V for Vendetta as Political Thriller

In Ford’s (2009) article he says that V for Vendetta is, “a reworking of the modern superhero” (p. 5).  Davidson (2007) says V for Vendetta is, “a postmodern reworking of the superhero comic” (p. 160).  As with most superhero stories “the hero takes on an oppressive government that has been corrupted” (Ford, 2009, p. 8-9).  V is no exception, according to Davidson (2007): ” V is a creation of the very system he opposes: his superhuman strength comes from his time in the Larkhill detention centre where he was infected with a virus (another postmodern reworking of the superhero plot, where the superhero is often created by some sort of accident, e.g. bitten by a radioactive spider” (p. 160).  According to Ford (2009) “his clothing, both the color and style, pay homage to traditional superheroes” (Ford 2009 p. 5). V wears a mask and a long dark cloak, like most super heroes. Friedman (2010) describes V as “a man of superhuman strength who refashions himself in Fawkes’s image as he seeks both to take revenge against the government that experimented upon him and to free his countrymen from a repressive regime” (p. 120). However V is not like all superheroes, “he quotes Shakespeare and speaks in riddles. V is not just a hero in a mask; he’s an embodiment of an idea, the symbol of opposition to the fascist government” (Davidson, 2007, p. 160). It would also make sense to call the film a superhero story because it is based off a graphic novel.

Other critics call V for Vendetta a Dystopian film.  Ford (2009) states “The story represents a dystopian society, one that places its emphasis on political and social systems rather than science and technology and, loses its way and typically results in an oppressive government” (Ford, 2009, p. 4). The film opens with the street side speakers blaring the curfew, which represents a dystopian setting. If the film setting is dystopian, it would stand to reason the characters would be as well. Davidson (2007) describes the main character V as, “the ambiguous hero of the futuristic and dystopian film, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and also plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament, to rouse the English masses against their powerful fascist government” (p. 158). This description tells the audience V lives in a dystopian world, but plans to change it. Regnier (2008) believes that “it is only within such a despotic totalitarian regime that a character as bourgeois as V can appear as anything like a revolutionary” (p. 16). V is very bourgeois, “His lair, the ‘Shadow Gallery’ is filled with classical art and sculpture. He has a jukebox that plays soulful jazz, he treasures classic film” (Davidson, 2007 p. 160). The rest of society watches the news in living rooms devoid of art and jump in excitement when music plays over loudspeakers on the street.

Otto (2006), calls V for Vendetta “what is essentially a revenge tale with a much loftier message” (para. 5). In his article Friedman (2010) talks about V for Vendetta as a revenge tragedy. ” Like the typical protagonist of a revenge play, V has been horribly wronged, but he cannot seek redress through legitimate means because the authority figures to whom he should appeal are the same parties who have wronged him. Therefore, he seeks vigilante justice by scheming to murder those responsible for his distress” (p. 118). V, was experimented on (and was burned from head to toe) at Larkhill by the government.  Throughout the film V tracks down and kills the people directly connected to his torture and imprisonment at Larkhill. Friedman continues by saying, “As in most revenge tragedies, the protagonist’s use of violent intrigue to pursue his retribution threatens to lower him to the moral level of his enemies, and he must pay for his revenge with his own death” (p. 119). This is true, at the end of V for Vendetta, after killing High Chancellor Sutler and Mr. Creedy, V calls himself a monster and he dies in Evey’s arms.

Where it can be argued that V for Vendetta is any of the above mentioned genres, there is one genre that fits the film better and that is political thriller. Some critics of V for Vendetta call it a political thriller while others state that the film is merely political. In her article Carretero-González (2011) says, “this political thriller cannot leave the post- 9/11, 3/11, 7/7 viewer indifferent, even if the central theme of the story revolves around the old tale of coldly served revenge” (p. 199). Regnier (2008), in addition, calls V for Vendetta a“highly politically charged narrative” (p. 9). Plus an online review by Otto (2006) states, “the best political films are the ones that fuel debate afterwards and Vendetta should do that in spades” (para. 11). The following paragraphs will illustrate V for Vendetta is a political thriller.

According to Derry (1988) a political thriller must include a plot to assassinate a political figure or there must be an exposure of a conspiratorial nature of government and its crimes against its people (p. 103),V for Vendetta has both. During the movie V kills key political figures, one of whom is the High Chancellor Sutler. V also assassinates “those who were involved in running the camp at Larkhill. … The Voice, The Bishop, The State Coroner” (Davidson, 2007, p. 160); these three “had tortured him or authorized his torture during his imprisonment at the Larkhill Medical Research Institute years earlier” (Ott, 2010, p. 44). In the film detective Finch discovers that the High Chancellor Sutler was behind the tragedy at St. Mary’s, a virus that killed thousands.The St. Mary’s Virus “was actually unleashed by Norsefire itself as part of a campaign to seize power by promising to defend the country from terrorism”(Friedman, 2010, p. 128). Norsefire blamed the attack on “Islamist extremists” and became “incredibly rich thanks to the inoculation against the virus they had created” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 203).

