I’ve been reading “V for Vendetta” this month and almost finished with it. It’s something I probably should have read a long time ago but I’m glad I finally got to it because it’s much better than I was expecting.
I saw the movie back around when it originally came out in 2005 but remember very little of it other than a couple of the story beats, so the comic’s story is completely new to me. I would honestly put the story on the same level as “1984,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “Brave New World” for its depth of worldbuilding, character development and sociopolitical insight.
I also find it extraordinarily pertinent to read in 2020, not simply for its commentary on fascism, but also it’s treatment of the surveillance state, obsession and reliance on technology, white supremacy, abuses of power and revolution. It goes far beyond a surface reading of “anarchist rebels against fascism” and into the meaning of freedom, what we’re willing to sacrifice for safety, what we’re willing to do because authority tells us to, what we consider normal and natural simply because we’ve grown used to it.
Evey (who you might remember is played by Natalie Portman in the movie) represents us as the audience: She is naive, trusting, she believes what she is told and accepts the world around her such as it is. By taking her under his wing, V shows her, and by extension us, the invisible prisons that we have allowed ourselves to be trapped in. Like Plato’s allegory of the cave, people rebel against being shown the truth. They have grown accustomed to their chains, to the four walls around them, to the status quo, and reject anything that threatens to disrupt that.
Evey rebels, too. She found a boyfriend that made her happy, a home where she was content, comfortable, why should all of that be upended? A woman named Valerie, imprisoned in a labor camp, answers that question for Evey. In a letter, she writes, “It was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch, we are free. … I shall die here, every inch of me shall perish … except one.”
It’s easy to say that we value freedom, integrity, equality. Although “V for Vendetta” takes place in England, the message is the same. It’s easy for us in America to say we believe in the Declaration of Independence, to say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” we take it for granted. When millions of people march around the country to say America is not fulfilling its promises to its citizens, to protect them and grant them equity, they are looked down upon by national leaders and called anti-American.
“V for Vendetta” is just as poignant today as it was when it was released in the ‘80s. If you get an opportunity to pick up a copy at your local bookstore or library, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in dystopian political commentary, whether they’re a fan of graphic novels or not.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.