I’ve spent most of this month re-watching the Wachowski siblings’ V for Vendetta.
Some of that is because the film popped up on Netflix and that damn streaming platform knows my personal algorithm better than I know it myself. Some of that is because November 5 is nearly upon us and I’ve pitched so many think pieces on the film, you’ll be sick of seeing my name in bylines by the time this is all over with. But mostly, I’ve been re-watching V for Vendetta because I just need a bit of hope. Hope that the world can, in fact, be a better place. Hope that people haven’t lost their humanity. Hope that our country won’t remain the burning garbage fire it feels like right now.
That’s what V for Vendetta gives me, in an albeit weird, twisted sort of way.
The thing is, after my countless re-watches of the film, I’ve made a pretty shocking discovery. I thought I’d identify with the titular character of V — this raging lunatic ready to blow up buildings, don Guy Fawkes masks and burn his government to the ground. That whole “governments should fear their people” motto is totally my vibe right now. (Plus, blunt bangs are in for fall.)
I thought I’d gain comfort from watching V dice his way through Fingermen, quote Shakespeare, take part in acts of terrorism, and inspire others to rise up against a fascist dictator. I’m sure that’s what many fans of the film think, that V is who we’d like to be, this person unafraid, unashamed, and unwilling to be complacent.
In reality, very few of us are V. Very few of us have been truly stripped of our fear, forced to confront our own morality, propelled to risk everything for what we believe is right. Very few of us are V, and that’s okay because V is not the hero of V for Vendetta, Evey Hammond is.
Now, some of that is simply because Natalie Portman is the hero of any story she’s in, but most of that is because it’s Evey’s journey — from scared, complicit citizen of a fascist regime to a rebel and renegade capable of free-thought and uninhibited by fear — that genuinely represents the evolution so many of us are going through right now.
Evey Hammond is often thought of as the passive token female character of V for Vendetta, a woman who is acted upon, a woman with no control of her life. That’s true, at least in the early stages of the film. Evey lives in constant fear, fear that her life will be taken just like her parents were, fear that she’ll be punished for the things she believes, beliefs she never vocalizes or acts on. Evey is pessimistic about the world, unwilling to hope for anything better, inwardly cursing her circumstances while giving a passable performance of someone content with her lot in life. She sees evil in the world, people doing terrible things, and stays silent. Out of fear, out of apathy, out of the certainty that her voice won’t make a difference.
We all begin the film as Evey, marveling at this man in a mask who seems to have wielded power over himself, his demons, and those who would subjugate him. He’s sexy and cool and completely confident in who he is and what he’s meant to do. He’s a madman, sure, one with plans to demolish government buildings and incite violence, but his reasons seem just and we’re left wishing we believed in anything as strongly as V believes in Tchaikovsky overtures and dramatic entrances and a government in service of its people.
We cringe when Evey chooses to return to her life of indifference after V saves her from the abuses of a group of Fingermen. We roll our eyes at her hesitance to use violent methods to further her cause, even as those in power use violence to strengthen their own regime. And yet, would we react any differently than Evey? Would we take up arms, become terrorists, and hurt others to further a future we envisioned? After all, nearly half of this country can’t even be bothered to vote.
But anarchy, chaos, bloodshed — those are the means, not the end. Specifically, those are one man’s means, and if the V for Vendetta tells us anything, it’s that, while V is the revolutionist who spurs change, it’s Evey who’s in charge of making that dream a reality.
V’s trauma is alluded to in the film, through flashbacks, through his own re-telling of events. We know he was tortured, experimented on, left for dead, all because the government deemed him “undesirable,” a person so other from their accepted norm that he didn’t deserve to live. The likeness to our own social climate is jarring.
While V’s change is understood to have happened before the events of the film, we experience Evey’s evolution first hand. Her terror, her abuse, the loss of every inch of herself save one. She’s shaven, beaten, interrogated, starved, and nearly killed while we watch. She’s also forged anew, infused with purpose, reinvigorated by hope and the story of a woman who suffered as she did. She’s taught the value of integrity, of staying true to yourself no matter the consequences. She’s reborn, not because her tormentor — in this instance V — broke her as he sought to do, but because she unearthed that buried inch within herself.
And it’s that inch that Evey finds, her integrity, her drive to make a difference, to fight back, that makes her the hero worth modeling ourselves after. Hers is not a glamorous rebellion; she’s not knifing her way through bad guys or reciting eloquent speeches on TV. Instead, Evey’s quietly going about her life, resisting in every way she can, setting the foundation for a future after V destroys the world as she knows it.
Evey’s the hero of V for Vendetta because she’s willing to sacrifice comfort for courage, peace for knowing she did her best to not go silently into a dark night. Evey’s the hero because she’s willing to put in the tedious work, the long, thankless schlepp to freedom and justice and equality that may not sell tickets or seem as kick ass on film, but that feels emulatable, tangibly possible. Evey’s the hero of V For Vendetta because she doesn’t give us anarchy. She gives us hope.