This article comes to us from Ted Morrison, a Victoria, BC-based writer, editor, and sometime political blogger. We invited him to discuss and/or review V for Vendetta: the book, the movie, or both. Instead of a regular review, he gave us a thought-provoking look at the meaning behind the mask, the man (or woman) behind the mask. This Fifth of November, it’s a powerful rememinder to think deeper, question more, including one’s self.
“First, you must discover whose face is behind this mask. But you must never know my face. Is that quite clear?”
On this, the fifth of November, it seems appropriate to reflect on that most visible symbol of Anonymous, the Guy Fawkes mask.
Of course it’s not actually Fawkes, nor anything to do with him, really. It’s V. Alan Moore’s implacable, anarchist hero. The saboteur of fascism, the underminer of imposed order: V for veritas. V for vengeance.
Moore, working with artist David Lloyd—whose contribution to the final form of V has always been underrated—created a character to capture the imagination of revolutionaries everywhere. The man, or possibly (until the film came out in 2006) woman behind the Fawkes mask is unstoppable, preternatural, able to anticipate the direction in which every one of his victims will jump.
However, the film is the problem. And anons who seeks to take unto themselves the attributes of V must know whose mask is before his or her face. For the eponymous hero of the film and the graphic novel are very different.
The film has excellent points: Hugo Weaving, for one. The man can emote better from behind a mask than a certain Cummerbund Bandersnatch can bare-faced. Yet an Anon donning such a mask might do well to recall one of Weaving’s other seminal roles. It cannot be ignored that the actor who galvanizes us as a London anarchist is also Agent Smith—The ultimate tool of the status quo.
The V of the book is methodologically pure. He plans his attacks and murders against the system that tortured him into the urban terrorist he has become with a madman’s recklessness, and yet also with an icy inward calm. V has planned his vengeance for five years, and will not make peace with the oppressor in any form. He will not be stopped, he will not be soiled, he will not be compromised. He scorns co-conspirators. Even Evie Hammond, his Girl Friday by some vicissitude of fate (not the overruling Fate computer which arranges life in the Moore-ian world of Norsefire, where fascists rule a post-apocalyptic England) is less an ally than his carefully-groomed replacement.
Sadly the V of the Wachowski film is of weaker stuff. While he has the plan, and sets in motion the mechanism that will bring freedom for the citizens of England, he—for reasons clear only to the writers, producers, and director—must enlist the help of the very people that imprisoned and tortured him. In the end the Leader, one hapless Adam Susan, is betrayed. In the book by his all-too-human love for a machine—the Fate computer—that cannot love him back. In the film by his own security forces.
It is the latter that concerns us. Moore himself said the film was too mild. That:
“’V for Vendetta’ was specifically about things like fascism and anarchy. Those words, “fascism” and “anarchy,” occur nowhere in the film. It’s been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country.”
As we set our faces toward the third decade of the twenty-first century, whose mask shall we wear? The timid, limited, V of the film? Who compromises his integrity for his Big Chance at taking down The Leader? Or the open, unafraid hero and martyr of the graphic novel? Standing proud, untouched, unsullied, and surrounded by enemies. And still smiling?
On this night of November fifth, shall we not recall V of the book, bent to his task and knowing that all that awaits is a Viking funeral and a forgotten grave? Shall we not remember his inspiration, Fawkes, huddled beneath the Houses of Parliament “with lant’ren and with lighted match”? Each anticipating their own ends in the service of something greater?
Or will we be like the V of the film, leaning on the system that oppresses us? Requiring its help in the odd belief that it will allow us put things right?
Or perhaps, shall we dispense with masks altogether? Step forward into the future without fear and with purpose? Let the mask be a symbol for the things we do with integrity and purpose?
“If I take off that mask, something will go away forever, be diminished. Because whoever you are isn’t as big as the idea of you.”
Between this November fifth and the next let us all be, for one year at least, as big as our ideas.