The world is turned upside down! A masked avenger wants to make things right! Natalie Portman shaves her head!
"V for Vendetta," the new action film that opened last week, fits the same mold as books like "1984" and films like "Blade Runner" in its futuristic take on the problems of the current world. This film is primarily concerned with the lack of political activism for worthy causes like combating racism and other hatreds.
Written by the Wachowski brothers, most commonly known for directing "The Matrix" trilogy, the topic of "Vendetta" no doubt has a great deal of personal relevance, as Larry Wachowski is currently undergoing a sex change. His personal stake in these ideas is clear throughout the film.
"Vendetta" takes place in England about a hundred years from now, where the United States is in the midst of civil war and neo-conservative governments have seized control across Europe. The head chancellor of England even parts his hair in the same manner as Hitler. The roles of hero and villain are not murky here.
Propaganda is posted all over the city, a closed circuit camera network records the movements of people, and a governmental preacher regurgitates the governing party's ideological platitudes over and over.
"Vendetta" begins when Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) breaks curfew and is accosted and nearly raped until the man known only as V comes to her rescue. His witty intellectualism sparks Evey's interest, and she follows him at great risk to herself.
V's plot is clear: to blow up Parliament, as Guy Fawkes infamously attempted on November 5, 1605 (whence originated famous quote "Remember, remember, the 5th of November"). He reasons that if history is forgotten, it shall be doomed to be repeated, and most characters in "Vendetta" have forgotten history completely.
V, however, has not. The intent of his vendetta against the repressive government is clear enough, although the Wachowski brothers' view of how he ought to carry it out is not. Gandhi may have preached the virtue of nonviolence, but for V, violence is the key.
V's plan, however, becomes dependent on Evey. He realizes he must teach her how to overcome her fear by using extreme violence, tinged with optimism.
Through flashbacks we see more of V's motivation for his vendetta, including atrocious acts committed against him and his friends, none of whom deserved the cruelty wrought upon them.
Evey, too, is no stranger to strife. Both of her parents were political activists who were killed by the government as it cracked down on freedom of thought. Portman's character, however, is not terribly well-developed, serving primarily as the audience's eyes into the world of V.
He may be cultured, intelligent, and have good reason for his personal vendetta, but in the end, V is a killing machine solely set on the destruction of the authority. He gives no prudential thought to the day after November 5 when the world needs to rebuild his path of destruction. The filmmakers do not seem to have any clear ideas either.
Surprisingly, though, V's violent methods do not obscure his earnest desire to make the world a better place. V really believes?and makes Evey believe?that he can improve life by causing death. This theme is the film's greatest asset.
As with all Wachowski films, the production elements are all strong, especially the visual effects in V's fight sequences and the set of his underground lair.
In the end, however, "V for Vendetta" is full of big ideas that are not fully thought through, anger without a productive direction, and a lot of faux intellectualism somehow appropriate for this homage to the greatest Fawkes of all.