Movie review: ‘V for Vendetta’ ponders the boundaries of freedom

Zach Lewis

Remember, remember the, what was it again? Oh yes, the fifth of November. It’s that time of year again to revisit the gunpowder treason and plot as well as to watch “V for Vendetta.”  Here is some background information that will help. In the United Kingdom on November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested as part of a conspiracy to blow up the House of Lords (kind of like the Senate, not really, but yeah). He was standing watch over many explosives underneath the House of Lords. He was part of a group of Catholics that wanted to take out James I, a protestant King, and replace him with a Catholic one. This religious difference was a big and bloody debate (literally bloody, I’m not being cute and punny, at least not at this moment) but suffice to say that bad things were done on both sides. 

Anywho, the film “V for Vendetta” takes place in a dystopic United Kingdom and starts on the fifth of November. There are government curfews issued, mass surveillance of the population, searches without warrants, all speech is censored and news is specifically altered to portray the government in a positive light.  Don’t worry though because all this is done for the protection of their citizens. In this setting there is a character named V (Hugo Weaving) and he doesn’t agree with the status quo. It turns out that a good many others hold the same sentiment as V.  

V puts his thoughts into action. In the beginning of the film, V saves Evey (Natalie Portman) from a gang of secret police that find her outside after curfew. Fortunately for her, or unfortunately depending how it’s viewed, this sets Evey on a course to become a freedom fighter for the rights of her fellow citizens. Or, perhaps she has just become a terrorist with aims to dismantle the state? The film does a good job of portraying a totalitarian (or authoritarian depending on your metric) regime in a Western country. It makes the viewer question their own ideals of freedom and what that means. What does it mean to be free? How many rights should you hand over to feel safe? Is it okay to be free when those of a different background (be it race, gender or sexual orientation) are treated as inferior and does that affect the comfort level of those in the majority enough to register in their minds at all? 

If you’re interested in these themes and questions, then this film written by the Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix”) is a definite go. Add it to your Netflix list. Some drawbacks are that the film does feel a bit preachy sometimes, but it is dealing with a hefty subject matter. Those moments are few and far between with all the excellent action in the movie. This was director James McTeigue’s first full-length film which is a great premier to have. He was a second-unit director for “The Matrix” movies and went on to direct some great martial art films such as “Ninja Assassin.” The film also has good pacing and is structured well. It is peppered with a solid cast including the likes of Stephen Fry, John Rhea and John Hurt.  

I’ll end this little review with the infamous poem written about that famous day. Or is it a famous poem about an infamous day? It was written in 1870: 

    Remember, remember!  

    The fifth of November,  

    The Gunpowder treason and plot;  

    I know of no reason  

    Why the Gunpowder treason  

    Should ever be forgot!  

    Guy Fawkes and his companions  

    Did the scheme contrive,  

    To blow the King and Parliament  

    All up alive.  

    Threescore barrels, laid below,  

    To prove old England’s overthrow.  

    But, by God’s providence, him they catch,  

    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!  

    A stick and a stake  

    For King James’s sake!  

    If you won’t give me one,  

    I’ll take two,  

    The better for me,  

    And the worse for you.  

    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,  

    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,  

    A pint of beer to wash it down,  

    And a jolly good fire to burn him.  

    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!  

    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!  

    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!