I have a list of films that I always recommend to people and V for Vendetta has been at the top of that list for over a decade. I watched this film for the first time in junior high, just a few years after its cinematic release and was immediately moved by how timelessly poignant this film is. Released in 2005, this dystopian film takes place in 2028 – 14 years after a horrific virus outbreak ravaged London. Following the story of protagonists Evey and vigilante ‘V’, the audience watches as a tyrannical government is overthrown. Every year on the fifth of November, I watch this film. But during a recent viewing with a friend, I was startled to see the unfortunate and uncomfortable similarities between this film and the hellscape of 2020.
How could a film from 2005, based on a 1980s graphic novel, so accurately depict our current misery? Let’s break that down.
**DISCLAIMER: This film is controversial, graphic and deals with a multitude of sensitive subjects including pandemics, LGBTQ+ issues, homophobia, medical torture, kidnapping, etc. Please watch at your own discretion. SOME SPOILERS BELOW – BE AWARE.
Set in modern day London, the country is run by a hyper-conservative, tyrannical government that took control following the explosive ‘St. Mary’s virus’ that consumed the lives of at least 100,000 citizens. Freedom of speech is nearly non-existent, nightly curfews are in place, roving ‘finger men’ police the residents with complete ruthlessness and surveillance vans roam the streets listening in on citizens.
The first and most obvious villain is dubbed as ‘V’, the vigilante who demands justice from those who wronged him. V is modeled after Guy Fawkes, a failed rebel from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 who was immortalized by the British tradition of Bonfire Night. However, the true villain is the government, and more specifically, High Chancellor Adam Sutler, the reigning fascist power in the country.
The St. Mary’s Virus (SPOILER)
The St. Mary’s virus is credited for what brought the tyrannical government – Norsefire – to the ruling party. Showcased publicly as a horrific, random virus, St. Mary’s was later revealed to be a biowarfare created by the very government supposedly protecting citizens. Released in three separate locations – a water treatment plant, a primary school and a hospital – the majority of virus victims were those that the government deemed ‘undesirable’.
So why is this film so impactful?
Once, dystopian landscapes were a far fetched idea used as propaganda or science fiction to entertain the masses, but now it’s different. For me, it feels like we are teetering on the precipice of something major in the United States. Never before, at least in my lifetime, have we been more divided as a nation, although I understand that the generations before us have watched as tyranny ruled countries and have witnessed first-hand the wrath of wars, totalitarianism and fascism. As a pre-teen watching V for Vendetta for the first time, I was astonished to see how a country could change overnight after one incident – one virus – and that so many innocent lives could be lost.
But now, in 2020, I can fully see how that can happen. I hope that there will never be an end of V’s or Evey Hammond’s or Inspector Finch’s, those who strive to find the truth and fight for a better world for us all.
“He was Edmond Dantés… and he was my father. And my mother… my brother… my friend. He was you… and me. He was all of us.” – Evey Hammond, V for Vendetta.