V for Vendetta (2005) was one of those movies that I liked instantly, not that I'm alone in that. It was well written, produced, and acted, but it also had a story that I could get into; a tortured character's revenge, rebelling against a corrupt, totalitarian, 'moralistic' regime and a dash of conspiracy. Everything a young male could need, right?
There was one part though, that never really sat right.
V, the protagonist - the hero, who spends the film standing up to the controlling powers of the government, trying to right the wrongs done to himself and to society, abducts, imprisons, and tortures Evey. It ultimately was beneficial to her (at least in the setting of the movie). However, that doesn't excuse the actions he took. Something that would likely have a lasting psychological impact if it were to happen in real life, where it may not have even had the positive effect which the movie did have.
I know, this was entirely fiction and I shouldn't try too hard to rationalize and analyze everything so much. However, this was a major movie with a large audience, so I do think there needs to be some consideration given to the hero abducting and torturing the only person who he's befriended.
I realized something recently though, a parallel in character with the operative in Serenity (also 2005). Both characters are firm believers that what they are doing is right and that the ends justify the means. While V is portrayed as the hero, he knows that he is not. Early on, he tells Evey:
V: Me? I imagine all manner of names shall be heaped upon my humble visage but, for now, let us simply say I am the villain.1
Because this comes just after V saves Evey from the corrupt fingermen, the implication is that he is adopting this term ironically based on whatever he'll be labeled officially. However, at the closing of the movie, he refers again to himself as the villain:
V: But the world, the world is not saved... Do not think that, when the fires die and the smoke clears, there is no miracle... there is only a path... upon which they must learn to rule themselves.
Evey: Yes, they need you, V.
V: Not me, Evey, not me. I told you I am the villain. The destroyer... But yes, they will need help...1
V is the destroyer of the current order. He believes that it must fall completely for righteousness to return. In this way, he believes that Evey must be stripped of her fear for her to be built up again to be the person he believes is inside. Remember that V's origin is destruction; he was experimented on in an internment camp, being the only subject who showed any promise. They destroyed the man who had come before, and created the monster, the destroyer of their world.
The operative, as I included in my Delusion and Righteousness post, is a believer, like V but depicted as an antagonist to Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Mal).
Inara (to Captain Reynolds):
We have every reason to be afraid.
Because he's a believer.
He's intelligent, methodical and devout in his belief that killing River is the right thing to do.2
He also knows what his place is in society, though he's much more specific in describing it.
Mal: Don't talk at me like a righteous man. You are a killer of children.
The Operative: When God wanted Pharaoh to release his people from bondage -- you know the story? He didn't ask. He sent his plagues down upon Egypt. That's me, Captain. The path to peace is paved with corpses. It's always been so.
Mal: So me and mine got to lie down and die so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I'm not going to live there. How could you think -- there's no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster. What I do is evil, I've no illusions about it. But it must be done.
Mal: Why? Do you know why?
The Operative: It's not my place to ask.2
These are very similar characters. Both consider themselves to be villains. The primary difference is how the stories are presented to the viewer. It is easier to see the operative as the villain, which reveals the discontinuity in character that I had trouble with earlier.
V's gambit ultimately pays off, Evey is better prepared to stand strong in the world, but it is certainly not the action of a moral person. It is done by a believer, an evil man crusading against injustice. The final outcome of his rebellion is successful (in his eyes) - those in charge have been brought down and the people have rallied together to see the tide turned. Ignoring the realistic uncertainty that awaits the country, there is a net gain and more freedom is possible. However, it doesn't excuse the means of that success. We can justify the destruction of places and the killing of the corrupt, but should we also excuse the torture of innocents along the way. No, but I don't think we need to.
I'm not trying to take away from this movie, I still enjoy it very much. This realization that V is not the hero (I'd forgotten the line about him being the villian), and the parallels with Serenity's operative, simply helped to fit Evey's imprisonment scene into V's character; it didn't fit with V, the hero, but it can fit with V, the villian. We certainly don't need to excuse his actions, but realize, for the purpose of the movie at least, that V is a monster, what he does is evil.