Derry (1988) believes that in political thrillers assassins, conspirators, and criminal governments are against victim-societies, counter-culture, and martyrs (p. 103). In V for Vendetta conspirators (the Voice of London, the Bishop, and the Coroner) and the criminal government (High Chancellor and Norsefire) are against victim-societies (the British people and Evey) and martyrs (V). Many of the people in positions of power are criminals in some way. Carretero-González (2011) mentions how the leaders of the country are “a power-driven dictator, a narcissistic, drug addict TV pundit, or a pedophiliac bishop” (p. 202). Drug addicts and pedophiles are normally sent to jail, however the government turns a blind eye, which makes it criminal.V dies for his cause, as do most martyrs.  The victim-society is best described by V in the movie when he says: “War. Terror. Disease. Food and water shortages. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you and in your panic you turned to now High Chancellor Adam Sutler, with his gleaming boots and polished leather and his garrison of goons. He promised you order. He promised you peace. And all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient, consent” (V, V for Vendetta). The people looked to the High Chancellor and the government for help and the government uses the people, thus making them victims; victims whom at the end take a stand because of V’s actions.

Derry (1988) mentions 7 common thematic elements that occur in political thrillers, 4 of these themes are seen throughout V for Vendetta. These themes are (1) power corrupts,(2) the moral necessity to examine and question the government, (3) the conspiratorial nature of government,and (4) the potential of individual heroism to bring about social and political change(p. 103 – 104). Throughout the film V “tries to open the nation’s eyes to the oppression they have chosen to live in with a series of acts of terrorism directed to blowing up key, symbolic buildings in London.” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 201). V’s addressing the public and blowing up buildings are an example of the need to examine and question the government. An example of the conspiratorial nature of the government is the St. Mary’s virus.“The government itself engineered a virus [the St Mary’s Virus] which it later claimed was the work of religious extremists. This virus was used to create fear amongst the population, and led to the spectacular rise of High Chancellor Suttler” (Davidson, 2007, p. 159). “Knowing that the government will falsify the news, V takes over the TV station and addresses the nation” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 203). The governments’ use of the media to spread the news that they want, and tell lies, is an example of power corrupts. Another example of power corrupting is when Figermen attempts to rape Evey at the opening of the movie. In this case“government agents… abuse the citizens they are duty-bound to protect” (Friedman, 2010, p. 126).The potential of individual heroism to bring about social and political change, starts with V and ends with Evey;“Together they shall blow up Parliament, overthrow a government, and inspire a nation” (Ford, 2009, p. 3). At the beginning of the film V promises to blow up Parliament; however at the end it is Evey who is left with the decision to send off the train filled with explosives. “She chooses to pull the lever, because ‘he was right [about] that this country needs more than a building right now. It needs hope’” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 209). In the film V’s ideas and actions also rouse the people to stand up against the government, and they march on Parliament Square; the military and government stand down.

Common motifs and elements in political thrillers, according to Derry (1988), include, conspiracies, assassins, terrorist, government institutions, the military, explicit dates and places, government repression, surveillance, invasion of privacy, torture, homosexuality, kidnapping,  an assassin whom is empathized with, and interrogation (p. 105). All of these motifs or elements are in V for Vendetta, however this paper will concentrate on; government repression, includes surveillance, invasion of privacy, torture, kidnapping,interrogation, homosexuality, and an assassin whom is empathized with.

According to Ott (2010) when “Evey is attacked and nearly raped by government Fingermen for being out after curfew,” it is a “signifier of government repression” (p. 44). Another example of government repression is the removal of life’s simple pleasures from the people, while government officials still have access to it;take for example butter. This removal of simple pleasures is described by Otto (2006) as, “life’s simple pleasures, such as music, paintings and even butter, have been outlawed in order to coincide with a more copacetic, safe and controllable society” (para. 2).

In one of V’s speeches he ties a few elements and motifs together: “The truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance, coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission” (V, V for Vendetta). In this speech V mentions, government repression and surveillance, and hints at invasion of privacy, interrogation, and torture. Security cameras are used to ID Evey at the TV station and the government also does random sweeps listening in on conversations on peoples’ at home. These sweeps are both a form of surveillance and an invasion of privacy. In his article Davidson (2007) says, “There is constant surveillance, a curfew to maintain order and the threat of ending up in the police’s ‘black bags’” (p. 158).

In V for Vendetta “Evey is captured and repeatedly tortured for information about V” (Ott, 2010, p. 44). As it turns out Evey is kidnapper, interrogator and torturer is V.  During the film the audience also witnesses the capture of Evey’s mother, Gordon, and other homosexuals, including Valarie. When Evey’s mother and Gordon are taken, they are both beaten and black bags are put over their heads.V’s, interrogation of Evey takes place in a dank room with light shining on her, all the questions are about V, but she never answers. Because she never answers she is tortured, sprayed with hot water. In the film the audience also sees Valarie tortured in a similar manner.

