V for Vendetta is a 2006 epic comedy-drama adventure film set in a dystopian future United Kingdom, where V, a mysterious radical anarchist wearing a Guy Fawkes costume, works to bring down an oppressive fascist government, profoundly affecting the people he encounters. It was released in theatres March 17, 2006.
- Directed by James McTeigue. Written by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, and adapted from the graphic novelV for Vendettaby Alan Moore and David Lloyd.
- The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him.
- Disdaining fortune/with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution...?
- [ending fight with Fingermen] We are oft to blame in this, - / It is too much proved - that with devotion's visage/ And pious action we do sugar over/ The devil himself.
V's Introduction To Evey
- V: 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 bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding 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's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
V's Speech To England
- V: Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologise for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of everyday routine, the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition, the totality of television. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, where upon important events of the past, usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are, of course, those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? 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? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well, certainly, there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable. But again, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. They were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic, you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. Last night, I sought to end that silence. Last night, I destroyed the Old Bailey to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago, a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words; they are perspectives. So if you've seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you, then I would suggest that you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. 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 forgotten.
V's story to Inspector Finch, disguised as William Rookwood
- V: Our story begins, as these stories often do, with a young, up-and-coming politician. He's a deeply religious man and a member of the Conservative party. He's completely single-minded and has no regard for the political process. The more power he attains, the more obvious his zealotry and the more aggressive his supporters become. Eventually, his party launches a special project in the name of "national security". At first, it's believed to be a search for biological weapons and is pursued without regard to its cost. However, the true goal of this project is power. Complete and total hegemonic domination. The project, however, ends violently, but the efforts of those involved are not in vain, for a new ability to wage war is born from the blood of one of the victims. Imagine a virus, the most terrifying virus you can, and then imagine that you, and you alone, have the cure. But if your ultimate goal is power, how best to use such a weapon? It's at this point in our story that along comes a spider. He's a man seemingly without a conscience, for whom the ends always justify the means, and it is he who suggests that their target should not be an enemy of the country but rather the country itself. Three targets are chosen to maximise the effect of the attack: a school, a tube station, and a water treatment plant. Several hundred die within the first few weeks. Fueled by the media, fear and panic spread quickly, fracturing and dividing the country until, at last, the true goal comes into view. Before the St Mary's crisis, no-one would have predicted the results of the election that year. No-one. And then, not long after the election, lo and behold, a miracle. Some believe it was the work of God himself, but it was a pharmaceutical company controlled by certain party members that made them all obscenely rich. A year later, several extremists are tried, found guilty, and executed, while a memorial is built to canonise their victims. But the end result, the true genius of the plan was the fear. Fear became the ultimate tool of this government, and through it, our politician was ultimately appointed to the newly created position of high chancellor. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Vi veri veniversum vivus vici
- By the power of truth, I while living have conquered the universe.
- "Remember, remember
The fifth of November
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."
But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes, and I know that, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught. He can be killed and forgotten. But four hundred years later an idea can still change the world. I've witnessed first-hand the power of ideas. I've seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them. But 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.
- Are you like a crazy person?
- After V has just saved her from the Fingermen and finished his verbose introduction
- A fake ID works a lot better than a Guy Fawkes mask.
- I worried about myself for a while. But one day I was at a market and a friend, someone I'd worked with at the BTN, got in line behind me. I was so nervous that when the cashier asked me for my money I dropped it. My friend picked it up and handed it to me. She looked me right in the eye and didn't recognise me. I guess whatever you did to me worked better than I'd ever have imagined.
- No-one will ever forget that night, and what it meant to this country. But I will never forget the man, and what he meant to me.
- I remember them arguing at night. Mum wanted to leave the country. Dad refused. He said if we ran away, they would win. Win, like it was a game.
- Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.
- I wish I believed that was possible. But every time I've seen this world change, it's always been for the worse.
- I know there's no way I can convince you this is not one of their tricks, but I don't care. I am me. My name is Valerie. I don't think I'll live much longer and I wanted to tell someone about my life. This is the only autobiography I'll ever write, and God, I'm writing it on toilet paper. I was born in Nottingham in 1985. I don't remember much of those early years, but I do remember the rain. My grandmother owned a farm in Tuttlebrook, and she used to tell me that God was in the rain. I passed my 11th lesson into girl's grammar. It was at school that I met my first girlfriend. Her name was Sara. It was her wrists. They were beautiful. I thought we would love each other forever. I remember our teacher telling us that it was an adolescent phase people outgrew. Sara did. I didn't. In 2002, I fell in love with a girl named Christina. That year I came out to my parents. I couldn't have done it without Chris holding my hand. My father wouldn't look at me; he told me to go and never come back. My mother said nothing. But I had only told them the truth. Was that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free.
- I'd always known what I wanted to do with my life, and in 2015 I starred in my first film, The Salt Flats. It was the most important role in my life, not because of my career, but because that was how I met Ruth. The first time we kissed, I knew I never wanted to kiss any other lips but hers again. We moved to a small flat in London together. She grew scarlet carsons for me in our window box, and our place always smelled of roses. Those were the best years of my life. But America's war grew worse, and worse...and eventually came to London. After that, there were no roses anymore. Not for anyone.
