The Bottom Line: Q.V. Hough, Jeremy Carr, Bill Arceneaux and Peter Bell on ‘V for Vendetta’

On June 24, Q.V. HoughJeremy Carr, Bill Arceneaux and Peter Bell discussed the 2005 film V for Vendetta as part of “The Bottom Line”chat series about action films.

Q.V. Hough: Before we get into the film — has anybody read the original comic?

Bill Arceneaux: I’ve read pieces of it.

Jeremy Carr: I haven’t.

Peter Bell: I have.

Q.V. Hough: Peter, what are your initial thoughts on the film adaption? Give me a couple thoughts. Yay or nay?

Peter Bell: Well, when the film was released, I was puzzled by the political change from a jab at Margaret Thatcher to [George W.] Bush. But, overall — pretty enjoyable.

Q.V. Hough: How does V for Vendetta hold up today? Does it feel like a product of 2005 or does it work today within the landscape of world politics? Bill, you’re up.

Bill Arceneaux: Well, I think the intent was for a more — and pardon my use of this word — “universal” approach, reaching any people that put up with iron fisted governments or incompetent leaderships. Surely, that alone, is enough to keep it from being too out of date.

Jeremy Carr: I’d say that it’s just as relevant as when the book was published. From Thatcher to Bush to [Donald] Trump, a lot of the themes remain essential. However, with that said, I think its politics were quite muddled and really kind of naive, even if I agree with the aspects.

Q.V. Hough: From what I’ve read, the filmmakers were definitely interested in a universal approach. That brings me to this: Jeremy, what are your thoughts on the conceptual politics (“The idea, not the man”)?

Jeremy Carr: I think the intent was there, but I’m not sure the execution worked. They seemed to glorify V far more considerably than they fully stated any political standpoint.

Bill Arceneaux: Yes, muddled is a good word, but perhaps that was the point. Terrorist? Anarchist? Social justice avenger? Who is he to us?

Peter Bell: Good point. The comic actually struggles with this, too.

Q.V. Hough: Yes, I agree. Meaning, there’s lots of people that rebel to rebel, and V does seem to stand for a general rebellion. How does Natalie Portman play into this concept? Is she the right fit for the lead, and how do you view this role as a 2005 Natalie Portman film. Peter?

Peter Bell: Honestly, I think she was cast purely for two reasons. One, she had good experience in Sci Fi and side kick roles. Two, the looks. But yeah, that shaved head. Classic. Overall, I think the Wachowskis screenplay never allows her to challenge V — she’s actually pretty obedient. Now, in the book, she is 16 and poor, so this makes sense.

Bill Arceneaux: Her casting meant a lot to me — from this harmless youth to a more world weary woman, even if by forced means. It’s quite the striking transformation, really.

Peter Bell: But with her age in the film, and her background, I don’t know. I have mixed feelings, honestly.

Jeremy Carr: I thought her performance was good, not great. Nothing like the mature range she would show in another five years.

Q.V. Hough: I like Portman in the role, especially with the big transformation. With that being said, she does seem quite young. It’s interesting that V for Vendetta emerged just as YouTube emerged. Back then — no Facebook, no Twitter. Jeremy, what do you think of the media aspects? Meaning, how does the narrative most obviously differ from today’s media?

Jeremy Carr: I’d say this is also still relevant. The Lewis Prothero shtick very much resembles a certain cable news channel that shall remain nameless. That sort of rhetoric, and its manipulation though media, endures.

Peter Bell: Agreed.

Bill Arceneaux: Of course, our “”press” doesn’t have to worry about being dragged out by police and bagged and cuffed. No, we have different ways of destroying character in America. Yes, still all too relevant, even in the changing tech landscape.

Q.V. Hough: On a purely cinematic level, what impresses you or annoys you the most?

Bill Arceneaux: When I first watched the movie, a friend stated that this was “Shakespearian Batman.” These allusions to traditional superhero conceits do drag the film down a bit, especially when its goals are loftier.

Peter Bell: The use of costume. V stays true to his source material, good on them. Now what annoyed me, and I’m sure I’ll get called out here, was the fight choreography. Way too much slow-mo, especially for a film that’s focused on how violence can shape us. Watering said violence down, kinda problematic.

Jeremy Carr: Actually, my biggest disappointment was with the style. The hype led me to believe this was a visually dazzling film, and the Wachowski connection gave me high hopes. But save for that final fight scene, nothing really stood out as being exceptional (maybe the dominos bit?).

Q.V. Hough: So, what do we take away from V for Vendetta? A timely film with moments? Or a unique Portman film from the mid-2000s? Will this be a remembered Portman/Wachowski film? Jeremy?

Peter Bell: No pressure, Jeremy.

Jeremy Carr: I think its strongest impact is as a sort of dorm room rallying cry. That is to say, something to get people talking politically, but not really eliciting actual action. I don’t want to see violence, but that seems to be the only option the film posits. So, if that’s taken out of the moral equation, what’s left? Just talk.

Bill Arceneaux: Ultimately, this is a film of moments and iconography. It inspires on the surface level (anonymous masks), becoming more hip than meaningful. But still, something good lingers inside. Something true.

Q.V. Hough: Well said. At times, the violence is disturbing, at least to me. Action for the sake of action. “Dorm room rallying cry” — I like that!

Jeremy Carr: I’ll just add that if anyone hasn’t seen Hacksaw Ridge, Hugo Weaving gives an extraordinary, unheralded performance.

Bill Arceneaux: Prior to the chat, it was suggested that this would make for a better TV adaptation. I completely agree, even more so than with Watchmen. So much to do with this material. We’ve barely scratched the surface.

Peter Bell: Well, my final thought is that I actually found this film’s ideas to be more relevant in today’s political climate than 2005.

Q.V. Hough: Same here.

Peter Bell: The idea of internet censorship barely gets explored. And some people, I am sure, will argue that in today’s society, this a possible and real threat. In the comics, V actually ends up gaining control of the government/cooperation intranet system and uses it against them. Hopefully, if a reboot does happen, this will be one of the key narrative points.

Q.V. Hough: Thanks for the time, Bill, Jeremy and Peter! I appreciate it!

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and the Founding Editor of Vague Visages. In 2004, he graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. From 2006 to 2012, Quinn lived in Hollywood, California and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.

Jeremy Carr (@jeremyrcarr) teaches film studies at Arizona State University and writes for the publications Vague Visages, Film International, Cineaste, Senses of Cinema, MUBI’s Notebook, Cinema Retro, Movie Mezzanine, Cut Print Film and Fandor’s Keyframe.

Bill Arceneaux (@billreviews) is an independent film critic from New Orleans, and a member of SEFCA. 

Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.