By Bryan Watson “A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” – Thomas Jefferson
V for Vendetta is the sort of film that should be seen in a group of at least four and at a showing early enough that said group can go out and get coffee afterwards while discussing the finer points of the plot. The cynics among you may wonder if a film based on a comic book (or more accurately a graphic novel) is even capable of having finer points (I had the same thought when I found out it had been penned by the Wachowski brothers, whose Matrix trilogy left me wishing for seven hours of my life back), but fear not, for the film is indeed deeper than a cursory glance may reveal. [Discuss this in the forums]
Okay, so here’s the cursory glance: it’s 2020 AD (I immediately took this as a good sign as the filmmakers didn’t consider their audience so stupid that they could only gauge the passage of time in multiples of ten) and freedom and liberty seem to have gone the way of the dodo. Why? Well why isn’t so important here as the fact that they have. The film gives us some hints as to what may have led to freedom’s downfall, but nothing is ever explicitly said one way or the other. What we do need to know is that the United States is no more. Oh, sure, people still live here, but it’s a nation overrun by lawlessness and civil war. Anxious to avoid a similar fate, England adopts strict laws regulating private conduct and personal morality. Did I mention that these laws were strict?
The film opens with a short history lesson about Guy Fawkes (because even though they think we can add and subtract, the filmmakers were betting on the fact that the movie’s primarily American audience—which has trouble keeping track of its own history—just might not be terribly familiar with British history. They’re probably right) who, on November 5th in 1605, was part of a plot to destroy the British House of Lords while the representatives from both the Houses of Lords and Commons were present. He was caught, tried and executed. Now every November 5th in Great Britain is known as Guy Fawkes Night.
So now the film comes to its main time set for the storyline. We meet Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), who’s getting ready to go out past curfew so that the plot can begin in earnest. While walking to her destination, she’s confronted by a man whose intentions are dubious at best. He’s also a cop. Thus when two other cops (these are the secret police called “Fingermen” in the film) appear and try to force themselves on Evey she becomes more than a bit afraid. Enter “V”.
That’s all we ever learn about his name. V. V, who spends all but a scant few minutes of his screen time wearing a stylized Guy Fawkes mask, is played by Hugo Weaving in one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. Filker Tom smith once said the following of the lateAndreas Katsulas regarding his work on the hit show Babylon 5: “Andreas Katsulas is one of the best actors in the history of the world. Period. Right up there with Anthony Hopkins, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, he's THAT freakin' good. And he's like Ginger Rogers, backward and in heels: Katsulas delivers more emotion under ten pounds of latex than most actors deliver in an entire career.” If I may be so bold, I’d like to submit that Weaving be given such praise, as his portrayal of V delivers so much emotion, dignity, and nuance that you don’t for a moment stop to think, This guy needs to take that silly mask off. Just the fact that we take the character of V seriously while he wears such a ridiculous visage is testament to Weaving’s skill as an actor. I’ve also never heard the man speak faster.
Does V save Evey? Of course he does. He speaks in alliteration, quotes Shakespeare, and cooks a mean breakfast. He’s also a superb martial artist and the film’s action scenes are intense. Of course, the great stories that we tend to remember are always about people, and this is one of those great stories. V loves art, classic films, music, and dance. Which isn’t surprising, as he’s a revolutionist in a country where it seems now to be illegal to be homosexual, a Muslim, or an independent thinker. V is neither homosexual nor Muslim, but he is a free thinker, perhaps the last who does so openly. At least at the story’s beginning.
Rather than relying on a ton of labored exposition from V as to his motives, the film rather wisely relies on two others to bring the audience to a point of understanding. The first is Evey. We see through her eyes an ideal of self-imposed naiveté; she knows the system is bad, she knows that it’s evil, because she’s experienced it firsthand, but she seems to want to cover her eyes and pretend it isn’t happening. The other is Finch (Stephen Rea) a police inspector charged with tracking down, identifying, and arresting or eliminating V. Finch is a good man doing his best to do the right thing in a corrupted system—the full extent of which corruption he’s finally beginning to understand.
Make no mistake about it: if they haven’t seen it already, your students are going to want to see this film. And when they see it, they’re going to have questions. If you’re fortunate, they may come to you to try and find answers for them. There are many questions that could be raised by this film and most of them don’t actually have easy answers, no matter how much we may pretend to the contrary.