Homosexuality plays a large role in V for Vendetta. When High Chancellor Sutler first gained control in London “Norsefire began to round-up homosexuals and take them to Larkhill where they were subject to experiments” (Ford, 2009, p. 15). There are two stories about homosexuals in the film, Gordon and Valarie. Valerie is, “a beautiful lesbian actress, arrested by the Party and transformed into a guinea pig for their scientific experimentation” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 207) at Larkhill. Gordon invites Evey out as a cover for his homosexuality which he keeps hidden from public view. Gordon also has homoerotic pictures which he keeps hidden in his private room, along with other incriminating objects.

V is an assassin that is empathized with, the people he assassinates. The Voice, is a drug addict and the “spokesman of the fascist government” (Davidson, 2007, p. 158), he is unpleasant and it is hard to mourn his death. It is also hard morn The Bishop’s, a pedophile, death after we see him aroused by Evey who is pretending to be a teenage girl. The fact that V assassinates people who are bad makes the audience more at ease with V’s action. The audience also feels more sympathy for V, when they find out these men were responsible for torturing and experimenting on V.

According to Carretero-González (2011) the “film plays with the recurrent motifs”;one of which is the mask (p. 203). Both Gordon and V wear masks, “The masks they wear – factual in the case of V, metaphorical for Gordon – have somehow made both men forget about their real selves” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 206). Gordon comments to Evey, “You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it” (V for Vendetta). At the end of V for Vendetta “Evey asks to see V’s face, but he refuses, suggesting that the particular man behind the mask is completely irrelevant. What matters is the idea that the mask itself displays” (Regnier, 2008, p. 15). As V dies his mask and his ideas remain, and it is his idea (revolution) that matters and will remain. Regnier (2008)say the removal of V’s mask“would amount to providing the solution of the enigma” (p. 15).  As the crowd stands in Parliament Square people begin“to remove their masks. This singular moment retroactively sheds light on many problematic elements which were present all along” (Regnier, 2008, p. 16). Masks represent revolution, superficiality and duality. In this era people were superficial, paying attention to celebrities and fashion, as opposed to war. Duality and superficiality often go hand in hand, at this time people would say they were against the war but did nothing or they would support it, but would not go fight in it.

Carretero-González(2011) says, “It is not difficult to see the film attacking current international politics and the war in Iraq in the references it makes to ‘America’s war’ reaching England” (p. 202). In V for Vendetta the “war has put an end to the supremacy of the USA as world power, transforming England into a prevailing nation where any challenge to political, heterosexual and religious homogeneity is eradicated or kept under cover” (Carretero-González, 2011, p. 201). Davidson (2007) calls V for Vendetta: “A comment on our current political climate: on terrorism and war, on authoritarianism/ fascism and political protest. The film quite explicitly criticizes our contemporary neoconservative governments – especially the US Government under George Bush and the British Labour Government of Tony Blair” (p. 158). Ott (2010) also agrees that V for Vendetta is“an allegory for life in George W. Bush’s America, and an unwavering critique of his administration and its policies (both domestic and foreign) surrounding the war on terror” (p. 40).

Otto (2006)  further states that V for Vendetta was daring  and “advocates a positive form of terrorism in a post-9/11 age where anyone who even considers blowing up a building is considered a terrorist of the worst kind” (para. 3). V is called a terrorist throughout the film, and he does act against the government; but his actions are to free the people of London. Ott (2010) also calls the film daring: “It’s easy, even fashionable, today to retrospectively critique the Bush administration for its unilateral efforts to expand executive powers, for its use of torture (Abu Ghraib), for its program of domestic eavesdropping and surveillance (FBI and NSA wire tapping), for its infringement on personal privacy by conducting unwarranted searches and seizures, and for its trampling of basic civil liberties by denying due process and habeas corpus at detention camps (Guanta´namo Bay) and secret CIA black sites. But V for Vendetta rendered these same critiques in early 2006 while the vast majority of Americans held their tongues” (p. 48-49). Before its time or on time V for Vendetta criticized the government and made people think about politics and government.

V for Vendetta is a political thriller that comments on the political leanings of the day both in the USA and England. All the references to ‘Americans War’ are clearly the war in Iraq, and the dictator in power could be either President Bush or Tony Blair. It is also a superhero, dystopian, and revenge film. V wears mask and cape, he lives in a society that is a dictatorship, and V enacts revenge on the people who hurt him.


4 thoughts on “V for Vendetta as Political Thriller

  1. Hi, Lesley. Great your analysis of V for Vendetta. Thanks for the good use you make of my article “Sympathy for the devil”. I would like to make just one correction: I am a “she” (my name is Margarita), so, if you could change that “his” for a “her” I will be tremendously grateful 😉
    Best wishes and thanks for reading.

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