Monday, May 17, 2010

Final Paper: Theoretical Introspection on V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is a dystopian film where the United Kingdom is imagined from the 1980’s to the 1990’s. The movie depicts a near-future Britain after limited nuclear war (the 5th of November), which has left much of the world destroyed. In this future, a fascist party called “Norsefire” has arisen from the ruling power. “V”, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent and theatrical campaign to bring down the government. V is a man with reasons and as the mysteries unravel, we find out that he is the only survivor of an experiment in which four dozen prisoners were given injections of a compound called “Batch 5.” The compound caused vast cellular anomalies that eventually killed all of the subjects except V, who developed advanced strength, reflexes, endurance, and pain tolerance. V is also well versed in the art of explosives, subterfuge, and computer hacking, and has a vast literary (Shakespeare, Beethoven), cultural and philosophical intelligence. Because he knows too much and does too much with his knowledge and ideas, the Party (the Chancellor and the Fingermen) label him as a terrorist and sets to bring him down by subjugating him from the society that they have spent so much time constructing.

He is a threat to their system because he believes in the concept of ideas and the power of words. Through the power that he sustains, he shows the people of Britain how corrupted and manipulative the government as well as the different media’s are. V sheds light and destroys the slogan of the government, “Strength through unity and unity through faith.” He invokes that the only reason they want/need civilians to stay united is to remain powerful. However, he uses these words against the inventors by encouraging all the oppressed civilians to rebel and stay united throughout their fight for justice. V meets and falls in love with a young girl named Evey, a victim of the government. We find out that she has had a very dark past and because of it lives every moment of her life in fear. Although she wants to be fearless, her childhood experiences have traumatized her for life. Her father was a writer and believed that writers use lies that the government says to tell the truth; whereas the government lies to hide the truth. He was killed by the military and her mother died from a hunger- strike, fighting for justice. Her little brother was a student at St. Mary’s and became a victim of the virus that spread and killed over a hundred children. Through the experiment that V puts her through, she is transformed into a fearless and powerful women who essentially becomes V’s successor.

This clip is the introduction to the film, therefore the film begins by conveying to the viewer what happens when a man is known to have his own thoughts, his own feelings, and the appropriate language/words to describe and differentiate the truth from lies. This historically accurate story originates from a man named Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes belonged to a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State opening of Parliament. The ideas which people were executed for brings out the truth in class differences and inequality.
V for Vendetta - "The Power of Ideas"

In a society founded on totalitarianism and utilitarian ideals, this harbors potential dangers for the rule of the aristocracy. The narrator says that “a man can be killed, he can be forgotten, but 400 years later an idea can change the world” (V for Vendetta). This statement remains true because when “the ideas of a human subject exist in his actions,” his actions make chaos and chaos in turn, if not changes the world, definitely promotes rebellion-a primary agent of change (Althusser696). The movie as a whole questions the intentions of those who rule over us. It questions the extent of truth we as civilians are exposed to, as well as, why we are deprived of being happy, free and heard. The cause for imaginary transpositions of the real conditions of existence is based on “the small number of cynical men who base their domination and exploitation of the ‘people’ on a falsified representation of the world which they have imagined in order to enslave other minds by dominating their imaginations” (Althusser694). This explains the reason people had and still have for acting upon rebellious ideas. These small men enforce ignorance and misconceptions to an extent where people started to imagine a world without being exploited and acted upon these imaginations/ideals. V not only creates this ideal society, but kills all the people who polluted it in the first place.
The use of technology (big screens and microphones) in V for Vendetta is in great resemblance to Orwell’s 1984. V clearly states that “there are those who don’t want us to speak” and means for it to demonstrate the power in words and the change that can come from this power. The Party is in complete favor of civilians being obedient and silenced because they believe this to be the only way their lies will not be known. V continues his speech by listing all the things that is wrong with London. The speech as a whole is radical, but radical is the only type of thought that will make change occur.

