V for Vindicated

posted 22 March 2006

Spoiler content ahead: general themes and intentions examined, no specific plot elements or character actions discussed.

Probably no single word and all its meanings sums up the movie V for Vendetta. From the definition of vindicated:

  1. To clear of accusation, blame, suspicion, or doubt with supporting arguments or proof
  2. To provide justification or support for: vindicate one's claim.
  3. To justify or prove the worth of, especially in light of later developments.
  4. To defend, maintain, or insist on the recognition of (one's rights, for example).
  5. To exact revenge for; avenge.

The hero of V is a terrorist, and not the freedom-fighter, only-kills-bad-people kind. Despite his appearance as a literal caricature of a terrorist, he is much more believeable than the kind one usually encounters in an action movie: he is motivated, like real terrorists usually are, by very personal grievances that only partially justify all of his actions. The movie is not just his revenge, it is about his attempts to justify that revenge in terms of high principles: freedom, justice and truth, while at the same time aware of his own flawed motivations.

But it is not just V trying to justify what he himself does: so are his enemies, constantly reminding each other of their own validity. And so is the movie itself: trying to justify its own revelling in the horror and injustice of the future dystopia and the gory violence of V's revenge by positioning itself as a moral wake-up call about the direction our society -- and American society in particular -- is taking.

Because make no mistake, this is a very American movie. The settings are English and the accents are (poor) English, but the society pictured -- media-led, personality-focussed, a strong current of Christian fundamentalism -- is much more America's own than Britain's. In fact, it's so close that almost nothing has been added; merely exaggerated.

One might call such exaggeration heavy-handed, but that is to misunderstand the nature of a comic book: like the drawings themselves, it is not meant to be a photo-realistic picture of the world, but instead a stylised representation of the most relevant features. That's something the Wachowski brothers, whatever their other failings, understand.

Because this is also, very obviously, a Wachowski brothers movie. The visuals are simplistic and powerful, the imagery and visual themes strong and skillfully pervasive into every corner of the movie, the scope grand. It's not a movie, it is a live-action comic book, and all the more powerful for being unabashed about this. It makes it an uncompromisingly beautiful movie, with believability freely discarded in favour of the more striking image.

In the end, this movie makes its point clear: while symbology may be powerful, the real solution for achieving freedom and justice lies in the will of the people to reclaim it.

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