- I remember how the meaning of words began to change. How unfamiliar words like "collateral" and "rendition" became frightening. While things like Norsefire and the Articles of Allegiance became powerful, I remember how different became dangerous. I still don't understand it, why they hate us so much. They took Ruth while she was out buying food. I've never cried so hard in my life. It wasn't long till they came for me. It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years, I had roses, and apologised to no-one. I shall die here. Every inch of me will perish. Every inch but one. An inch...it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us. I hope that, whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns, and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you. Valerie.
- [Notes from her covert journal, whom Finch reads]
- May 23rd. My first batch of subjects arrived today, and I have to admit that I am very excited. This could be the dawn of a new age. Nuclear power is meaningless in a world where a virus can kill an entire population and leave its wealth intact...
- May 27th. Commander Prothero toured the lab with a priest, Father Lilliman, who I was told is here to monitor for rules and rights violations. It made me nervous, but the commander assured me there wouldn't be a problem.
- June 2nd. I kept wondering if these people knew how they might be helping their country, if they would act any differently. They're so weak and pathetic. They never look you in the eye. I find myself hating them.
- August the 18th. Of the original four dozen, over 75 percent are now deceased. No controllable pattern has yet emerged.
- September the 18th. There is one case that continues to give me hope. He exhibits none of the immune system pathologies the other subjects developed. I've discovered cellular anomalies in his blood that I've been unable to categorise. The mutations seem to have triggered the abnormal development of basic kinaesthesia and reflexes. The subject said he could no longer remember who he was or where he was from. Whoever he was, he is now the key to our dream, and the hope that all of this will not have been in vain.
- November the 5th. It started last night, around midnight. The first explosions tore open the entire medical section. All my work, gone. I was trying to understand how it could've happened when I saw him. The man from room five. He looked at me. Not with eyes. There were no eyes. But I know he was looking at me because I felt it.
- Oh my God...what have I done?
First BTN Speech
- So I read that the former United States is so desperate for medical supplies that they have allegedly sent several containers filled with wheat and tobacco. A gesture, they said, of good will. You want to know what I think? Well, you're listening to my show, so I will assume you do. I think it's high time we let the colonies know what we really think of them. I think it's payback time for a little tea party they threw for us a few hundred years ago. I say we go down to those docks tonight and dump that crap where everything from the Ulcered Sphinctre of Arse-erica belongs. Who's with me? Who's bloody with me? Did you like that? USA; Ulcered Sphinctre of Arse-erica. I mean, what else can you say? Here was a country that had everything, absolutely everything, and now, 20 years later, is what? The world's biggest leper colony. Why? Godlessness. Let me say that again: Godlessness. It wasn't the war they started. It wasn't the plague they created. It was judgement. No-one escapes their past. No-one escapes judgement. You think He's not up there? You think He's not watching over this country? How else can you explain it? He tested us, but we came through. We did what we had to do. Islington, Enfield. I was there. I saw it all. Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists, disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go!Strength through unity, unity through faith! I'm a God-fearing Englishman and I am god-damn proud of it!
- I'll tell you what I know, I'll tell you what I know, I'll tell you what I know, England prevails!
- The only part of his second BTN speech ever seen or heard.
- I'll tell you what I know. I know this is not a man. A man does not wear a mask. A man does not threaten innocent civilians. He's what every gutless, freedom-hating terrorist is: a god-damn coward!
- First part of his third BTN speech.
- There will be no negotiation, Roger. When I arrive in the morning, the Paddy will be gone. I'm looking at the tape right now, and he has no idea how to light me. My nose looks like Big fucking Ben! Listen to me, you bleeding sod. England prevails because I say it does! And so does every lazy cunt on this show, and that includes you! Find another DOP, or find yourself another job!
- Phone call to Roger Dascombe
- I'll tell you what I wish: I wish I'd been there. I wish I'd had the chance for a face-to-face. Just one chance, that's all I need.
- Second part of his third BTN speech, before V breaks into his home
- This so-called "V" and his accomplice, Evey Hammond, neo-demagogues, spouting their message of hate. A delusional and aberrant voice, delivering a terrorist's ultimatum. An ultimatum that was met with swift and surgically precise justice. And the moral of this story, ladies and gentlemen, is: "GOOD GUYS WIN, BAD GUYS LOSE, AND AS ALWAYS, ENGLAND PREVAILS!"
- Third and final part of his third BTN speech
High Chancellor Adam Sutler
- My fellow Englishmen: tonight, our country, that which we stand for, and all we hold dear, faces a grave and terrible threat. This violent and unparalleled assault on our security will not go undefended. Or unpunished. Our enemy is an insidious one, seeking to divide us and destroy the very foundation of our great nation. Tonight, we must remain steadfast. We must remain determined. But most of all, we must remain united. Those caught tonight in violation of curfew will be considered in league with our enemy and prosecuted as a terrorist without leniency or exception. Tonight, I give you my most solemn vow: that justice will be swift, it will be righteous, and it will be without mercy!
- V: I can assure you, I mean you no harm.
- Evey: Who are you?
- V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what, and what I am is a man in a mask.
- Evey: Well, I can see that.
- V: 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.
- Evey: Oh, right.
- V: But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.
- Evey: Are you like a crazy person?
- V: I am quite sure they will say so. But to whom may I ask am I speaking?
- Evey: I'm Evey.
- V: Evey? E-V — of course you are.
