Unmasking the Fascism of Vendetta
V Is for Volk
By Angus Menuge
Exclusive -- Fascism is frequently decried but rarely defined. Ostensibly about a fascist government, V for Vendetta is a movie that hides its own fascist inclinations behind the mask of its protagonist, V (Hugo Weaving).
V models his violent protest on Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. (The movie was scheduled for release in London in November 2005 but was delayed when London really was bombed.) Set in the year 2020, the United States has fallen to biological and chemical weapons, leaving a totalitarian Britain as the only major superpower. The government controls the media, restricts personal liberties, and uses its own people for ghastly experiments. While others die, V is disfigured but transformed into a superman, who aims both to avenge injustice and restore hope to a cowed and apathetic populace.
The screenplay, by Andy and Larry Wachowski of Matrix fame, is loosely based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore (illustrated by David Lloyd), which critiqued the allegedly totalitarian aspirations of the 1980s government of Margaret Thatcher. However, Moore has called the screenplay “rubbish,” and certainly it was modified to include standard obsessions of America’s Left after 9/11.
The Fuhrer, Adam Sutler (John Hurt) is a hectoring bigot who uses Christian vocabulary to justify censorship of art, persecution of homosexuals, and the criminalization of the Qu’ran. He is aided and abetted by a Bishop who preys on young girls and who was complicit in the ghastly experiments. Christianity is portrayed in an exclusively negative light, as a collaborator with authoritarian state oppression. Islam is shown in a positive light (the Qur’an is described as beautiful poetry), despite the obvious contradiction that Islamic societies, and not those influenced by Christian principles, brutally oppress homosexuals. By misrepresenting Christianity as fascist, the movie both overlooks and encourages the fascist oppression and marginalization of Christians that already exists.
Lacking a sense of irony, the movie never considers whether V himself is a fascist. Despite his terrible suffering, he is. What V has learned from his suffering is not how to love and support others, but how to be a Nietzschean superman, who is beyond good and evil and is therefore entitled to use any means whatever to overthrow the fascist government. As Gene Edward Veith shows in his book Modern Fascism, this Nietzschean outlook is the essence of fascism. In the 1930s, German fascists combined Nietzsche’s emphasis on the will to power with a romanticized worship of the culture and ethnicity of a people or folk (Volk) to legitimize the triumph of the national will over inferior peoples.
Unfortunately, V fits this pattern almost perfectly. Believing himself to be beyond traditional moral constraints, V happily murders all those he opposes, and horrifically mistreats his accomplice Evey (Natalie Portman), initially a sensitive and sympathetic character, so that she too loses her moral reservations about terrorism and is willing to execute V’s master plan.
At the same time, V forges a bond with a vox populi of disaffected citizens willing to support his cause. While V wears his mask to honor Guy Fawkes and (like the phantom of the opera) to conceal his disfigurement, the appearance of thousands of his supporters wearing the same mask is strikingly reminiscent of the mass consciousness of the Nazis, with their vast parades of soldiers with identical uniforms and behavior.
While the Sutler government is corrupt, brutal, and mendacious, V’s destruction of Parliament is enjoyable only as a superbly choreographed special effect. Otherwise, it seems at best a pointless stunt, at worst an endorsement of anarchist terrorism, since viewers are given no reason to think that a better society will result. By fighting fascism with fascism, V unleashes the floodgates of violent factionalism. Once might is declared right, even an enlightened government is only a coup away from totalitarianism.
For a movie so obviously influenced by George Orwell’s 1984, it is striking that the screenplay fails to grasp the message of Orwell’s Animal Farm, that those who can see themselves only as oppressed can quickly morph into the most brutal oppressors when they gain power. The wisdom of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, that the evil lust for power can only be defeated by renunciation, is lost on V. V’s pretentious literary allusions do not reveal a civilized person, but the sort of cultured anarchist who disfigures too many English Literature departments.
This same naiveté is evident in James Hall’s review on Al Jazeera’s website. Hall claims V’s “outcry is not of an anarchist or a nihilist, but that of a seeker of justice and justifiable outrage,” and that the “lesson of V is that dictatorships exist only when good citizens withdraw from the struggle.” Hall is blind to the fact that these same citizens may become the next dictatorship, and it seems disingenuous for Al Jazeera to print a review idolizing revolution in the West when Muslim countries enforce absolute obedience to a Shariah law that denies fundamental human rights.
Initial figures suggest that V for Vendetta will be fairly successful at the box office (grossing $25.64 million in its opening weekend, and $46.21 million so far), and, aside from the special effects, this is probably because the movie does gratify most everyone’s desire to get back at their real or imaginary oppressors. For example, it is easy for me to imagine myself in V’s mask appearing before senators who have derailed a perfectly good Supreme Court candidate, or before a tenure committee that has denied tenure to a professor with excellent qualifications because of his outspoken affirmation of conservative Christian ideals. But not only would it be an act of sickening brutality and evil to slay these people, it would have no tendency to change the hearts of the many others who would take their place. Quite the reverse. Violent resistance to evil may liberate a building, but it hardens hearts in opposition and encourages others to take the law into their own hands.
Philosophy Prof. Angus Menuge is director of the Cranach Institute and author of Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science. Born in England, he is now a U.S. citizen. Posted April 3, 2006.