V for Vendetta - "power of words”

Plato in his Republic writes about anger and how “it’s not that they are not poetic or pleasurable for the general public to hear; indeed the more poetic they are the less they should be heard by boys and men who must be free and fear slavery more than death” (Plato25). Plato makes it clear that good poetry appeals to all the senses in the human body; that of anger, rebellion, bliss, and faith. However, he wants society to have access to only bad poetry where only joy is spoken of. He does want demoralized people (slaves or not slaves) to view the world without fear. This is the mentality the Chancellor and the Fingerman are controlling London with. Considering the fact that words and speaking raise feelings within the self, the government of London does not want for people to speak because they know that anger is the first outlet that these oppressed people will feel. It’s evident that throughout time, they will not only be angry, but act upon this anger as a way to retain revenge. Inflicting fear is represented as a necessity in a ruling government, hence a prominent theme in the film.

V serves justice by killing Lewis Prothero, Bishop Anthony Lilliman, Delia Surge and many others. Lewis Prothero was the wealthiest man of the country before he became the voice of London. He was the owner of the Larkael Detention Center; the same facility V was burned in and the same facility that killed 80,000 innocent people. Bishop Anthony Lilliman was the highest paid member of the Party (200,000 dollars a month). He was killed for his hypocritical lifestyle, where he slept with and raped young girls for personal pleasure. Delia Surge was killed so that the voice of a woman who was innocent and victimized was heard. She was a doctor in the facility when the entire medical center was exploded. V killed her without her going through any pain, and he did this so that the investigators come to the crime scene and take notice of the 5th of November (written in her journal) - that a conservative political leader was the one in charge (the Chancellor himself).

Evey is being told that the only way she can become free is if she cooperates and gives the name and location of the terrorist (V), but she rejects every chance she gets and remains loyal to V. This is a trial V himself put her through, though she is not aware of this fact. He puts her through that torture for the purpose of being able to live without fear of the government and the fear of what may happen to her- the way she had always desired to be. During her stay at the prison, she gets access to letters (in a mouse hole) from Valerie- a beautiful young lesbian woman who is bought to jail because she is a homosexual.

Valerie's Letter

The Panopticon is a circular building with an observation tower in the center in an open space surrounded by an outer wall made up of cells for the incarceration of mental patients or convicts. Although this description of the cells is written as fiction by Michel Foucault, it does not diminish the fact that “the relation of each individual to his disease and to his death passes through the representatives of power, the registration they make of it, the decisions they take on it” (Foucault550). In the film, all the people who were sent to the facility were “diagnosed” on behalf of the government. They were told what was wrong with them based upon social norms and what seemed fit. Social norms were ways in which the Chancellor sustained his power and kept order persistent.

Oppression is so common in these prisons that something that looks real (letter on a piece of toilet paper) can be thought of as a trick. The letter from Valerie represents how homosexuals were categorized as “plague victims,” “lepers,” and “abnormal” through the technique that “called for multiple separations, individualizing distributions, an organization in depth of surveillance and control, and an intensification and ramification of power” (Foucault550). Threatening them with surveillance control was the first step to demolishing homosexuals from society. Then they were separated from their loved ones, and finally all the torture and humiliation led to the death of the individual- not being able to be who one really is inside. They were forced to put on masks and pretend like they were happy with their stiff smiles, just like the mask of V. Authorities were not fond of laughter either, for violent laughter tends to provoke a violent change, and change they prevented. Valerie’s final words uttered, “Although I have never seen you, and although I will never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you or kiss you, I love you from the bottom of my heart. I love you, Valerie” (V for Vendetta). They were not supposed to show emotion or any sense of vulnerability, but for her having confessed love to some stranger, it epitomizes the fact that innocent love towards the person next to them had completely perished in society. It was unseen of, unheard of, but nonetheless necessary.

