V/Evey

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.

1.
V for Vendetta Script. The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb). http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/V-for-Vendetta.html. Accessed January 2, 2017.
2.
Serenity Script. The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb). http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Serenity.html. Accessed January 2, 2017.

2 thoughts on “V/Evey

  1. I was thinking of this movie a few days before I read your post…funny. You bring up a really interesting point about V’s treatment of Evey. I think it plays in to this fondness our society has with tough love. I have seen so many parents with the attitude of being a hard-ass to their kid, break them down, show them truth about the pain of the world and they’ll be better people for it or, at least, they’ll be tougher and more prepared to deal with the world. I agree with you, I think there are long term psychological effects to this behavior. (I can just hear a tough-love parent respond, “That’s how my parents raised me and look at how I turned out. ” …Dude, if you’re anything like the people I know, you just made my point.)

    I would like to add another point. How would the movie be different if Evey was a male? Would V have treated her the same way? And if so, would we expect his actions to have had the same outcome on a male Evey as they did on a female Evey? I bring this up because characters and movies are archetypes. Evey represents the feminine, which can be thought of as the loving, nurturing, caring, and emotional aspect of human nature. So I think the author/directors are saying that change does not come from being loving and nurturing and emotional. In order to bring about serious change, we need to be hard-edged and cold (look at how Evey’s physical appearance even changed over the course of the movie). And I disagree. There are many soft-spoken, mild-mannered people who have had great impacts on the world (take Rosa Parks and Gandhi for example). I think that image of power is a very western male attitude. And personally, as a woman, I tire of the abuse we suffer in stories.

    Anyway, thanks for hearing me out. I love reading your posts! Very thoughtful and thought-provoking!

    • Interesting timing – I sometimes wonder what sparks certain thoughts, especially when I find out that other people are thinking on the same subject around the same time. I wonder if something came up in both of our lives which acted as a reminder. . . Anyway, excellent points – both in regard to tough love and Evey’s sex playing a role, which I hadn’t considered.

      I initially was inclined to say that I’m not sure whether V would have treated Evey any differently have the character been male; this has to do with what I think V’s goal is – he has an ally of sorts who has this uncertainty and fear, his course of action may lead him to treat any person in that role similarly. The only evidence (overt, anyway) we see of his recognition of her sex is him using her to get to the bishop, and his request for a dance before his final act. However, I think that the prison sequence was designed to break her down and elicit an emotional response from the notes he provided her. While he did mention that he had found the notes just as she had, we can see that the only other characters that he encountered and didn’t kill were the inspectors. Would he have imprisoned them the same way and if not, why? He didn’t; instead, he left them clues for them to follow. Here again, the writers could be playing into a male-archetype of logic instead of emotion. So, I think you’re probably right that the Evey character’s sex did play a role here – though I really want to believe my initial impression.

      As a male, I completely agree with you; I want complex, well-treated characters of both sexes – not focused on archetypes or stereotypes, and not just the males to be the domineering, strong, leaders. I’m tired of women characters in stories being the emotion-ruled damsels in distress (or if they are strong, they are simple, one-dimensional characters), while the males are represented as logical and cold. We live in a complex world and the media informs our expectations. We deserve to have complex characters able to use logic and reason, yet still be vulnerable and caring.

      I think that’s one of the reasons I really liked The Force Awakens – Rey was a strong character who took care of herself, even finding a way to make some progress on escaping the base at the end before friends came to help – I believe that if they hadn’t shown up, she would have made her escape. Yet she wasn’t just a cold calculating character – she cared for Finn (and I’m glad they didn’t turn it into a romance – I think the writers did a good job steering away from that tendency).

      We’ve also recently been watching Penny Dreadful, and I think overall it does a good job with the various characters, strong characters of both sexes, complex with varying strengths and support needs from the other characters (intentionally vague to avoid spoilers). They are fully complex characters which you come to identify with, and care what happens to them. Those are the worthwhile characters; the stereotypes and the one-dimensional characters are the ones I have a hard time with.

      Thanks for your response, it’s good to get other perspectives.

Comments are closed.