V for Vendetta is a film that reveals the story of a man called V who wants to eliminate a totalitarian government run by Adam Sutler. V’s plan is fueled by the need to revenge the dehumanizing torture that was done to him during medical experiments that Sulter authorized. To achieve his anarchist tactics, V convinces, manipulates, and coerces various characters in the film to take part in the plot to blow up modern-day Parliament on the fifth of November. These actions are modeled after on a conspiracy plot devised in 1605 to blow up Parliament on November the fifth as a way to protest the Protestant-run government of England.
One of these protestors with extremist ideals was Guy Fawkes. By donning a Guy Fawkes mask, V embodies the principle that individuals have the right to change the conditions of their government if they see fit. One character who joins his cause is Evey Hammond. V transforms Evey’s submissive persona into one of strength by torturing her in the same way the medical experiments tortured him. Because of his actions, Evey comes to understand V’s rationale and decides to assist him in his plot to destroy the totalitarian government’s regime. In V for Vendetta, rhetorical devices allow words to appear strategically placed within the screenplay’s dialogue: the rhythm of repetition creates propaganda, and the familiarity of allusions produces memorable elements.
The question “Who is that masked man?” is a recurring theme throughout V for Vendetta. In a voiceover at the beginning of the film, Evey compares V’s principles to Guy Fawkes’ principles claiming that the audience should “remember the idea not the man;” therefore, V becomes not a man but a mantra. Upon meeting V after being nearly raped by Fingermen (Sulter’s police force), Evey asks “Who are you?” and V turns the question into irony with the statement “Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.” The exchange of dialogue then becomes similar to an Abbot and Costello routine when Evey counters with “Well, I can see that” and V continues to avoid revealing his identity by saying, “Of course you can. I’m not questioning your powers of observation I’m merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.” As a result, the answer that determines V’s role remains ambiguous. Is V a masterful instigator of a revolutionary movement? Is he a manipulator of pawns for a just cause? Is he a revengeful victim of the government that oppresses him? Just who is that masked man, anyway?
V defines himself using the following dramatic description containing 48 words that begin with the letter ‘v’ to form a coherent statement to identify V’s rationale for his actions:
Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
This single definition contains many devices, which help identify V’s characterization. For example, the use of the repeated words beginning with the letter ‘v’ is alliteration, and this device demonstrates musicality and a poetic command of language. The way V manipulates language pinpoints his character as a well-spoken individual with a flair for the dramatic. When compared to other rhetorical techniques used by various characters in the film, V’s prove to be more powerful than angry shouts, louder than gunfire, and more lethal than bullets.
The speech itself becomes a symphony filled with layered meanings. For example, the repetition of the ‘v’ sound is makes V’s definition of himself sound harsh despite the word choice’s elegance and sophistication. This paradox suits not only the way the character identifies himself but also the way he defends Evey from the Fingermen using what a minor character in the film calls “nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks.” The use of alliteration also demonstrates V’s impressive vocabulary. Hyperbaton is included in this vocabulary when he states, “in view a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicariously.” This device demonstrates V’s flair for the dramatic because the surprising arrangement mimics V’s flamboyant style seen both when he fights with his knives and when he carries out his plans that move the Britain’s desensitized population into revolution. Finally, in addition to containing archaic language, the phrase “a vestige of the vox populi” is an allusion to Guy Fawkes’ principle of acting as the voice of the people.
The allusion to Guy Fawkes and his plot to blow up Parliament appears numerous times in V for Vendetta. For instance, V refers to Guy Fawkes as “a great citizen [who] wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory” in his speech to London’s population. Additionally, the saying “A penny for the Guy” as well as the poem “Remember, remember the fifth of November/ The gunpowder treason and plot/ I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot” refer to Bonfire Night, which is also known as Guy Fawkes Day. On this day, people in Britain make bonfires to mark Guy Fawkes’ attempt to destroy Parliament.