Or at least the answers aren’t easy to explain. Is homosexuality a sin? Yes (Leviticus 18:22), but that certainly doesn’t mean we should round up, torture and kill everybody who practices it. Or anybody who does, for that matter. Same goes for Muslims and free thinkers. Especially free thinkers.
But wait a minute, let’s actually examine that question again. Say one of your students asks it of you. This is how I’d like to think I’d respond.
“Is homosexuality a sin?”
I suppose that depends on what you mean by homosexuality.
“Uhh . . . that’s where somebody’s attracted to people of the same sex that they are. Figured you’d know that already.”
Okay, but how is that a sin?
“Umm, didn’t you just show me that verse in Leviticus?”
Sure, but how does that square with your definition? You’re talking about a feeling, not an action.
“But if you’re feeling something that the Bible clearly says is wrong, how is that not sin?”
Have you ever wanted to cheat on a test, but decided not to? Told the truth when a lie would have been a lot easier? Walked away from a fight with your kid brother when you just wanted to hit him?
“Well, yeah, who hasn’t ever done something like that?”
Taking the other road in any of those situations would have been sinful, but were you sinning just because the thought occurred to you?
“I don’t suppose I’d thought about it like that.”
Sin is a choice, not a feeling. A person can no more be condemned “being” gay than one can for feeling the desire to lie, cheat or steal . . . or, for that matter, for feeling attracted to a person of the opposite gender who is not one's spouse. Any of these feelings can lead to sin, but only if we choose to let them.
And where in the Bible does Jesus give us permission to hate sinners? Where do you see Jesus doing to anyone what we see being done to the gay and lesbian people in this movie? How did Jesus treat the sinners around Him? Here's how: He loved them. He embraced them. He healed their wounds and cared for those in need. He offered relationship without condemnation, while living an example of holiness that put the self-righteous religious people to shame. He became part of their lives while never forgetting who He was—and the light of his life drew others to himself. That's the way we need to be for everyone around us, whether they've committed adultery, fornication, drug abuse, theft, murder, unforgiveness, pride, or any other sin.
Fornication is fornication and adultery is adultery, whether it's done with a man, a woman, or a sheep. It's all contrary to God's plan for sex. It's all sin, no better or worse in God's eyes than any other sin—no worse than your sins or mine. But Jesus has called us to love everyone, and to help them to see Jesus for who He is and learn to follow Him. He commanded us to go out into the streets and alleys and behind the bushes and in the dark corners and bring everyone we find to the King's table. It doesn't matter how dirty or clean they are when we find them, because it is the King who washes the dirt off of all of us and clothes us in robes of white.
I must admit that I’ve not totally jumped aboard with this idea that people are born gay. I think that there may be some who are more prone to it than others, but there are also those who are more apt to become addicted to gambling, alcohol, or pornography than others. And once again, I believe that it comes down to choice. For some people, these things hold little or no sway and thus they have a hard time understanding why someone else may struggle with them. But if we look at the statistics, there are going to be some students entrusted to our care who do have these feelings and how we deal with them will more likely than not influence their idea of how God views them. Will it be better for us to appear legalistic and give them the idea that they’re sick and need to be cured, or be arrows pointing toward the God who will make them more like Himself if they let Him? In the end, the film raises more questions than it offers answers, but for a work of art I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing.
Somebody once said that good fiction should provoke thought, not dictate it. It actually surprises me that the person who said this was in fact a Christian, because too many Christian writers and filmmakers are content with dictating thought. Here we have a film that, even as a social conservative and therefore, in the eyes of most filmmakers, certainly the makers of this one, the enemy, I see as a fine example of fodder for lengthy discussion. My challenge to you is that when your students come to you with questions about the film that you offer to sit down with them over a cup of some hot beverage, more likely than not laced with large amounts of caffeine and discuss it. (This, of course, means that you’ll have to see the film yourself, but I think you’re all big enough to handle it.) If you can, take a group to do this and let ideas bounce around, interjecting only to ask new questions that may not have occurred to them or to keep the conversation on topic. I promise you that you’ll have time to point out the Truth to them. In fact you’ll probably be surprised at how many of them arrive at it for themselves.
Only they just might discover, as Evey does in the course of the film, that Truth is much more powerful and valuable when you find it and hold onto it for yourself.