A leader who came to power under questionable circumstances. A government relying on fear, intimidation and lies to keep its citizens in line. A people misled by a media outlet serving as a mouthpiece for the administration. A society exchanging civil liberties for protection. A nation that persecutes gays and Muslims.
Oh yeah, and "V for Vendetta" was pretty good, too.
Joking aside, James McTeigue's wonderful interpretation of Alan Moore's graphic novel offers viewers a dark vision of the future. While set in a world several steps away from the present day, "V for Vendetta" poses a "What if?" that today's audiences must recognize, a warning that must be heeded.
"V for Vendetta" brings us to a post-World War III England, where a totalitarian regime uses fear and deception to keep its citizens in line. When one vigilante, V (Hugo Weaving), begins showing people the truth, he begins a roller-coaster ride toward revolution. In the course of his work, he rescues a young woman, Evey (Natalie Portman), who, as she learns of the truth, becomes an ally to V as he plots his greatest act of vengeance against the state.
Throughout, the citizens are confronted with two truths - the truth as presented by the government through a Fox News doppelganger and the truth as presented by V. When people begin realizing that the latter is far more accurate than the former, the government begins tightening its grip on its citizens with even more deadly zeal, using a combination of fear-mongering and force to keep control. But that control gets harder and harder to exert as V continues to play his role and the British continue to awake to what's going on.
While set in a fictitious future, the premise behind "V for Vendetta" is strongly grounded in the present day, just as the graphic novel's vision was strongly grounded in the time of its original publication in the 1980s. It would be hard to not recognize the comparisons between the totalitarian England and the course the Bush administration has set for America. Once you see the movie, ask yourself if the story behind "V for Vendetta" is that fanciful. Ask yourself whether it can happen here. Ask yourself if the frightening rhetoric of the religious right isn't simply a prelude of what's to come.
The response from right-wingers like Joe Scarborough and Michael Medved won't be hard to predict. They'll say the movie glorifies treason and terrorism. They'll say the movie sympathizes with the "homosexual agenda." They'll say the movie doesn't appeal to Middle America. And when they say these things, notice the irony, because they're attempting to do the same thing the authoritarian government tries to do in the movie: Kill an idea.
Because, to me, the ideas of this movie are far more important than the action. No explosions are as powerful as the idea of one nation collectively saying, "It doesn't have to be like this." No action sequences are as in-your-face as one person tired of the status quo. No bloodletting is as violent as one people deciding that the current administration has been in power long enough. How it happened in "V for Vendetta" is far less important than why it happened.
Several performances stood out in "V for Vendetta." Weaving was impressive as V, the vigilante who both avenged past hardships and woke a comatose nation with his actions. Portman's Evey gave V something he was drastically missing - a caring, human side. But Evey was there for far more than her support. She herself was the product of people who had spoken out against the repressive regime - led ruthlessly by a wonderful John Hurt - and who had paid dearly for their protests. Evey's change during the movie personified the feelings with which her nation was coming to grips.
Most impressive was Stephen Rea's Finch, an investigator charged with bringing V to justice. As he dug deeper into the case, however, Finch came to realize that things weren't as cut-and-dried as he thought. When he became a victim of the same regime that V had decided to rebel against, Finch soon saw his government for what it was. His conscience wouldn't let him remain a cog in the machine he realized was more of an enemy to England than was V.
And in Finch is where the true lesson from "V for Vendetta" lies. When confronted with evidence of the true nature of his government, he did what so many in this country have been unable to do under the Bush administration: Think for himself. Finch was able to see past the lies. He was able to recognize the shades of gray in what was being sold as a black-and-white world. He was able to form his own opinion based on the evidence, evidence he treated skeptically and refused to take at face value.
Think of what we know about the Bush administration. Think of the lies surrounding Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and warrantless wiretapping, among many others. Think of the preference this government gives fear and protection over civil liberties. Think of how its critics are shouted down and marginalized for speaking truth to power. The evidence is there. While support for the administration is waning, many Americans still haven't come to grips with how disastrous the Bush presidency has been for the nation.
Sure, we need more Vs in America. And by that, I don't mean people ready to blow up the White House. No, I'm not talking about terrorism. I'm talking about people who tire of business-as-usual and who decide to use their power to force change. But more Vs is a direct extension of there being more Finches, people who are willing and able to wake up from their slumber and search for the truth.
It is important to note the role V envisions himself playing in a post-totalitarian England. He doesn't do what he does to seize power so much as he does it to empower the people. Once they're able to think for themselves, one man's vigilantism won't be needed. It will have been replaced by a well-informed people armed with ideas. And ideas, as "V for Vendetta" proves, are bulletproof.