points are what is focused on rather than the issues that would perhaps effect the largest number of people.

If we consider that we are now all aware that we are being tracked and spied upon every minute of every day, and have accepted this as a part of living in the modern world then you have to consider that the overall message of V for Vendetta has not only been forgotten, but so has the will, that seemed so obvious when the book and film were written that it didn’t need to be overtly stated, for freedom. We have taken for granted for so long we did not notice that it was softly lifted from us as we slept, like so many children’s toys.

V for Vendetta stands now in a new light in my collection. It is still powerful in it’s message and execution and I still feel that it is important, but now there is a new dynamic. In this 1980s dystopia there was still hope that the foreseen tyranny could be overthrown by the collective will and action of the populace. But as we see in the real world, most recently with the French Yellow Vest protests, the media show you what you want to see, there is an almost unlimited number of other things you can watch that will distract you from these issues, and in a lot of cases such things will mostly be ignored. There was a time when a riot in a major city would be headline news, but the prolonged action becomes either too boring or too dangerous to show the general public. In France it seems they still have an appetite for such things, but they are in the minority in these times, we are all the weaker for it.

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