V for Vendetta Film Analysis
Directors intention; An idea, if believed in, can be used to shape society
‘We are told to remember the idea, not the man because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world.’ -Evey Hammond.
Everything that has ever been invented, created or destructed in this world has all begun as an idea in someone’s head; Motor vehicles, freedom for all people and donuts all began as intangible ideas in the likes of Karl Benz, Martin Luther King and Hanson Gregory’s head. From a seemingly small idea that was never forgotten and eventually created, they have since aided in the construction of today’s society.
In the critically acclaimed dystopian film directed by James McTeigue, it is an idea created 400 years ago by a man named Guy Fawkes that fueled the actions of our anti-hero ‘V’. V ensures that the idea is embedded in as many people’s minds as possible so that he can follow in Fawkes footsteps and attempt to free the city from their oppressive government. McTeigue uses a combination of montage, symbolism and diegetic sounds to convey to the viewer that an idea if believed in, can be used to shape society.
In order to spread his idea through the minds of the city’s citizens, V first had to start with a plan. The intricate details and execution of V’s plan are shown cleverly through montage and symbolism in the ‘Domino scene’.
This scene is a montage of past and present moments explaining in greater detail how V’s plan is no longer just an idea, it is beginning to take shape as something tangible, steps he needs to take to achieve his overall goal and the repercussions it has on their society. However the idea of his plan has now become a symbol to the citizens, it is a symbol of strength and unity. This is ironic as the Norsefire government motto is ‘Strength through unity, unity through faith’, strength and unity by expelling homosexuals and any mixed races, and faith in Chancellor Suttler. However this motto has become the exact opposite of what the Norsefire government had originally hoped for, Strength and unity by standing together and protesting against the government, and faith in V. This montage is accompanied by a non-diegetic commentary by Detective Finch as he slowly begins to understand and unravel Vs plan.
The scene begins with V laying his first domino, followed by clips of thousands of Guy Fawkes masks and capes being delivered to everyone in the city. This is the first step of V’s plan, unity through his anonymous costume, the first step of empowering the people to rise up and eventually break into a riot against the government.
Dominic; “..the whole city’s gone mad”
Finch; “This is exactly what he wants”
Street thug in a Guy Fawkes mask; “Anarchy in the UK!”
‘Anarchy in the UK’ is a song released in 1977 by a UK band called the Sex Pistols, in listening to the song I found that one of the song lyrics alluded very appropriately to V’s plan.
“I use the best
I use the rest
I use the enemy
I use anarchy”
To overthrow his corrupt government V uses the best; His fighting skills, untraceable homemade fertiliser explosives and his underground lair. He uses the rest; Evey Hammond and his anonymous costume. He uses the enemy; Convincing Mr Creedy to bring Chancellor Suttelor to V in exchange for V’s life. He uses anarchy for the good of the city. This in a sense makes V a consequentialist. He is prepared to take the adequate consequences, though they may be deemed terrible, to reach his optimal goal of peace, freedom and unity.
In juxtaposition, V can be seen as a parallel to famous philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill was a dedicated civil servant and political economist and one of the most influential liberalists in England. Mill also was a consequentialist, in short, his theory was the permissibility of one’s actions were determined by the outcome being positive or negative.
‘Mill says that it is better for happiness to be distributed among many people.
The moral goal of our actions, he says, is to create “the greatest happiness for the
greatest number.”’- Unknown source
V goes by this theory, as his goal is to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. His actions are deemed permissible by society, though they are deemed impermissible by law, because they all allude to ultimate freedom.
This symbolic idea shows the viewer how by sticking to this theory/idea, V was able to provide a fresh start for a brand new, free society.
The Next montage we see is when Finch is talking about his trip to Lark Hill.
“It was as if I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events”
The scene flicks between clips of the inspector, clips of the cell with number ‘V’ on the door, clips of Valerie in the pit of bodies and contrasting clips of V coming out of the fire and raising his arms in rage, and Evey coming out of the rain and raising her arms in gratitude and laughter. The contrast of these scenes intertwined with Finches dialogue creates a sense of clarity for the viewer, clarity that all of these things had a huge effect on V, V was from Lark Hill, and this plan is his violent-vigilante revenge.
The scene then shows multiple dominoes laid out, as if the flashbacks Finch just endured have been part of the long chain of events that fueled V’s plan from the very beginning.
“Eventually someone will do something stupid” -Finch
A young girl is seen running in a Guy Fawkes costume before being gunned down by a Fingerman, her family begins to advance on the Fingerman with shovels and baseball bats. This is the first stage of real violent anarchy. A shot is shown of all of the dominoes layed out in their final position, just as now all of V’s steps have been taken, with only one final action remaining.
The last dialogue of the montage is Finch saying “and then”.
The scene then shows V’s gloved finger flicking over the first domino and they all begin to collapse. This scene is a montage cutting between real life clips of rioters being pushed back by police officers and the dominoes collapsing swiftly. This use of montage gives a chance for the viewer to understand that the shaping of society really begins in this scene, with the uprising of the people and the literal downfall of the government. The dominoes are symbolic in many ways. The first being that when placing a pattern of dominos, you never see the finished ‘picture’ until they have all toppled over and are laying flat. The people must riot and try for themselves to overpower their government or else they will never succeed in attaining freedom. The upright, yet the corrupt system of government must be pushed down by its citizens to create a flat-laying peaceful government, in this scene we see the ‘pushing down’ part of the scenario. So the dominos are now symbolic in a more metaphorical sense of the upright dominoes being the government and the police officers, and the falling dominoes are the rioters, pushing against them and toppling them over.
