Watching V for Vendetta (The Wachowski brothers’ adaptation of Alan Moore’s 1980’s graphic novel) on November 5th has been a pop culture trend since the film’s release in 2005. The correlation between that date and viewing the movie is based upon the film’s portrayal of the day as the culmination of protagonist V’s Guy Fawkes-inspired plot of revolutionary violence.
However, the pop cultural assimilation of the film’s narrative and imagery represents a dangerous domestication of the radical nature of the story. Spoilers follow.
The film has been both widely criticized and praised for its positive portrayal of seemingly terroristic violence. It initially seems strange that a film that contains elements of such radical ideology would be so widely accepted. In order for such a film to gain mainstream acceptance its content must be made palatable for a generally non-radical audience while still preserving enough of a political message for the story to be compelling.
The way this is accomplished is a reframing of the conflict within the film from the vision of its source material. The graphic novel is about the dynamic between anarchism and fascism. It portrays V as a revolutionary terrorist who has given up on justice in favor of anarchy and the Norsefire party as a Thatcher-inspired fascist takeover of Britain.
While Moore is an unapologetic proponent of anarchism, he uses the story to draw out the parallels between state terror and revolutionary terror. The exploration of that intersection is lost in the film, which portrays V as a freedom fighter with American liberal values and the Norsefire party as the fruition of authoritarian neoconservative politics (that includes obvious caricatures of individuals such as Bill O’Reilly and Dick Cheney).
By using Alan Moore’s violent anarchist imagery to create a liberal parable about American politics, American viewers are enabled to take in the most radical aspects of the story without truly experiencing them. There is a distance created between the cleansing, divine violence the story portrays and the audience.
To recapture the radical insights that Moore intended, we must imagine the same story set in America. We must imagine that it is not Old Bailey and Parliament that V destroys but the White House and Capitol Building. Only then can we grasp the true weight of the radical violence at the heart of the narrative.
The film is certainly not without merit.
Even more so than the graphic novel, it exemplifies a kind of revolutionary overhaul of society that the Occupy movement could only dream of. Despite the Wachowski’s liberal domestication of V’s ideology, moments of radical insight are no less present. The cataclysmic purifying act of divine violence which the characters Evey and Finch commit toward the end of the film cannot be ignored.
In destroying Parliament they exercise a supreme ethical act of divine violence by assuming unto themselves the sovereign decision to bring the final part of V’s revolutionary terror to fruition. If we do not grasp the significance of the narrative, then the film, in effect, becomes anti-revolutionary propaganda, allowing us to feel anti-state sentiment while never acknowledging the call to act upon it.
November 5th will become a day that allows us catharsis from our frustration with the structural injustice of the media, church, and government and in doing so works in the interest of those very powers.
To give V for Vendetta the power it deserves, we must realize its lesson is not to “remember, remember, the 5th of November.” It is to realize the true significance of gunpowder, treason, and plot.
Thomas Millory, Contributing Writer