A character change film analytical essay: “V for Vendetta” directed by James McTeigue
Scared and afraid, we walk around with masks on to hide our true selves. We are not as strong as we make ourselves out to be. Evey Hammond, the female protagonist of James McTeigue’s dystopian film ‘V for Vendetta’ is a character who changes from an anxious, passive girl into a knowledgeable, bold woman who thinks for herself. The catalyst for this change was the fake abduction that V staged to test her mental strength. Through the intricately woven plotline, expert use of film techniques and an abundance of symbols, the audience is able to connect with Evey and learn from her character change.
The Evey in the beginning half of the film is fearful. When faced with any sign of violence, she always hides beneath something, whether it be a bed or a table. Hiding under objects is a subconscious reaction to feeling threatened and wanting to be protected – a characteristic of Evey’s which can be attributed to her unorthodox childhood. Her parents were political activists who opposed the government, despite the threat of persecution. The threat becomes reality when Evey is abruptly woken from sleep and told to hide under the bed. Both objective views and point-of-view shots are used to show Evey’s mother being beaten and ‘black-bagged’, an act which involves the placing of a black hood over a victim’s head in a manner reminiscent of how Gestapo in World War Two would treat their prisoners. Evey tells V “I’m sorry I’m not a stronger person. I wish I wasn’t afraid all the time, but I am”. The audience now comprehends the ordeals that have shaped Evey into a fearful being. This quote also serves to foreshadow the morphing of a timid Evey into an assertive Evey.
In the later half, Evey begins to develop into a strong person after facing hardship and finding the inspiring autobiography of a previous prisoner. Following her abduction, she is subjected to torture in order to break her spirit and divulge information about V. An example of this was when her head was forcefully held under water. Her captor proceeds to pull her up and commands her to “Just tell us where he [V] is”. Face defiant, she firmly replies with “I don’t know”. This mid shot can be compared to the mid shot of Evey when she first arrived at the holding facility, where she was whimpering and shaking so hard that she could not respond to the interrogator’s questions. Her emergence from the water is similar to the act of baptism, wherein an imperfect and flawed person is submerged in water briefly before rising out of it as a new creation. Evey’s afflictions teach us that the vicissitudes of life mold and enhance our character, much like how intense heat hardens clay. This knowledge gives us strength to persevere, even in the direst of times.
The concept of ‘rebirth’ is used by McTeigue to emphasise Evey’s change. A bird’s eye view of Evey in a fetal position channels this concept and the importance of this scene is highlighted by the unnatural angle from which we perceive her. Coupled with her bald head and closed eyes, the viewer is given the impression that Evey is in a womb and waiting to be born again. Evey’s transformation is complete when she tells her captors that she would “rather die behind the chemical sheds” than co-operate. In response to this, her captor tells her “Then you have no fear anymore. You’re completely free”. With this, Evey leaves her cell and slowly walks out of the corridor, only to find herself in V’s hideout. Her exit from the dark-coloured cell and her entry into the warm, soft environment of V’s home is another touch that McTeigue uses to represent Evey leaving the womb and entering a new world. This parallelism serves the purpose of dramatizing Evey’s change and making it a prominent transition.
After her release from captivity, a new Evey stands in the rain on a balcony. “God is in the rain”, she says while looking up at the heavens, quoting the contents of Valerie’s letter. She raises her hands in a V for victory and also as an act of thanks to God. Cross-cutting of both Evey and V’s rebirths follow, with the obvious difference of Evey rising from soothing rain while V rises from the fiery carnage of Larkhill Detention facility. This juxtaposition furthers the religious references by again symbolizing baptism. Water has long been a symbol of healing and life; a contrast to fire’s connotations of destruction and death. For the first time in the film, the horizon is able to be seen without anything obscuring it, contributing to the feel of freedom from fear. Thunder and lightning complete the scene, as white light cuts across the black sky and rumbles of thunder resound. A storm should instill fear, but Evey is afraid no more. These weather elements give this particular scene a powerful quality, reflecting the newfound strength that Evey now possesses and which enables her to complete V’s plan and blow up the houses of Parliament.
We live in constant fear every day. Fear of being unaccepted and lonely. Fear of losing. Fear of humiliation. Fear of sickness and death. Fear of persecution. These phobias can be overcome, though, if we are willing to change. While we are living in a much different society to the one painted in ‘V for Vendetta’, we can still identify with Evey and learn from her bravery in the face of overwhelming fear. A caterpillar is a vulnerable and not very fascinating creature. However, after it ‘dies’ inside of its chrysalis, a beautiful butterfly emerges with wings that carry it to wherever it pleases. Evey has gone through a similar metamorphosis, starting out as timid and weak before evolving into a resolute being. As we have observed, her transfiguration has not come about smoothly; she faced torture, humiliation, paralyzing fear and isolation before she was able to reach her ideal character. This is the crux of what Evey’s character has taught us: when we overcome our fears, we will find strength and confidence.