- Evey: What do you mean by that?
- V: It means I, like God, do not play with dice, and do not believe in coincidence. Are you hurt?
- Sutler: Gentlemen, you have had four hours, you had better have results. Mr Creedy?
- Peter Creedy: The Bailey area is quarantined, and all significant witnesses have been detained.
- Sutler: Good. Mr Etheridge?
- Brian Etheridge: A recording device was found wired into the central emergency broadcast system. The DCD was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
- Sutler: Add it to the blacklist. I never want to hear that music again.
- Etheridge: Yes, sir. We also doubled our random sweeps and are monitoring a lot of phone surveillance, indicating a high percentage of conversation concerned with the explosion.
- Sutler: Mr Dascombe, what are we doing about that?
- Roger Dascombe: We're calling it an "emergency demolition". We have spin coverage on the network and throughout the InterLink, and several experts have been lined up to testify against the Bailey's structural integrity.
- Sutler: I want Prothero to speak tonight on the dangers of these old buildings and how we must avoid clinging to the edifice of a decadent past. He should conclude that the New Bailey will become the symbol of our time and the future that our conviction has rewarded us. Mr Heyer?
- Conrad Heyer: Our surveillance cameras captured several images of the terrorist, though the mask obviously makes retinal identification impossible. We also managed to get a photo of the girl that Creedy's men were detaining.
- Sutler: Who is she, Mr Finch?
- Eric Finch: Not sure, yet, sir, but we're working on several leads.
- Sutler: Anything else?
- Finch: We located the fireworks launch and found traces of the explosives used at both sides. Unfortunately, it appears that despite the massive amount of sophistication, these devices were homemade with over-the-counter chemicals, making them very difficult to trace. Whoever he is, Chancellor, he is very good.
- Sutler: Spare us your professional annotations, Mr Finch. They are irrelevant.
- Finch: Apologies, Chancellor.
- Sutler: Gentlemen, this is a test. Moments such as these are matters of faith. To fail is to invite doubt into everything we believe, everything that we have fought for. Doubt will plunge this country back into chaos, which is the last thing we want, and I will not let that happen. Gentlemen, I want this terrorist found, and I want him to understand what terror really means. England prevails!
- Party leaders: England prevails.
- [just as the Old Bailey demolition report is broadcast]
- Patricia: You think people will buy this?
- Dascombe: Well, why not? This is the BTN. Our job is to report the news, not fabricate it. That's the government's job.
- [Dominic Stone is driving Finch to Jordan Tower to find Evey, while he looks her up.]
- Finch: This looks serious. Her parents were political activists. They were detained when she was 12.
- Dominic: What happened to her?
- Finch: Juvenile reclamation project. For five years. We're going to need backup, but keep it minimal.
- Dominic: You sure about that, sir?
- Finch: I just want a chance to talk to her before she disappears into one of Creedy's black bags.
- Evey: What is this place?
- V: It's my home. I call it the Shadow Gallery.
- Evey: It's beautiful...where did you get all this stuff?
- V: Oh, here and there. Most of it from the vaults of the Ministry of Objectionable Materials.
- Evey: You stole them?
- V: Oh, heavens, no. Stealing implies ownership. You can't steal from the censor; I merely reclaimed them.
- Evey: God, if they ever find this place..
- V: I suspect if they do find this place, a few bits of art will be the least of my worries.
- Evey: You mean, after what you've done? God, what have I done? I Maced that detective. Why did I do that?
- V: You did what you thought was right.
- Evey: No. I shouldn't have done that. I must have been out of my mind.
- V: Is that what you really think, or what they would want you to think?
- Evey: I think I should go.
- V: May I ask where?
- Evey: Home. I have to go home.
- V: You said they were looking for you. If they know where you work, they certainly know where you live.
- Evey: I have friends. I could stay with them.
- V: I'm afraid that won't work either. Now, you have to understand, Evey. I don't want this for either of us, but I couldn't see any other way. You were unconscious, and I had to make a decision. If I had left you there, right now, you'd be in one of Creedy's interrogation cells. They'd imprison you, torture you, and, in all probability, kill you in the pursuit of finding me. After what you did, I couldn't let that happen, so I picked you up and carried you to the only place I knew you'd be safe: here, to my home.
- Evey: I won't tell anyone, I swear. You know you can trust me.
- V: I'm sorry, but I can't take that risk.
- Evey: But I don't even know where this is. We could be anywhere.
- V: You know it's underground. You know the colour of the stone. That'd be enough for a clever man.
- Evey: What are you saying? That I have to stay here?
- V: Only until I'm done. After the 5th, I no longer think it'll matter.
- Evey: You mean, a year from now? I have to stay here for a year?
- V: Sorry, Evey. I didn't know what else to do.
- Evey: You should have left me alone! WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!
- [A shot of an Egg in the Basket over a frying pan zooms out to V's scarred hands holding the pan. Evey wakes up to Stan Getz, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto's "The Girl from Ipanema"]
- Evey: V?
- V: Ah. Bonjour, mademoiselle.
- Evey: I just wanted to apologise for my reaction last night. [V just nods] I understand what you did for me, and I wanted you to know I am grateful. [turns attention to V's scarred hands] Your hands!
- V: [notices his hands, which were un-gloved] Yes. [puts gloves back on] There. That's better. I hope I didn't put you off your appetite.
