“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.”
It’s Guy Fawkes Day, a fitting day for me to finally post my review of V for Vendetta. I saw the movie back when it came out, and it made an impact on me. Hugo Weaving’s performance as “V” was incredible, especially considering that you never see his face, and I was eager to read the graphic novel.
Well, it finally came up in my queue and I have to say that, as much as I enjoyed the film, the graphic novel was better.
The novel is set in a dystopian future London, and begins with young Evey Hammond trying to turn a trick for the first time. She accidentally propositions the secret police instead, and is about to be raped and murdered by them when a mysterious, cloaked figure in a Guy Fawkes mask cames to her rescue. This mysterious stranger, who calls himself “V,” takes her back to his secret, underground lair, the Shadow Gallery.
V was a victim of human science experiments, and he was the only “specimen” to survive. He escaped from a concentration at Larkhill after causing an explosion and, since then, has been hunting down those who know his true identity and are responsible for the experiments, all of whom are now major players in the totalitarian government.
Evey, anxious to help V out of gratitude for his rescuing her, begs to take part in his activities, but is horrified when V ends up killing a pedophiliac priest. She can’t go as far as V is willing to in order to upset the new world order, and he abandons her.
She’s taken in by Gordon, a petty criminal, and they become romantically involved. When he’s killed by a gangster working for the Party, Evey is determined to avenge his death. But just before killing the gangster, she’s arrested and accused of attempting to kill not only the gangster, but also the high-ranking government official that he was meeting.
It’s while she’s imprisoned that Evey discovers a letter written by a woman named Valerie, who was imprisoned for her homosexuality. Valerie tells her story in the letter, and encourages whoever’s reading it not to give up. Evey, strengthened by Valerie’s letter, quietly accepts her fate, announcing that she would rather be “shot behind the chemical sheds” than give up any information that would help the government. It’s then that she learns what it truly means to be free: not necessarily to be able to be comfortable and free from oppression, but simply to have the strength to make your own choices, instead of cowering in fear over the consequences.
Overall, it was a powerful story about the importance of freedom, and the importance of valuing freedom. But dystopian books always remind me of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. In his book, Postman compares two different visions of the future: the Orwellian dystopia and the Huxleyan future of self-medicated bliss. He posits that television and entertainment have become the self-medicating drug of choice, and that the powers that be are able to exert far more influence over the masses by keeping us docile through entertainment and comfort than they are by brute force and oppression.
It’s a good reminder to me that, as chilling as the portrayal of the future in V for Vendetta is, the best way for us to prevent this sort of future is first to stop self-medicating ourselves by escaping from our troubles through entertainment and overeating and literal self-medication, and instead to deal with our problems and accept that life may be difficult, but it’s better to make the difficult choices and bear the consequences of freedom than to live a life enslaved to comfort.