Thursday, November 11, 2010

Character Study: V

In the wake of November 5th, I thought it prudent to, as he says so himself, discuss the "character of this dramatis persona." To many he is the symbol of heroic sacrifice for freedom from tyranny and oppression. He is also branded a terrorist, a dangerous anarchist. But as Evey says, "what of the man?" Who is the person behind the mask?

Let's make it clear that though V for Vendetta began as a graphic novel, I'll only be discussing V as he is presented in the Wachowski brothers film. He's a complex enough character without the multiple mediums.

It's important to point out that V has two faces. One is the face he wears as a symbol of the fight for freedom and the other is the face reserved for the private, for him and eventually Evey.

This post is going to be full of spoilers, so consider this a warning. If you haven't watched V for Vendetta, stop reading now, pop it in, and sit down and watch it. I promise, you will not be disappointed. It might not even mean much on your first time watching it. But after you see it a couple more times, the message of the film will really sink in.

What makes V, someone who, in every modern sense, would be considered a terrorist, a hero? What separates him from the vulgar, dangerous maniacs that blow themselves up in the name of God? I mean, on the surface, he's just an anarchist with a vendetta, isn't he? He blows up Parliament, causes chaos that gets people killed. What makes him different from the rest? Unique?

Perhaps it's the ideals he embodies. He is a symbol. V represents the fight against tyranny, against the absolute control of government over the people. As Bruce Wayne so eloquently put it, a symbol is more than a man; a symbol is incorruptible. And unlike the Dark Knight, V doesn't really have a secret identity. He is the mask. He has the advantage of not having to live two lives.

But this is where we deviate from the idea of him as a symbol. Because if he was nothing more than a symbol then he really wouldn't be that interesting of a character, now would he? Or at least, not interesting enough to warrant a character study.

During the movie we see as he gets closer to Evey, falling in love with her. It took me a while to pick up on this, because the first time you watch, it just seems sort of creepy that this masked guy is hitting on little Natalie Portman. This is where watching the movie several times comes in handy. It's difficult to express emotions through a masked character, obviously, but we have to look past it, focusing on V's actions and words.

The relationship between the two of them is an odd one. At first, V is a hero, saving her from capture and interrogation. Then, he becomes her captor, forbidding her from leaving the Shadow Gallery. When she does escape, V re-captures her and puts her through an illusionary interrogation and incarceration. He does this, of course, to simulate what it would have been like if she had been captured by the government.

This seems evil and cruel, but V does this out of love for her. Evey has expressed that she wanted to be free of fear, and V has done this for her. It certainly doesn't justify torture, but it speaks volumes of his character as a human being. We must understand that it had to have been difficult for him. In the film, V confesses how much he wanted to end the ordeal for Evey, but she kept fighting, and for her, he couldn't just give up.

The Count of Monte Cristo starring Robert Donat is V's favorite movie

Personally, my favorite example of V's character is at the climax, right before he goes to confront Cready and his Fingermen. Evey pleads with him not to go, to stay with her instead. It must have been the most difficult decision in V's life. Here was the woman who had shown him something other than vengeance offering him a way out. It may be a stretch, but it echoes the same temptations Christ must have faced in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Simple vengeance is not enough to explain why he chose to go rather than stay. It may have begun as revenge, with his killing of those responsible for what had happened to him, but on the eve of his revolution, I think V understood that he had become something more than a man. He was a symbol of the revolution; if he had not kept his promise, then Norsefire would have kept its stranglehold on England. V understood that his duty outweighed his own desires.

It is a tragic story. He knowingly goes to his death and bids Evey farewell. It can be argued that V echoes Edmond Dantes, his own hero, in that he "cares more about revenge than he does about her." But it's more than that, I think. He sacrificed his own happiness, his own life, for what he believed in. And that's why he should hold a place in the hearts of anybody who values freedom. 

V is a hero, an icon, and though he may just be a fictional character, what he stands for are real ideals. Vive la revolucion. Freedom forever!

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