As V began to bring chaos into the world of London, the chancellor worried that people will forget why they need him and states that the “message should be read on every newspaper, heard on every radio, and seen on every television” (V for Vendetta). The quote appeals to the idea that society controls our minds and thoughts through media. They can make us think a certain way by enforcing that to be a part of our daily lives.

The Chancellor

Plato writes in his Republic that “it’s appropriate for the rulers of the state, if anyone, to tell lies involving enemies or fellow citizens for the benefit of the state, but no one else must do it” (Plato28). When a society functions on the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, every form of lies are used as a means of benefiting the country and its people. In reality, these authorities are in search of any way they can reap the maximum amount of power while subjecting those weaker or lower in class/status. In the film, the idea of the government having planned the attack on London (disease, death, facilities) is not even considered because the government pretended to help the people by creating a pharmaceutical company. Within this company, they invented a pill that was used and sold as the cure to the poison. They were the ones who spread the toxic chemicals so that they create the medicine for it as a way to increase their income, which was also their way of “helping.” They put this act on while at the same time they pushed forward their plans to destroy. They spread the poison, they separated homosexuals, and they starved these people mentally and physically and said that they were not responsible. It shows the lack of humanity that bastilles upon people of power.

V says the famous line, “there is more than a face under this mask, there are ideas, and ideas are bullet proof” (V for Vendetta). The “existence of the ideas of his belief is material in that his ideas are his material practices governed by material rituals which are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus from which derive the ideas of that subject” (Althusser697). He is not only a face, but an individual who acts disobediently to the government. This rebel-like characteristic makes one seem insane, but it is through this insanity that he is able to reach the justice and freedom he desires.

V for Vendetta – “Ideas are bullet proof!”

Once one owns their thoughts and does things because they want to and not because they were told to, society will never become utopian. The term sublime implies that a man can in emotions and in language, transcend the limits of the human condition. The only way one is able to understand sublime is by grasping the notion of what exists beyond the human experience. It defeats every effort of sense and imagination; it goes beyond the inevitable- all in the power of words.

GREAT SCENE - V for Vendetta (finale)

His dress attire is completely black from head to toe, which signifies his dark past (getting burned in fire), which in turn signifies the horrors all the civilians were coerced into. The mask that V never removed had a heavy amount of theatrical make-up, along with a fixed smile that was so wide that both eyes were closed and could barely see. This was a transparent representation of how the government wanted people to be. The government’s control is parallel to a puppet show, in which case the population of London was the puppet and was being controlled by the pulling of strings in whatever direction that advantaged the wealthy. V is symbolic of all of London. He is Edmond Dante’s; he is Evey’s mother, father, brother, Mr. Finch and every other tortured soul. He is aware of the fact that “particular actions of individuals are never symbolic in themselves; they are the elements out of which is constructed a symbolic system, which must be collective” (Culler56). Therefore, he uses the truth to pull in the oppressed and unites them by giving them faith, strength, and ideas. The taking off of the masks was a victory for everyone. It was a victory because the Chancellor was dead and they were finally given the chance to be who they really were. They were liberated through rebellion and death.

The movie insinuates the concept of holding on to your past (Guy Fawkes) as a way of making a difference in the future. Although records will vanquish/perish, words will never lose their power. Capitalism is ingrained in the wealth of the few and the value in the laborer. The bourgeoisie society proceeds with their plans by enforcing the owner-slave relationship. Those who are “slaves” are those who are subjects and obedient to every threat that the owners make. V uses the arts to allow optimism to flow through the minds of adults and children. The taking off of the masks was emblematic of V’s plan- the domino effect. He knew that once he had touched the hearts of more than one person, the whole country was going to want to know what it feels to be free.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 693-702. Print.
Plato. "Republic 3." Classical Literary Criticism. The Penguin Group: London 2000Print.
Foucault, Michel. "Discipline and Punish." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 549-566. Print.
Culler, Jonathan.”The Linguistic Foundation.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 56-58. Print.
V for Vendetta. Film

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