Explosions in the House

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November.”

Thus goes the Gunpowder Plot poem, today immortalised in the classic folk hero celebration that is Guy Fawkes night and that to date pretty much unites the whole of Britain in an annual show of anti-system sentiments.

The laudable kind, as opposed to the scarily anarchic kind. Because, although officially Brits were required by law (that’s right, required) to celebrate the date in honour of the establishment’s ‘triumph’, in reality you will find that most revellers are honouring the hero who tried to take on the monarchy back in the 17th century.

Why should we care about what the Brits are celebrating, you may well ask. Well, if we’ve seen fit to import Thanksgiving recipes and Halloween trick and treating (not that I’m complaining)…there’s no reason why we should not go the whole hog and take an evening to remember Guy Fawkes too. Hey, any excuse is good for a spot of partying, right? Particularly given that the night has inspired one of my all-time film (and, before that, graphic novel) favourites. That’s right, it’s time for V for Vendetta.

I know that many of you are by now fed up of seeing the ubiquitous mask that will be forever associated with the Anonymous group and the ACTA protestors. This post is intended to help you put your antipathy aside for a minute and concentrate on the pure awesome that is this movie. But first things first, for all you philistines who still labour under the impression that V for Vendetta was created in 2006 by director James McTeigue, allow me to re-educate you.

Even before the delectable Natalie Portman took on the role of Evey, the seductively innocent waif who is rescued from the Secret Police by freedom fighter V, novelist Alan Moore had already created 10 books, illustrated by the legendary David Lloyd, around the premise of a dystopian Great Britain where freedom fighters strive to overthrow the fascist government.

When Warner Bros took the decision of translating this premise to the big screen, the news was greeted by something akin to horror by hardcore fans of the series. The general consensus was that ‘Hollywoodification’ could only kill the plot, which was rather brutal and uncompromising.

Well, thanks to some exceptional casting (Portman is joined by Hugo Weaving in the title role and Stephen Fry as Deitrich – seriously, it doesn’t get much better), and a hefty dose of luck, the end result is superb. The choice of imagery contributes no end to the film’s success.

Rather than going for mundane realism, McTeigue opted for continuous use of symbolism.  Most scenes are replete with imagery that provokes an instant causal connection in our minds. From the quasi-Orwellian Big Brother television screens that populate the movie to the Nazi-like uniforms and even the red, circled ‘A’, universally acknowledged as the symbol for anarchism, all the symbolism is geared to point us in one direction: V For Vendetta is a cool movie, it’s fun…but let’s not forget that inherent political beliefs that gave birth to the plotline.

At the end of the day, it is not the casting, the script or the visuals that make this movie a must-see. Rather, it is the director’s refusal to pander to the increasingly popular trend of presenting the audience with clear-cut, black-and-white screen personas.

Nothing about V For Vendetta is clear-cut. On the contrary, despite the fact that it’s very difficult not to empathise with V, the movie continuously throws curveballs and moral dilemmas at the viewer. This is achieved mostly through Evey’s character, as she continuously questions whether V’s decisions can be morally justified, whether her conscience can live with what he is planning and whether there is another, more justice-friendly way to achieve freedom.

This is precisely why, after watching it, you will find that your post-movie conversation is likely to find itself meandering in the direction of legitimacy of government, ideological fallacies, the issue of whether terrorist acts can ever be justified…

And when the follow-up to a movie is an intellectually stimulating conversation, well, there’s no surer sign of excellence, is there?

Happy Guy Fawkes night.

This post appeared on The Sunday Times.