In the movie Britain has been taken over by a totalitarian government whose motto is "Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith". (Meanwhile the US has been devastated by biological warfare and civil war and is no longer a major world player.) In the UK people have traded their freedoms for security (while still using the rhetoric of freedom to justify the lack of it... sound familiar?) after a series of biological terror attacks that killed over 80,000 people. The resulting fascist state utilizes fear to keep the people passive and unified under their rule. And like most totalitarian governments, they also begin rounding up anyone too different who might prove to be a threat to unity: in this case political dissidents, homosexual, Muslims and other foreign immigrants, and the like. As in Nazi Germany these prisoners are subjected to inhumane scientific experiments.
From one of these prison camps escapes the hero of the story, a masked vigilante known only as "V". V's goal, in addition to taking vengeance on the doctors and scientists who brutally tortured him, is to foment revolution among the people through symbolic acts of resistance. Though arguably insane, V is also seems to be the only one courageous enough to stand up and declare that our freedom is too high a price to pay for security.
The movie raises all kinds of interesting questions, especially regarding the fine line between terrorism and freedom fighting. (Often it seems, in our world as well as in the movie, the definition depends very much on which side you're fighting for.) Is it possible that we can overuse the word "terrorist" to the point where it becomes synonymous with anyone who opposes our own political agenda? One can imagine the British of the 18th century calling the Boston Tea Party an act of terrorism. Or the Nazi's labeling Dietrich Bonhoeffer a terrorist. When do violent acts of resistance count as terrorism, and when are they justifiable acts of revolution?
And on a deeper level, does a movie like "V" still perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence? As much as I believe we must resist evil, oppressive governments, as a Christian I have to wonder whether violence will ever really achieve the goals we truly desire. Does violence bring freedom, or will it only result in more oppression, just from a different source? I can't think of many violent revolutions that led to a better society in the end. Is the true path to freedom that of nonviolent resistance, like that practiced by Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus among others?
To the movie's credit, in the end change is brought about not through violence (at least not against people, though the Parliament building doesn't fare so well), but through a peaceful show of solidarity in the face of oppression.
One poignant line comes from a government agent asking a friend what he thinks will happen if the people do rise up as V has asked them to. He responds, "What usually happens when people without guns stand up to those who have guns." But in the end what happens is not in fact what one would expect.
As I said, this movie scared me because I could see it really happening. It's not so far fetched. What would happen if the US or Britian did experience another massive terrorist attack? What if someone releases a deadly virus? Or what if someone nukes London or Chicago? Or what if our economy tanks and we spiral into another Great Depression for the next decade or two? What freedoms would we be willing to give up for the promise of safety and prosperity? And for those religious conservatives... what injustices would you be willing to accept in your leaders so long as they were against abortion and homosexuality? What would you turn a blind eye to as long as they catered to your pet political issues and used the right kind of religious language?
It's not such a stretch to see how this dark vision of the future could develop out of where our world is at today. For those who think it couldn't, just think how easily Nazi fascism rose to power in Germany not so long ago. Are we so different from them? Do we think we're so much more immune to the tactics of fear and propaganda?
But hopefully this movie will serve as part of the solution to our current direction. Perhaps it will be part of the wakeup call that we need to help us see where our society is headed. God willing.
Links to this post