An example of a world-famous riot that completely re-shaped a society is the 1992 LA riots. The riots started after four LAPD officers were let off free of charge after their unjust beating of Rodney King. The riots shed light on police abuse, the inequality and mistreatment of African-Americans and poverty in the US. After 53 died and 3,000 were injured, the riots were eventually shut down by the California Army National Guard. However, after the riots, the LAPD and the government made significant changes, such as the resignation of police chief Daryl Gates, and the encouragement of minorities to join the police force. An overall sense of unity and equality empowerment was felt throughout their society and continues to strengthen to this day.
The fight scene is the second most pivotal poignant moment in the film, where McTeigues intention is made clear through symbolism and diegetic dialogue.
The scene begins with multiple shots of Chancellor Suttlor’s broadcast airing on many different televisions nationwide. However, all of the houses and bars in which the broadcasts are playing are empty. The citizens of London have given up hope in their government and are now donning their anonymous costumes, preparing to flood the streets in front of parliament to witness its literal collapse in support of V.
The dialogue of the scene works perfectly in juxtaposition with the camera shots used. As Suttlor is reciting his speech about destroying V and regaining justice, he is shown being dragged down the steps of the train station by Creedy’s men, a black bag over his head.
In this scene, all of the dialogue used by Suttlor that is supposed to be aimed at V is, in fact, V’s thoughts and plans towards Suttlor and the government. To me as a viewer, this added a newfound layer or irony, watching all of the Suttlors words being used against him in V’s favour.
“We must remain united”
Suttlor wants the people to unite to fight against V, however, they unite by wearing V’s costume and protesting against Norsefire for their freedom.
“Justice will be swift, it will be righteous and it will be without mercy.”
These are the words that have filled V’s plan right from the very beginning. To have them spoken by Suttlor is extremely ironic and clever on McTiegue’s part.
As Suttlor says the final part of his speech; ‘It will be without mercy’, the shot changes to the black bag being ripped off Suttlor’s bloodied face, he is forced onto his knees by Creedy’s men. As V approaches him, we as the audience realise that V will now deliver his punishment to Suttlor, it will be one of the final steps in regaining justice for the people, and he will do it ‘without mercy’.
Creedy’s dialogue in this scene alludes strongly to that of Adolf Hitler. They share the same dictating manner, preaching for a seemingly ‘brighter’ future when in fact the outcome only benefits a few whilst having a drastically negative effect on the rest. “What good fortune for governments that the people do not think”, This quote from Adolf Hitler shows just how similar he and the Chancellor really are, they abuse the helplessness of society and mould it into a hierarchy or totalitarian power. This was an idea, born by Adolf Hitler that was believed in my most of Germany, and was ultimately used to re-shape society, for the worst.
“It is not the truth that matters, but victory.” Another quote from Hitler shows that whether or not the situation is just or not, he will fight because it is the victory that counts to uphold his power. His theory is exactly the same as that of Suttlor’s, the truth is that the Norsefire government is corrupt and their laws and legislations are unjust, however, to uphold power over their people they must fight for victory.
The symbolism of the letter ‘V’ is very vivid throughout the remainder of the fight scene. Throughout the film ‘V’ has been a reoccurring motif, for example; V is 5 in Roman numerals, V was in cell number 5 (V) at Lark Hill, V acts on Guy Fawke’s 5th of November, if you raise your hand in the international peace sign your fingers create a V, V if flipped upside down and placed in a circle is the graffiti symbol for ‘Anarchy’, there are 5 main finger men who make up the Norsefire government, when V and Evey break out of their torture chambers they raise their arms in a V, V for victory, the symbol of a Vendetta, a birds-eye-view shows 5 streets flooded with protesters in masks converging to the parliament building.
The symbolism of V in the fight scene is shown when V is shot multiple times by Creedy’s men, he regains composure and whispers “My turn”. When V first pulls out his knives there is an over the shoulder shot of his knives creating a V-shape before he throws them, when V throws the swords they rotate 5 times in the air before hitting his targets, at the end of the fight scene when V is injured he slumps up against a wall and leaves a V-shaped trail of blood behind.
McTeige cleverly incorporates this reoccurring motif of ‘V’ as an extra layer to his already textured plot line. It keeps the viewer alert and makes them feel as if they can deeply understand the intricacy of V’s plan and how being at Lark Hill and first identifying with the letter/number V, shaped V and everything that he does.
In conclusion, the use of symbolism, montage and diegetic sound in the film V for Vendetta, was a crucial aspect in portraying the director, James McTeigues intention of ‘An idea if believed in, can be used to re-shape society’.
In this analysis I have discussed the symbolism, montage and diegetic sound, as well as examples of world issues that relate to this intention and that of V. In watching the film as a viewer, these world issues were the first that came to mind when analysing V’s behaviour and motives, primarily because of the strong symbolism and political allusions that McTeigue used so obviously to convey his intention. “Behind this mask, there is more than flesh, behind this mask there is an idea Mr Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof”. V’s bulletproof idea rippled through London and gained the belief of the once oppressed citizens, the ‘Domino scene’ showed the downfall of the government, while the fight scene showed the uprising of the final stages of V’s plan. I personally found these two scenes very clever and interesting to analyse, the layers McTeigue added to these scenes gave me a new found belief in the power of ideas and how they can be used to shape our lives.