Remember, remember, the fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and plot.
It’s likely if you’ve visited my blog in the past couple months you’ve noticed the profile picture I have set. It’s an image inspired by my favorite film, V for Vendetta, which has had a huge influence on me and my writing. It is an extraordinarily deep film and an underrated treasure. You’ve seen the plastic guy Fawkes masks on Halloween, and you may have even seen the poem above. But the fifth is upon us.
At first glance, it seems like a bizarre story. If I told you a sci-fi political action thriller would come out five years after 9/11 that idealizes the work of a terrorist trying to blow up parliament, you’d think I was kidding. It’s based off a graphic novel that imagines a futuristic London ruled by a fascist regime. But more important is the actual historic pretext for the film. In 1605, a group of people including Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the houses of parliament and assassinate the king of England in protest of religious suppression, but they failed. Originally the celebration of this event on November the fifth was for the uncovering of the plot, and the mask, as well as the poem, was created to mock Fawkes. After the popularizing of the graphic novel in the 1990’s though, the new mask created by artist David Lloyd became a universal icon of revolution and rebellion, seen at protests like the mass ones on wall-street and used by groups like the hackers of Anonymous.
V for Vendetta is first and foremost a story of ideas. Similar to the concepts in Inception, the entire point of the protagonist “V” is that ideas are invincible and infinite. Once taken root, an idea can come to define the course of human history, as it has many times before. The important ideas expressed are those given strength during the Enlightenment and Progressive eras like fairness, equality, freedom, and justice. These ideas are often bigger than the film itself and not created by the story but rather conveyed very well through it. The heavy political tone refrains from expressing an actual view. It instead takes a hard-line stance on religious induced homophobia and the prosecution of gays and muslims, while actually upholding the concept of god. The use of torture and indefinite detention, state surveillance, and war are all criticized as well. It’s unlikely the film would have gone in the direction it did if it wasn’t made during the middle of the Bush administration, as it clearly guided the background story in this adaptation. It’s a rejection of the philosophies that value any end to justify the means, and a tip of the hat for the masses that have lived under such policy.
The word vendetta is in the title for a reason. This isn’t a boring walk-through of a depressing future. There is murderous action that is swift and instant against the enemies of “V” in the film, and you don’t feel sorry for them. But the chaos, much like the mask, is a symbol itself. Rather than implying death and destruction are the solutions to our problems, they are symbolic of justice being shown through cinema. The ultimate symbol is that V is a faceless individual representing the people. Notice the dead and alive lifting their masks at the end.
But the reason that I adore this film is its affirming of the power of words and symbols. “Words are the means of meaning, and for those who would listen, the annunciation of truth”. I have a love of the English language and its ability to convey complex meaning, and the protagonist V in this story is charismatic in the same vein. The poetic Shakespearean language and the allegorical reference to classic literature and Shakespeare’s plays, the reverence of classical music and jazz, the subtle humor, and the brilliant acting and dialogue all mold together to make this film a masterpiece. But also highlighted is the destructive power of words when used by demagogues (Glenn Beck) and of the media that sells itself as a source of information rather than being agenda driven (Fox News). When deprived of honest facts, there is no real debate occurring.
I, like millions, watch V for Vendetta around the fifth of November each year, and every time I do I pick up on something new. If there is any flaw to the movie, it’s that the background information and language is so deep that it may literally take several plays to fully grasp all that happens in the movie,which I think is part of its lasting value. But its an unpredictable story with a fresh injection of ideas and discourse into a society that sorely needs conversation. There could not be a more perfect movie to watch the day before an election. If nothing else, you should leave your viewing feeling thought provoked, entertained, and inspired. The best movies are based on that criteria.
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.