- Evey: No, please. It's just — are you all right?
- V: Oh, yes, yes. Yes, I'm fine.
- Evey: Can I ask what happened?
- V: [hesitates for a moment] There was a fire. A long time ago. Ancient history for some. Not really very good table conversation. Now, would you care for a cup of tea with your egg?
- Evey: Yes, thank you. I'm starving, actually.
- V: Have a seat.
- [Evey approaches the table, sits down, and eats the dish.]
- Evey: Mmm. It's delicious!
- V: Mmm. Good.
- Evey: God, I haven't had real butter since I was a little girl. Where did you get it?
- V: A government supply train on its way to Chancellor Sutler.
- Evey: [chokes] You stole this from Chancellor Sutler!?
- V: [nonchalantly] Yes.
- Evey: You're insane!
- Evey: Can I ask about what you said on the telly?
- V: Yes.
- Evey: Did you mean it?
- V: Every word.
- Evey: You really think that blowing up parliament is going to make this country a better place?
- V: There's no certainty, only opportunity.
- Evey: I think you can be pretty certain that if anyone does show up, Creedy will black-bag everyone of them.
- V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
- Evey: And you are going to make that happen by blowing up a building?
- V: The building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by the people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.
- Evey: I wish I believed that was possible, but every time I've seen the world change it's always been for the worse.
- V: Good evening, Commander Prothero.
- Prothero: How did you get in here?
- V: Don't worry; I've made sure our reunion won't be disturbed by any pesky late-night phone calls, Commander.
- Prothero: Stop that! Why do you keep calling me that?
- V: That was your title, remember? When we first met, all those years ago. You wore a uniform in those days.
- Prothero: [After some flashbacks of his time at Larkhill, including the fire, he figures out V as the man from Room 5]You. It is you!
- V: The ghost of Christmas past.
- Evey: V, yesterday I couldn't find my ID. You didn't take it, did you?
- V: Would you prefer a lie or the truth?
- Evey: [stands, gesturing toward the TV, which has just finished an announcement of Lewis Prothero's death] Did you have anything to do with that?
- V: Yes, I killed him.
- Evey: You? Oh, God!
- V: You're upset.
- Evey: I'm upset? You just said you killed Lewis Prothero!
- V: I might have killed the Fingermen who attacked you, but I heard no objection then.
- Evey: What?
- V: Violence can be used for good.
- Evey: What are you talking about?
- V: Justice.
- Evey: Oh... I see.
- V: There's no courtroom in this country for men like Prothero.
- Evey: And are you going to kill more people?
- V: [nonchalantly] Yes.
- Evey: My father was a writer. You would've liked him. He used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.
- V: A man after my own heart.
- Evey: [reading inscription on mirror]Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici...
- V: "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe".
- Evey: Personal motto?
- V: From Faust.
- Evey: That's about trying to cheat the devil, isn't it?
- V: It is.
- Delia: [wakes in an apparently empty room] It's you, isn't it? You've come to kill me.
- V: [from the shadows] Yes.
- Delia: [lets out a sob] Thank God...
- Delia: After what happened, after what they did, I thought about killing myself. But I knew that one day you'd come for me. I didn't know what they were going to do. I swear to you. Read my journal.
- V: What they did was only possible because of you.
- Delia: Oppenheimer was able to change more than the course of a war. He changed the entire course of human history. Is it wrong to hold on to that kind of hope?
- V: I've not come for what you hoped to do. I've come for what you did.
- Delia: It's funny. I was given one of your roses today. I wasn't sure you were the terrorist until I saw it. What a strange coincidence that I should be given one today.
- V: There are no coincidences, Delia. Only the illusion of coincidence. I have another rose [takes one out], and this one is for you. [hands it to her]
- Delia: Are you going to kill me now?
- V: I killed you ten minutes ago. [holds up a small hypodermic needle] While you slept.
- Delia: [frightened] Is there any pain?
- V: No.
- Delia: Thank you. [pauses briefly] Is it meaningless to apologise?
- V: Never.
- Delia: [quietly] I'm so sorry.
- Finch: The terrorist obviously wanted us to have it. He wanted us to know the whole story, or at least a part of it.
- Sutler: Am I to understand that you have read this document, inspector?
- Finch: Yes, sir.
- Sutler: Has anyone else read it, besides you?
- Finch: No, sir.
- Sutler: Then let me make this perfectly clear to you. The contents of this document are a matter of national security, constituting an assault on the character of several important party members as well as a blatant violation of the Articles of Allegiance. As the authenticity of this document cannot be verified, it could be an elaborate forgery created by the terrorist, as easily as it could be the deranged fantasy of a former party member who resigned for psychological reasons. Any discussion of this document or its contents will be regarded, at the very least, as an act of sedition, if not a willful act of treason. Is that understood, Mr Finch?
- Finch: Yes, sir.
- Sutler: You would do well, inspector, to put it out of your mind.
- [A shot of an Egg in the Basket over a frying pan zooms out to Gordon's hands holding the pan, reminiscent of V preparing the same dish. Evey wakes up to Stan Getz, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto's "Corcovado". She had previously sought refuge at Gordon Deitrich's home after escaping from V]
- Gordon: Bonjour, mademoiselle.
- Evey: [puzzled] What is that you're making?