V refers to this celebration as “the day that is sadly no longer remembered.” The fact that this momentous occasion is censored demonstrates the power of Sulter’s government to eliminate history, music, literature, cinema, artwork, and religion from the public’s awareness and identity. V alludes to Guy Fawkes, in addition to other references, as a tactic to insert these enlightening references back into society. One way V does this is by creating the Shadow Gallery, which holds a hoard of cultural treasures that he saved from Sutler’s censorship and preserved in museum-like setting. On screen, a series of famous paintings are visible. These include John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, Edvard Munch’s Puberty, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, and William Blake’s Elohim Creating Adam. (Trivia for V for Vendetta) As background music, the jukebox in the Shadow Gallery plays Julie London’s “Cry me a River” while movie posters such as White Heat and Mildred Pierce decorate the walls. (Movie Connections for Vendetta)
Another way V inserts forgotten culture into society is by inserting famous quotations into his dialogue with another character. For example, while V is defending Evey from the Fingermen he uses two quotations from Shakespeare’s plays. The first is from Macbeth (“The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him…/distaining fortune/with his brandish’d steel, which smoked with bloody execution.”) The second is from Richard III (“And thus I clothe my naked villainy/ with old odd ends stolen forth from holy writ/ and seem a saint when most I play the devil.”) In conversations with Evey, V uses a quotation from Twelfth Night (“Conceal me what I am, and be my aid/ for such disguise as haply shaped shall become/ the form of my intent”) as well as another quotation from Macbeth (“I dare do all that may become a man/ who dares do more is none.”) V’s flair for the dramatic as well as his desire to insert these cultural references into society attributes to these references. Finally, V refers to a character, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who appears in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and this reference recalls Ebenezer Scrooge’s memory of his childhood, which relates to V’s desire to restore the past to the present.
Repetition also occurs in the rhetorical devices within the dialogue. Anadiplosis calls attention to the words by reinforcing them through repetition of the last word of a sentence in the beginning of the next. V uses this device to express the idea that when forming a group, a mass of individuals under one philosophy is a potential threat to a system of government with the statement “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” This philosophy’s structure is a stylistic reaction to Sutler’s use of anadiplosis in his motto “Strength through unity. Unity through faith.” Similarly, during his speech to London’s population, V uses anadiplosis as a way to catch his audience’s attention by using Sutler’s speaking style that has conditioned them to follow his totalitarian government. However, V inserts his own revolutionary ideas within the style using the statement:
Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?
V uses epistrophe and anaphora in a way that repeats the theme of “Who is that masked man?” The epistrophe appears in a conversation with Evey when V states, “There is a face beneath this mask, but it is not me. I am no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath them. By using the repeated word ‘beneath,’ V evokes the image that he is a character layered in complexity. The word ‘beneath’ also gives the impression V does not consider himself a human being but rather a manifestation silenced outcries, trapped thoughts, and stifled dissent: he is the single voice of a revolution waiting to happen. A similar idea is expressed in the anaphora “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” In the quotation, the use of climax in combination with the anaphora of the repeated word ‘beneath’ demonstrates the fact that ideas are invincible no matter what weapon is used against them.
Sutler’s harsh speaking style differs from V’s poetic style. The reason for this is Sutler relies heavily on parallelism so that the ideas he wishes to present to his people all seem of equal, emphatic important. Some examples of Sulter’s outraged cries of parallelism include the following three:
- What we need right now is a clear message to the people of this country. This message must be read in every newspaper, heard on every radio, seen on every television
- Tonight, I give you my most solem vow: that justice will be swift; it will be righteous, and it will be without mercy
- I want this country to realize that we stand on the edge of oblivion. I want every man, woman, and child to understand how close we are to chaos. I want everyone to remember why they need us!
However, V mimics Sutler’s style in his speech to London’s population saying, “I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine, the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition.” The structure attracts his audience’s attention because Sulter uses the same technique; however, V also ridicules Sulter’s ineffective, antagonistic speaking style. In reference to Adam Sulter, V claims, “He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.” Finally, the last sentence of V’s speech features parallelism that morphs into a rallying cry for action against Sutler’s government:
But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.
Additionally, V uses parallelism in the statement “I have something for you, Chancellor: a farewell gift for all the things you have done, for the things you might have done, and for the only thing you have left” before he has Creedy murder Sutler as punishment for his political and humanitarian crimes. The parallelism in the phrase “have done, might have done, have left” combined with anaphora, which is V’s signature use of repetition, by repeating the words “for the things.”
V’s rhetorical devices become part of V’s masked persona as a man with a message he wants people to act upon. Therefore, his rallying cry that manipulates Sulter’s message must be unforgettable, which is why he relies on devices that use repetition. For example, V relies on anadiplosis to call attention to his message by reinforcing certain words. In addition, he uses anaphora more effectively than Sulter because V’s style sounds convincing whereas Sulter’ creates an abusive bombardment words. In the opening voiceover monologue, Evey uses both these repetition devices (anadiplosis and anaphora) combined with climax for emphasis to make the assertion that V is a man in the statement
You cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it: ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love. And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man. A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.
In the statement, Evey claims human beings have the ability to craft ideas that have the power to bring about drastic change in a way that is more powerful than a passive act, a vengeful act, or a violent act. The masked man, V, is a complex trinity. He is a man; he is an idea, and he is a symbol. Combined, V represents the fact that one person can manipulate and change a country’s strict, regulated order using words and actions and a few explosives.