Credit: V for Vendetta: David Appleby

V for Vendetta is set around the year 2020. The world is in turmoil. News reports announce that the ”Ulcered Sphincter of Asserica” is torn amid civil war and chaos. Meanwhile, England is ruled by fascists that control the media and suppress free speech. Homosexuals have been rounded up and shipped off to internment camps. Citizens are executed for owning copies of the Koran. A hundred thousand souls have been lost to biological attacks launched in the water supply. Lurking underground is a mysterious man named V (played by Matrix veteran Hugo Weaving) who wears a mask resembling traitorous British folk hero Guy Fawkes — the bloke who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 — and who delivers bons mots like ”People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” And, for reasons that soon become clear, he’s got a vendetta. So he recruits a lonesome naïf (Natalie Portman) to aid him in his grand plan: to overthrow the oppressors.

If a literary action fantasy about a small group of freedom fighters trying to bring down a tyrannical regime sounds familiar, that’s because V comes courtesy of the same team behind The Matrix: Warner Bros. Pictures, producer Joel Silver, and enigmatic filmmaking brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, who are credited here as producers and screenwriters. And it offers the same kind of thinky thrills. ”What the boys have done, what they always do, is try not to take a specific stand,” Silver says. ”They like to tell a story, and whatever you bring to that is what they want you to bring.”

Based on the landmark Orwellian graphic novel that Alan Moore wrote and David Lloyd illustrated in the 1980s as a rebuke to conservative Thatcherism in the U.K., V for Vendetta aims for the provocative bravado of such classic cinematic allegories as Metropolis and A Clockwork Orange and may be the most subversive studio film to come out in the wake of 9/11. It’s hard to think of a current hot button the movie doesn’t press. State-sanctioned torture? Check. Wiretapping? Yep. The politics of homosexuality? You bet. Bioterrorism, the avian flu, the Iraq war, and pedophile priests? They’re all covered. ”How people interpret its relevance is so personal,” says Portman, acknowledging that the film is likely to stir controversy. ”Some people [will be] like, ‘This is an antifascism movie!’ And some like, ‘This is Iraq!’ And some [will] totally interpret it as the current U.S. government.”

All should be able to agree, however, that V for Vendetta — with its disturbing echoes of attacks that struck America (9/11/01), Spain (3/11/04), and Britain (7/7/05) — is more volatile and disturbing than any run-of-the-mill comic-book movie. (March 17)

(This is an online-excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s Feb. 17, 2006, cover story.)

V For Vendetta
  • Movie