- Gordon: We call it "Eggie in the Basket". My mum used to make them.
- Evey: This is weird.
- Gordon: What?
- Evey: The first morning I was with him, he made me eggs just like this.
- Gordon: Really?
- Evey: I swear!
- Gordon: That is a strange coincidence. Although there's an obvious explanation.
- Evey: There is?
- Gordon: Yes, Evey. I am V. At last, you know the truth. [Evey looks incredulously at Gordon] You're stunned, I know. It's hard to believe, isn't it? That beneath this wrinkled, well-fed exterior, there lies a dangerous killing machine with a fetish for Fawkesian masks. ¡Viva la revolución!
- Evey: That is not funny, Gordon.
- Gordon: [sighs] Yes, I know. I'm useless without a studio audience.
- Evey: I've seen people go to jail for less than that.
- Gordon: Of course. He was right, wasn't it? There is something wrong with this country.
- Finch: I want to ask a question, Dominic. I don't care if you answer me or not. I just want to say this aloud... The question I want to ask is about St Mary's and Three Waters. The question that's kept me up for the last 24 hours, the question I have to ask, is: What if the worst, the most horrifying, biological attack in this country's history was not the work of religious extremists?
- Dominic: Well, I don't understand. We know it was. They were caught. They confessed.
- Finch: And they were executed, I know. And maybe that's really what happened. But I see this chain of events, these coincidences... and I have to ask: What if that isn't what happened? What if someone else unleashed that virus? What if someone else killed all those people? Would you really want to know who it was?
- Dominic: Sure.
- Finch: Even if it was someone working for this government? That's my question. If our own government was responsible for what happened at St Mary's and Three Waters... if our own government was responsible for the deaths of almost a hundred thousand people... would you really want to know?
- [Gordon pops a champagne bottle]
- Evey: What is this all about?
- Gordon: I'm celebrating.
- Evey: Celebrating what?
- Gordon: I think this could be the best show we've ever done.
- Gordon: [on the television] Very good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Listen. We've got an extraordinary show for you tonight. You're not going to believe it. As a matter of fact, I don't think I do. Would you please give a warm welcome to our own Chancellor Adam Sutler!
- ["God Save the Queen" plays on the background as an impersonator of Adam Sutler enters]
- Mother: No way!
- Girl with Spectacles: It can't be!
- Gordon: We threw out the censor-approved script, and shot a new one I wrote this morning.
- Evey: Oh, my god.
- [Cuts to the audience applaud on being taunted by the fake Sutler's soldiers. Evey chokes on her champagne]
- Gordon: Chancellor, Chancellor, Chancellor. I understand you've been under tremendous strain lately since the beginning of this whole terrorism business, and we thought it would be a nice idea to try and help you relax. Girls?
- [Deitrich's girls arrive with a humidor, from where the fake Sutler takes a cigar. Another girl offers him a glass of milk]
- Fake Sutler: Ah! Warm milk. There's nothing better.
- Gordon: I understand you enjoy a glass every night, Chancellor.
- Fake Sutler: Since I was a boy. [The real Sutler is shown sitting in his bunker while watching, holding a glass of milk] But you're wrong, Mr Deitrich. The terrorist was never a serious concern.
- Gordon: (in background) Oh, really?
- [A prankster dressed as V ties the fake Sutler's shoelaces together, whilst replacing his cigar with an exploding one]
- Girl with Spectacles: It's him!
- Gordon: Chancellor, Chancellor, are you saying that he's not still alive and active?
- Fake Sutler: The terrorist has been neutralised.
- [The cigar explodes as the fake Sutler huffs from it.]
- Gordon: Oh, my God, Chancellor, look! The terrorist!
- Fake Sutler: The terrorist! [The camera pans to the fake V among the musicians, scraping a washboard] Get him! [Sutler walks toward the fake V, but having been shoe-laced, stumbles.]
- Gordon: Oh, dear!
- [As Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" plays, the show plays a sped-up chase of V, the girls, and the soldiers, while the fake Sutler still struggles to get off from being shoe-laced. An actor in a gorilla suit appears randomly and bangs his chest with his fists. Gordon then throws a banana peel, and the fake V slips on it, and is tackled by the fake Sutler's soldiers]
- Fake Sutler: At last! And now, for all the world to see!
- [The fake Sutler approaches the fake V, now restrained by the soldiers. He unmasks the fake V, who was revealed to be another Sutler impersonator]
- Girl with Spectacles: [As her mother gasps and shakes her head] It's him!
- Fake V/Sutler: Unhand me! I am your chancellor!
- [A group of old men, who are watching the show, laugh out loud]
- Fake Sutler: How dare you! I am the chancellor!
- [Gordon makes a funny act of confusion, pointing to one fake Sutler after the other]
- Fake V/Sutler: Imposter! [the two fake Sutlers tackle each other in a farcical fight. Gordon makes a funny act of sympathy before they get back up.] Soldiers! That man is the terrorist!
- Fake Sutler: I order you to shoot that traitor!
- Fake V/Sutler: Liar!
- Fake Sutler: Faker!
- Fake V/Sutler: Fraud!
- Fake Sutler: Ready...
- Fake V/Sutler: Aim...
- Fake Sutlers: [together, as Gordon blocks his ears with his fingers in a funny act of fright] FIRE!
