Let’s get one thing straight: V for Vendetta is not an anarchist manifesto.
The film, which landed in theaters nearly 20 years ago, received heavy criticism from Alan Moore, the creator of the comic off which it was based, and other anarchist sympathizers. Their gripe was that the movie traded on the sex-appeal of a term like anarchism, and they weren’t wrong. Anarchism isn’t just about demolishing institutions and choreographing explosions to Tchaikovsky Overtures. It’s about building up something in its place, ridding society of hierarchies and introducing voluntary systems controlled by and for the people.
If you’re interested in true anarchism, there are plenty of Reddit sub-threads and library books you can check out. If libraries and books are still a thing.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the other kind of anarchy, the sexy, cool kind of anarchy, the anarchy of V for Vendetta. That kind of anarchy wears a Guy Fawkes mask, sports the gravelly, grave utterance of a heroic Hugo Weaving, wields knives and words that being with the letter V to slash his way through corrupt governments and instill hope in an oppressed people.
The anarchy in V for Vendetta — a film about a revolutionary anti-hero who seeks to dismantle a neo-fascist regime — isn’t textbook; some claim it doesn’t go far enough, it’s not tough enough or sophisticated enough to do any real damage. Maybe they’re right. The anarchy in V for Vendetta might not be realistic, but it is the anarchy we need in 2018.
In order to build, sometimes you must first destroy.
That’s the kind of anarchy on display in V for Vendetta. As our masked hero bloodies up Nazis who wish to oppress, enslave, and exterminate “undesirables,” people marked as different and other, he harks back to this philosophy, and though any political film can find relevance no matter the era, that notion, of cleaning house before starting anew, feels especially significant considering our current climate.
Considering we have an administration in power that defends white supremacists.
Considering we have a president calling for the erasure of transgender rights.
Considering we have a government that elects men accused of sexual assault to the highest court in the land, turns a blind eye to police brutality against minorities, erects border walls, targets Muslims, sticks brown children in concentration camps.
When those offenses are listed, they don’t sound too different from the crimes of the Norsefire Party and the all-powerful High Chancellor Adam Sutter (John Hurt) — the big bad of the Wachowski siblings’ dystopian flick. Which is why the kind of anarchy we watch V gleefully insight and the teachings the film imparts don’t feel as watered down, as cookie-cutter as they might’ve nearly 20 years ago when the film was first released. In fact, there are some points to be made, some lessons to be learned from the film, especially on "the fifth of November," just one day before a crucial mid-term election vote that may sway the tide of power.
This is the V for Vendetta guide for making anarchy cool again.
Ideas Are Bulletproof
One of the strongest scenes in the film comes during V’s final showdown with Creedy, one of the men in power, who agrees to kill Chancellor Sutter in exchange for V’s surrender. V reneges on this deal and a fight ensues that leaves both men mortally wounded with V proclaiming that the man beneath the mask can die but the ideals he represents can’t. Ideas are bulletproof. It’s a powerful statement, the notion that people may die, but ideas, when shared, never will. Of course, as with everything, ideas can be both good and bad — the idea of hope, the idea of oppression — and it’s often the inconsistency of ideas that get us into trouble. A person may believe in the idea of religious freedom, then advocate against the religious freedom of others. A person may believe in the idea of free speech, then cry foul when another’s right to free speech is used against them. Ideas can and do change, but they never die and, if they’re held strongly enough, as in the case of V, they demand action.
Define Your Inch
Natalie Portman’s character Evey is arguably the protagonist of V for Vendetta. A young woman living in fear forced to confront her dark past by way of torture and deception, Evey’s journey cements the true moral of the film. Her time locked in prison, tortured, abused, interrogated, and dehumanized reveals some crucial backstory needed to understand V’s motivations. Evey comes across a letter written by a woman imprisoned decades earlier for having a relationship with another woman. She went through the same trauma Evey is now experiencing and write words of encouragement, explaining that though her captors can take her life, the life of the woman she loves, and everything that makes her human, they can’t have the very last inch of her. That inch represents her freedom, her integrity, her commitment to staying true to herself. Evey holds onto that inch too, refusing to inform on V, refusing to sacrifice her own moral code. Most of us aren’t threatened, at least not physically, to give up that inch, but there are other allowances we make, eyes we turn blind, things we leave ignored for so long that they become unignorable. If anything, V for Vendetta reminds us of the importance of that inch, and the danger of becoming complacent in protecting it.
People Should Not Fear Their Government
This might be the most relevant of all the lessons learned from V for Vendetta. Government exists to serve its people, not the other way around. And yet, when a government is afforded too much power, when those put in place to check that power are attacked and ridiculed, and when zealotry and violence are used to defend that kind of authoritarian rule, that idea is challenged. And worse than fearing your government is being apathetic about it. V makes it very clear that, while those in power are the real monsters, it’s the people who gave them that power, actively or passively, that are to blame for the horrors they’ve committed. Silence is the worst crime of all and whether it’s spurred by fear or indifference, the outcome of it is the same.
It’s Never Meaningless To Apologize
V is not the hero of V for Vendetta. In many ways, he’s the villain, a parallel of Chancellor Sutter just with different ideas. Still, over the course of the film, V’s desire for vengeance, his need to incite rebellion, is tempered with a rediscovering of his humanity. There’s a poignant scene between V and a woman he intends to kill. Dr. Delia Surridge is not a hero either. She experimented on V and those like him decades earlier, but when faced with her death, she expresses remorse for her actions. She was ignorant of the consequences, a fact that doesn’t excuse what she did, but she wants to apologize anyway. She asks V if now, so many years later, it’s meaningless to say she’s sorry and V replies, “never.” It’s a quiet moment that feels even more commanding than the lengthy speeches V’s prone to giving during the film. It’s also a nice thing to remember as the world goes to sh*t and people troll message boards, looking for any reason to be nasty and hateful towards one another. An “I’m sorry,” doesn’t fix things, but an apology is never meaningless and for some, like V, it’s the first step to moving forward.