For the uninitiated, V for Vendetta is a work of brilliance. It demonstrates the idea of rebellion against conformity, injustice, and stereotypes in the most symbolic way possible. Set in a dystopian world, the central character ‘V’ dons the role of an anarchist freedom fighter who brings about a revolution in the United Kingdom overthrowing the totalitarian regime to establish democracy. Evey Hammond, a journalist, working in the state-owned television network (British Television Network – BTN) supports V in his quest to kill his perpetrators who injected him with viruses at the Larkhill Detention Centre along with 20 other ‘undesirables’.
The Guy Fawkes mask hides V’s identity and becomes a symbol for the people of the United Kingdom to come together and hail not only the idea but also the intention behind the fawkesian treason that inspired V to use his agency to design acts of “terrorism” to threaten and bring down Chancellor Sutler’s regime.
Power Center: The movie characters can be classified into two sets of actors. One who acts as the power center led by High Chancellor Adam Sutler who had previously worked as a conservative member of the UK parliament. Sutler’s portrayal strikes an uncanny resemblance to the Orwellian world of Big Brother. Sutler’s party leader, Creedy established surveillance watchdogs across the country to track citizens’ movements: Brian Etheridge became head of the audio-surveillance (“the ear”), Roger Dascombe the government’s propagandist and CEO of the British Television Network (“the mouth”), and Conrad Heyer the head of visual-surveillance (“the eye”). Lewis Prothero, ex-commander at the Larkhill Detention Centre was appointed as the “voice” of London to reinforce government’s propaganda. Sutler appointed his co-conspirators at Larkhill at positions of power in the government in reward for their efforts in making Sutler rise to the top of the totalitarian power pyramid.
The other side comprises citizens who are completely devoid of any power. Their obedient subservience is a testament to the domination they are subject to.
Domination: The totalitarian government of Sutler rose to power by creating a pandemic in the society by conspiring with Larkhill’s scientists to harness a virus that would later be mixed in the city’s water distribution lines killing thousands of people. The chaos that unraveled post the pandemic made room for Chancellor Sutler to gain people’s sympathies and manipulate them into supporting him to rule the country – a plan in which he succeeded seamlessly. Once in power, he withdrew people’s rights and created institutional forms of disciplining through Norsefire’s party leader, Peter Creedy. Sutler also owned the “voice of London” – a media house led by Lewis Prothero, who came on television to reinforce Sutler’s ideas on fairness, justice, and norms that the citizens of the country were expected to “abide” by.
Disciplinary power: From the beginning, we notice that the citizens are living under the constant surveillance of ‘fingermen’, police officers of Sutler’s government, who are authorized to kill anyone seen on the streets of UK past curfew time. The fear of being caught indulging in activities that the government proscribes – homosexuality or voicing opinions to the public that go against the government’s mandate – this fear among citizens is palpable, pervasive, and all-consuming. When Gordon creates a satirical take on the government’s totalitarian policies, fingermen raid his house to threaten him. In the raid, they find a Quran along with other prohibited items and kill Gordon in the name of prosecution.
Stigmatization: Sutler’s government exercises its power of exclusion to weed out homosexuals from the citizenry. In the same vein, they excluded people from other religions as can be seen in Gordon’s murder (when the fingermen discover a copy of the Quran at Gordon’s house along with relics of homosexuality). Valerie Page, one of the twenty undesirables, recalled how Sutler’s government imposed ‘Articles of Allegiance’ on the citizens of UK to exclude her and her lesbian partner from the society. She wrote,
“I remember how different became dangerous. I don’t understand why they hate us so much”.
Valerie was taken a prisoner and tortured for three years before being murdered. Such forms of stigmatization and cruelty were rampant under Sutler’s regime.
Ladder of Participation: The citizens served merely a decorative role until V started committing acts of treason post which the citizens were forced to examine their agency or the lack of it. Ultimately, this led to an overturning of citizen’s subservience and united them against the government. People of London came together to restore their citizen power wearing Guy Fawkes masks as a sign of protest against the established authoritarian regime. The anarchy had, therefore, set in.
“The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.”
The symbolism is intense and purposeful; alliteration brings out the hope that V possesses about vindication of his actions to restore democracy in the UK.
Even as V tortures Evey by shaving off her head and pressurizing her (in the guise of fingermen) to reveal V’s identity, V liberates Evey of her fears. On the ladder of participation, Evey’s position rises from ‘manipulation’ at the hands of Sutler’s government to ‘partnership’ with V on his November 5th treason plot. This is evident towards the end of the movie, when V lets go of the control of the train loaded with ammunition to Evey and leaves it to her to decide the future course of action. Evey grapples with the acts she now holds: the power to make a decision that can topple the societal power pyramid shifting the power from the ruling class to the bottom of the pyramid. Evey chooses to set in motion the explosives-laden train to destroy the British parliament and commemorate the 5th of November.
The movie ends with Evey’s words regarding V’s identity: “He was all of us” underscoring the significance of V as an idea and not a person. This idea helped liberate all citizens from the authoritarian powers of Sutler’s regime. This idea empowered people to take control of governance. This idea, inspired by Guy Fawkes’ treason, will continue to embody in Evey and every other citizen of United Kingdom reminding them of the domination that they overcame to establish true citizen power in the new democracy.