- [The soldiers shoot both fake Sutlers. The curtain closes, the entire public is left laughing and as Gordon bows down to the clapping audience, another fake V sneaks in from the cyclorama, snickering as he holds a cigar. The real Sutler shatters the glass of milk in his hand as he watches]
- [Gordon is on the phone to his agent, after his satire of Norsefire is broadcast]
- Gordon: What are they going to do, fine us? Big deal. We've got the most watched show on air! Well, you're my agent, that's what I pay you for. Protect me! [hangs up] I should have hired him years ago to be my mother.
- Evey: You're mad!
- Gordon: Either that or I wasn't breast-fed.
- Evey: Is everything a joke to you, Gordon?
- Gordon: Only the things that matter.
- Evey: What if they come after you?
- Gordon: I'll tell you what's going to happen. I'll have to make some kind of apology and do some boring fund-raiser, but in the meantime, our ratings will go through the roof. It'll be fine! Trust me.
- Interrogator: Do you know why you're here, Evey Hammond?
- Evey: No. Please...
- Interrogator: You've been formally charged with three counts of murder, the bombing of government property, conspiracy to commit terrorism, treason, and sedition — the penalty for which is death by firing squad. You have one chance, and only one chance, to save your life. You must tell us the identity or whereabouts of code name V. If your information leads to his capture, you will be released from this facility immediately. Do you understand what I'm telling you? You can return to your life, Ms Hammond. All you have to do is co-operate. Process her.
- Interrogator: I am instructed to inform you that you have been convicted by special tribunal and that unless you are ready to offer your co-operation, you are to be executed. Do you understand what I'm telling you?
- Evey: Yes.
- Interrogator: Are you ready to co-operate?
- Evey: No.
- Interrogator: Very well. Escort Ms Hammond back to her cell. Arrange a detail of six men and take her out behind the chemical sheds and shoot her.
- [Later, as Evey sits alone in her cell, holding Valerie Page's letter tightly, the door swings open.]
- Guard: It's time.
- Evey: I'm ready.
- Guard: [hesitates] Look, all they want is one little piece of information. Just give them something, anything.
- Evey: Thank you, but I'd rather die behind the chemical sheds.
- Guard: Then you have no fear anymore. You're completely free.
- [Evey is allowed to leave her prison unexpectedly and finds she was actually in V's lair the whole time]
- V: [entering] Hello, Evey.
- Evey: ..You...it was you...
- V: [quietly] Yeah.
- Evey: [gestures behind her] That wasn't real... Is Gordon — ?
- V: I'm sorry, but Mr Deitrich's dead. I thought they'd arrest him, but when they found a Qur'an in his house, they had him executed.
- Evey: [whispers] Oh, God.
- V: Fortunately, I got to you before they did.
- Evey: You got to me? You did this to me... You cut my hair... You tortured me... You tortured me! Why?
- V: You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there would have been an easier way, but there wasn't.
- Evey: [whispers] Oh, my God!
- V: I know you may never forgive me, but nor will you ever understand how hard it was for me to do what I did. Every day, I saw in myself everything you see in me now. Every day, I wanted to end it. But each time you refused to give in, I knew I couldn't.
- Evey: [shouting angrily] You're sick! You're evil!
- V: You could have ended it, Evey. You could have given in, but you didn't. Why?
- Evey: Leave me alone! I HATE YOU!
- V: THAT'S IT! See, at first, I thought it was hate, too. Hate was all I knew. It built my world, imprisoned me, taught me how to eat, how to drink, how to breathe! I thought I'd die with all the hate in my veins. But then something happened. It happened to me, just as it happened to you.
- Evey: SHUT UP! I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOUR LIES!
- V: Your own father said that artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie, but because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.
- Evey: No...
- V: What was true in that cell is just as true now. What you felt in there has nothing to do with me.
- Evey: I CAN'T FEEL ANYTHING ANYMORE!
- V: Don't run from it, Evey. You've been running all your life.
- Evey: [gasping heavily] I can't... can't breathe... Asthma... When I was little... [collapses while V catches her]
- V: Listen to me, Evey. This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it. They took your parents from you. They took your brother from you. They put you in a cell and took everything they could take except your life. And you believed that was all there was, didn't you? The only thing you had left was your life, but it wasn't, was it?
- Evey: [sobbing] Oh... please...
- V: You found something else. In that cell, you found something that mattered more to you than life. Because when they threatened to kill you unless you gave them what they wanted... you told them you'd rather die. You faced your death, Evey. You were calm. You were still. Try to feel now what you felt then.
- V: What was done to me was monstrous!
- Evey: Then they created a monster.
- Heyer: Chancellor, I know no-one seems to want to discuss this, but if we're to be prepared for any eventuality, then it can't be ignored any longer. The red report in front of you has been vetted by several demolition specialists. Now, it concludes that the most logical delivery system for the terrorist to use would be an airborne attack. A separate report has been filed suggesting a train, despite the fact that all the tunnels surrounding Parliament have been sealed shut.
- Sutler: Who filed that report?
- Heyer: Chief Inspector Finch.
- Sutler: Do you have any evidence to support this conclusion, Mr Finch?
- Finch: No, sir, just a feeling.
