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"Governments should fear the people"
R is for revolution

Review by Amy Muldoon | March 31, 2006 | Page 9

V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue, starring Natalie Portman and Huge Weaving.

"PEOPLE SHOULDN'T fear their governments, governments should fear their people." This refreshingly revolutionary line is delivered in the climax of V for Vendetta, the new anarchist fantasy by Matrix creators Andy and Larry Wachowski.

Mainstream films have capitalized on the distrust of Corporate America and fury at President Bush in veiled ways, a la Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, or with historical allusions, a la Good Night, and Good Luck. But V is the first to unapologetically demand the overthrow of the government and condone the use of violence, even terrorism, as a means to accomplish it.

Originally written as a comic book by Alan Moore for DC/Vertigo Comics between 1981 and 1988, the movie tells the story of V, a masked rebel who incites the overthrow of a future totalitarian Britain.

While set in Britain and drawing on British cultural references (V for Victory, Guy Fawkes), the film is an action-adventure call to arms against the current American regime.

In the story, Britain's Christian fascist rulers rose to power riding a wave of xenophobia following a biological attack, for which several Arabs were convicted and executed. Camps for undesirables--Arabs, homosexuals and political activists--have claimed thousands.

The threat of being "black bagged"--grabbed by the secret police who are known as "fingermen"--constantly looms. Naked prisoners with black bags over their head appear and reappear, deliberately invoking Abu Graib and Guantánamo.

Popular culture is rife with racist depictions of Arabs and Muslims. There's even a blowhard Bill O'Reilly clone known as "The Voice of London" who attacks "the former United States" for being "godless."

V bursts onto the scene blowing up the Old Bailey (London's High Court) on Guy Fawkes Day, the anniversary of a foiled 1605 plot to blow up the Parliament. On his way to the fireworks, he rescues Evey Hammond from fingermen who are about to rape her for being out past curfew.

As chance would have it, when he breaks into the state TV station the next day to broadcast his call for an uprising, it's Evey's workplace and she now helps him escape, thereby binding their fates. But Evey professes doubt about V's crusade. "Every time I've seen the world change," she argues, "I've seen it change for the worse."

As the government becomes more convinced that V has popular sympathy through phone taps and surveillance of ordinary people, High Chancellor Sutler tells his various propaganda and spy minions to "remind people why they need us." Immediately, we see Fox-worthy news reports about foreign terrorists, food riots and the avian flu.

Through the investigations of Detective Finch, we learn the intertwined stories of government corruption, medical malfeasance and profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies that are the truth behind the fascists' rise to power and V's origins.

This is the story of a ruling group so callous and brutal they sacrifice thousands of lives for power and profit--a thinly veiled suggestion about what disasters our own government might have engineered.

While V scolds the population for not rising up against the fascists, it's clear that fear is the main obstacle to dissent.

The turning point of the movie is Evey's personal transformation while in detention. Reading the notes of a fellow prisoner who refuses to renounce her lesbianism and chooses death over betrayal, Evey decides she would rather die than inform on V and destroy any hope of change.

While Evey achieves a sort of personal liberation, this movie (unlike The Matrix) makes it clear that it takes more than "freeing your mind" to change the world. The institutions that govern and oppress us must be torn down and replaced with a society based on democracy.

V is the archetypal anarchist martyr who sparks revolution, but the movie makes clear he could have been anybody (an idea more fully developed by the comic book ending). And the movie makes the point that, as V tells Evey early on, "Ideas, when they move masses of people, have great power."

Go see V for Vendetta and cheer the downfall of a fictional regime, and get inspired to organize against this one.

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