V for Vendetta: The Idea and the Man
Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
Ok, so by the time I finished this post it was November 8th, but I watched it originally in honour of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th. This is probably my favourite movie, and as I watched it for about the twentieth time for this review, I felt like there were a lot of themes I could discuss from the Christian/Anabaptist perspective. I’ve decided what I will do is break it down into two posts. In this one, I’ll look at an overarching theme where I generally agree and then in the next I’ll look at some of the finer details where I mostly disagree.
The movie opens with a voiceover saying the well-known quote above and then this:
We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught. He can be killed and forgotten. But four hundred years later an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of ideas. I’ve seen people kill in the name of them; and die defending them. But you cannot kill an idea, cannot touch it or hold it. Ideas do not bleed, it cannot feel pain, and it does not love. And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man. A man who made me remember the fifth of November. A man I will never forget.
This theme runs throughout the entire movie. It is primarily about an ideology: “people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.” As I said above, I’ll discuss what some elements of this particular idea are in my next post, but for now, I want to think about the power of an idea in general. Ideas are no doubt powerful. In the movie, V has to do very little to spread his idea and mobilize a large portion of the nation. He might have been the match to light the flame, but all the necessary materials were already there ready to burn. V’s idea is contagious because it is something that people easily understood and could quickly agree with. They realized the truth in V’s first TV speech that they were complacent in allowing the government to commit crimes because it was comfortable. This idea with its accompanying revolution catches on from there with fairly little extra work from V: pretty much just a few important killings and mailing out masks.
The fact that V also wears a mask is very important because it creates the sense that he could be anyone. At the very end of the movie, Evey conveys this idea in response to the investigator’s question of who he was. While V the man isn’t relatable, it is largely because we know nothing about the man that we can all cheer for the idea that he represents instead. There’s a similar theme in Batman Begins where Batman chooses his symbol because it scares him and he wants others to be able to feel the same fear – something that would not be possible if everyone knew he was Bruce Wayne. The same can be said of the masks which were mailed out to everyone else for November the 5th – they were able to be anonymous as men and women but united in idea.
While V’s idea was very relatable, V the man is not at all relatable except to Evey. As she says in the quote above, everybody else will remember the idea, but she will remember the man. She supports the idea, but she loves the man. There is a huge difference between those two things. Interestingly, V is able to explain that he similarly loves Evey, but ultimately the idea is considered more important as he continues with his suicidal revenge attempts instead of staying with her. On the grand scale the idea will last longer and effect more than the man will, but for those who know the man personally the impact will be far deeper and more beautiful.
I want to cast V as Jesus for a minute. There are a lot of reasons that this comparison doesn’t work – the political violence and being motivated by revenge rather than love being the huge two – but following this concept of the idea and the man it does carry some similarities. Here’s the point I want to compare: are we approaching Jesus as an idea, a man, or both? Some Christians like to focus on the ideas: he encouraged helping the poor, he taught and lived nonviolence, he saved us from sins, etc. while largely ignoring the man. Others like to focus on the man and the offer to be in relationship with him, as in Jesus being cast as a best friend or brother but pay little attention to the ideas which he taught and lived.
I’d like to suggest that it is incomplete to take one without the other. In the Old Testament, God declared many ideas to his people. To an extent those ideas stuck, but not really. So God decided that the New Covenant would be centred on himself incarnate, as a man (could have been a woman, but it was a man probably primarily because of cultural influence potential). This didn’t erase the value of ideas as Jesus still taught and modelled many great things which we should hold onto, but it also set those ideas within the proper context of relationship. Ideas without personhood falls into legalism, and in this case a legalism that cannot possibly be fulfilled on our own power. We often refer to this strive to live out ideas by our own power as religion. Personhood without ideas lacks substance; it is like being married but having no idea what your spouse thinks about anything ranging from favourite food to moral issues. We need both the concrete mission and the relationship that empowers us to live it out.