- Sutler: If I am sure of anything, Mr Finch, it is that this government will not survive if it is to be subject to your feelings. Mr Dascombe, what we need right now is a clear message to the people of this country. This message must be heard on every radio, read in every newspaper, seen on every television. This message must resound throughout the entire InterLink! I want this country to realise 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!
- [As V, disguised as William Rookwood, is found by Finch]
- V: [puts out a hand] That's close enough, inspector. [activates a debugger]
- Finch: We're not wired.
- V: I'm sorry, but a man in my position survives by taking every precaution.
- Finch: You've information for us?
- V: No, you already have the information. All the names and dates are inside your head. What you want, what you really need, is a story.
- Finch: A story can be true or false.
- V: I leave such judgments to you, inspector.
- [Later on]
- Finch: Can you prove any of this?
- V: Why do you think I'm still alive?
- Finch: Right. We'd like to take you into protective custody, Mr Rookwood.
- V: Oh, I'm sure you would. But if you want that recording, you'll do what I tell you to do. Put Creedy under 24-hour surveillance. When I feel safe that he can't pick his nose without you knowing, I'll contact you again. Until then, cheerio.
- Finch: Rookwood. Why didn't you come forward before? What were you waiting for?
- V: Well, for you, inspector. I needed you.
- [two guards watch Creedy via CCTV, when the lights go out, V captures him and starts Ludwig van Beethoven'sSymphony No.5playing]
- Guard #1: What's he doing in the dark there?
- Guard #2: Creepy Creedy. Not sure I wanna know.
- V: Sutler can no longer trust you, can he, Mr Creedy? And we both know why. After I destroy Parliament, his only chance will be to offer them someone else, some other piece of meat. And who will that be? You, Mr Creedy. A man as smart as you has probably considered this. A man as smart as you probably has a plan. That plan is the reason Sutler no longer trusts you. It's the reason you're being watched right now, why there are eyes and ears in every room of this house and a tap on every phone.
- Creedy: Bollocks.
- V: Oh, a man as smart as you, I think, knows otherwise.
- Creedy: What do you want?
- V: Sutler. Come now, Mr Creedy, you knew this was coming. You knew that one day, it'd be you or him. That's why Sutler's been kept underground for "security purposes". That's why there are several of your men close to Sutler. Men that can be counted on. All you have to do is say the word.
- Creedy: What do I get out of this deal?
- V: Me. [lifts a chalk up to Creedy] If you accept, put an X on your front door.
- Creedy: [lifts his hand to take the chalk] Why should I trust you?
- V: Because it's the only way you're going to stop me.
- [Creedy takes the chalk]
- Dominic: We've got Creedy pinned like a butterfly for weeks. Still no word; what's he waiting for?
- [the phone rings, and Dominic answers it]
- Dominic: Yeah? Inspector, it's for you.
- Finch: [takes the phone] Yeah?
- Captain Clark: Is that Chief Inspector Finch?
- Finch: It is.
- Captain Clark: This is Captain Clark of the 137th ward at Southend. We found him.
- Finch: Found who?
- Captain Clark: William Rookwood, the one you've been looking for. I saw your report a couple of weeks ago, thought I'd run it through our John Does. Sure enough, I hooked him; perfect dental match. He was a floater, a couple of fisherman picked him up. No ID, never solved. Until now, that is.
- Finch: William Rookwood is dead?
- Captain Clark: I'd say so. 20 years now.
- [we then see a shot of Rookwood's face, revealed to be a mask used by V]
- Finch: GOD DAMMIT!! That son of a bitch sat there and spoon-fed me that bullshit, and I ate it up!!
- Dominic: So what do we do now, Inspector?
- Finch: We do what we should've been doing. We find him!
- Sutler: Every day, gentlemen. Every day that brings us closer to November. Every day that man remains free is one more failure! 347 days, gentlemen! 347 failures!
- Creedy: Chancellor, we do not have the adequate force to...
- Sutler: We are being buried beneath the avalanche of your inadequacies, Mr Creedy!!
- Sutler: I want anyone caught with one of those masks arrested!
- Convenience Store V: Give me the money! Give me the fucking money!
- Dominic: We're under siege here. The whole city's gone mad.
- Finch: That's exactly what he wants.
- Dominic: What?
- Convenience Store V: Anarchy in the UK! [fires shots into the air, then escapes with the money]
- Finch: Chaos.
- Sutler: Mr Creedy, I am holding you personally responsible for this situation.
- [we soon go to a new scene, where Creedy is revealed to have accepted his earlier deal with V.]
- Finch: The problem is that he knows us better than we know ourselves. That's why I went to Larkhill last night.
- Dominic: That's outside quarantine.
- Finch: I had to see it. There wasn't much left. But when I was there it was strange – I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected. It was like I could see the whole thing; one long chain of events that stretched back to before Larkhill. I felt like I could see everything that had happened, and everything that was going to happen. It was like a perfect pattern, laid out in front of me, and I realised that we were all part of it, and all trapped by it.
- Dominic: So do you know what's going to happen?
- Finch: No. It was a feeling. But I can guess. With so much chaos, someone will do something stupid. And when they do, things will turn nasty. And then, Sutler will be forced do the only thing he knows how to do. At which point, all V needs to do is keep his word. And then...
- [V causes his completed dominoes to fall. During this, a martial-law like world is shown, with people attacking police and military vehicles.]
