As Guy Fawkes Night has been observed for Centuries because it is imbued with a timeless symbolism, so are certain films which become a part of you — and increasingly relevant — over time.
Like most films, V for Vendetta too is not able to perform highly enough to meet the expectations of its illustrious parent, the book with the same title by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The occasional attempts to insert mush do not go well with the overall flavour of the story.
Having disclaimed that, it is safe to say that the 2005 movie made by James McTeigue and written by The Wachowskis holds a claim to distinctiveness. It is special enough to make me and my partner watch it when we wish to compensate for being away from our families on festivals.
The film doesn’t fail expectations at all. It is a high tension electric wire running through the audience’s minds and hearts as the anarchist revolutionary V, played by Hugo Weaving, orchestrates a series of events to expose the government, very much in the vein of the Paris revolution’s “No replastering, the structure is rotten.” It is art done elegantly, when a dystopian theme like this could have resulted in a lot of confusion and muck flying around. Its finesse does not gesticulate towards its beauty but rests in its place after it has been created, to be appreciated by those who will.
I believe it settled in some part of me because after I saw it, one of my delirious dreams, conceived during some sickness, was this:
A feminist revolution has achieved the complete eradication of sexism. I know the overthrow has been successful because some of the revolution graffiti is also sent to my new phone as a text message. The first line reads: “It may seem to you an occasion of bereavement but you’ll soon discover that it is one of joy.” I read the message and am immediately reassured that the efforts made by me and my compatriots to bring in equality of all genders have not been in vain.
It awakens unstirred parts of you: vestigial parts that haven’t been used in a while so you can’t immediately locate the vibrations. So you don’t want to talk about the movie after it’s over but close your eyes and wrap yourself around you and listen to those stirrings and eventually act upon them, when you are hit hard by the truth of these words uttered by Valerie, a character V fondly recalls in the film: “Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free.” I know I want to live each day, no matter what the span of my life, when Valerie’s voice in the film gives credence to her persona in the book: “ . . . for three years, I had roses, and apologized to noone.”
Without pouncing upon you with some cliched declamation, it touches you in places you had not thought of for some time. You see it as a long-forgotten friend but don’t know how your present world will absorb it and so you quietly pull it into a corner and keep it hidden, to visit when no one is around. You know that it is not vendetta that V needs; he needs love and out of that love for him you want him to have his vendetta for isn’t he wonderful and shouldn’t he have everything he desires?
And of course, most of all, the film is about the fearlessness everyone wants, fear being the only real obstacle to living. I had been hugely impressed with the part where Natalie Portman is angry with V for making her go through torture, until he makes her realise that it had been to rid her of her fears. There is solace in the routine of torture because you seem to know more or less when it will be, even if it is every day, and can actually prepare yourself for it, and then be tortured and have even more time to prepare for the next day. This is not in the nature of a calamity, which catches you unawares and demands immediate attention. Isn’t it true that the only way to defeat our fears are to go ahead and meet them, to look them in the eye, rather than to keep looking over our backs all life?
A lot of fans have tried to guess at who the character of V “really” is, to speculate on his relations with other characters. I do not want to do that, to indulge in the “paradox of asking a masked man who he is”. Because I think what the film, and V, wanted us to know and believe was that V is all of us, and that we have it in us to be V if we can go through a fire and come out burnt but not broken.
First published in thREAD, The Hindu, 8 Nov 2018.