- Sutler:: Tonight, I will speak directly to these people and make the situation perfectly clear to them. The security of this nation depends on complete and total compliance. Tonight, any protester, any instigator or agitator, will be MADE EXAMPLE OF!
- Dascombe: Chancellor, there is a contingency that has not been addressed.
- Sutler: And what is that, Mr Dascombe?
- Dascombe: Should the terrorist succeed...?
- Sutler: He won't.
- Dascombe: I understand that it is highly unlikely, but if he does...?
- Sutler: If he does, and something happens to that building, the only thing that will change, the only difference that it will make, is that tomorrow morning, instead of a newspaper, I WILL BE READING MR CREEDY'S RESIGNATION!
- Dominic: I went by Parliament. Never seen anything like it — tanks, anti-aircraft, infantry — it makes you wish that no-one would show up tonight. But if they do, what do you think will happen?
- Finch: What usually happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns. Pull over here.
- Dominic: We've been searching these tunnels for weeks. You really think we're going to find him now? [they pull up outside Charing Cross station. Finch gets out of the car.] Inspector? It's all gone wrong, hasn't it?
- V: [confronting a helpless Sutler] At last, we finally meet. I have something for you, Chancellor. A farewell gift. For all the things you've done, for the things you might have done, and for the only thing you have left. [places a rose in Sutler's coat] Goodbye, Chancellor. Mr Creedy?
- Creedy: Disgusting. [executes Sutler with his revolver] Now that's done with. It's time to have a look at your face. Take off your mask.
- V: No.
- [Creedy nods and two Fingermen approach V; one tries to remove his mask, but V kills them both]
- Creedy: Defiant until the end, huh? You won't cry like him, will you? You're not afraid of death. You're like me.
- V: The only thing that you and I have in common, Mr Creedy, is we are both about to die.
- Creedy: [scoffs] How do you imagine that's going to happen?
- V: With my hands around your neck.
- Creedy: Bollocks. What are you going to do, huh? We've swept this place. You've got nothing. Nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks. We have guns!
- V: No. What you have are bullets and the hopes that when your guns are empty, I'm no longer standing. Because if I am, you'll all be dead before you've reloaded.
- Creedy: That's impossible! [Raises his revolver and thumbs back the hammer] Kill him.
- [Creedy and his men open fire on V. After their guns are empty, with many rounds fired, V starts to keel, but then straightens and inhales deeply]
- V: My turn.
- [V keeps his word and kills all of Creedy's 12 remaining men with his knives, while Creedy frantically reloads his revolver]
- Creedy: [Starts shooting the approaching V] Die! Die! Why won't you die?! [His gun clicks empty] Why won't you die?
- V: [Gasping] Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr Creedy. And ideas are bullet-proof!
- [V grabs Creedy by the neck, lifts him up and pins him to the fence; within seconds there is a sickening snap, and Creedy goes limp. V pulls off a steel breastplate full of punctures (which he was wearing to prevent the bullets from puncturing his organs) and staggers away, bleeding to death from his wounds.]
- [Evey and Finch stand watching Parliament erupt in explosions of fireworks while the 1812 Overture plays over the loudspeakers]
- Finch: Who was he?
- Evey: He was Edmond Dantès. And he was my father. And my mother... my brother... my friend. He was you, and me. He was all of us.
Quoted from other sources
- These statements, popularized in the film, are actually quotes from other sources.
- Remember, Remember or Please to remember
The fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
- Traditional English verse recited for Guy Fawkes Night
- The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him...
[skipping four of the original lines] Disdaining fortune with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution...
- We are oft to blame in this. 'Tis too much proved that with devotion's visage and pious action we do sugar o'er the devil himself.'
- And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol'n forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
The fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
- An uncompromising vision of the future from the creators of the Matrix trilogy.
- People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
- Remember, remember the 5th of November.
- FREEDOM! FOREVER!
- Strength through unity, unity through faith!
- England prevails.
- Ideas are bulletproof.
- There are ideas in this film. The most pointed is V's belief: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." I am not sure V has it right; surely in the ideal state governments and their people should exist happily together. Fear in either direction must lead to violence. But V has a totalitarian state to overthrow, and only a year to do it in, and we watch as he improvises a revolution.
- Brutal, audacious and very slippery, V for Vendetta is the ballsiest major studio release I've ever seen… Vendetta is as rousing, engaging and devious as only the best propaganda can be — a call to rebellion that dares to question our respect for authority and gives us a masked terrorist and his manipulated prodigy as our heroes. And unlike other political thrillers that seem content to simply wallow their dissatisfaction with the state of the world, Vendetta demands that we take personal responsibility for our actions and for the administrations that we allow to come into power... Vendetta is a thematic powderkeg... Straight up, this is as invigorating, challenging and moving a film as one can hope to expect, especially from a major studio (and the first). Don't miss the movie of the year.
- The dark and stylized V for Vendetta is visually exhilarating, provocative and disturbing. Set in a slightly futuristic world (London in 2020), Vendetta is an action thriller that also stimulates thought... Despite its disparate influences, Vendetta feels captivatingly original. The multilayered film can be appreciated strictly as an action thriller or for its deeper message about personal responsibility, political oppression and revolutionary change. One powerful theme centers on the notion that ideas live forever, their power undiminished even as those who espouse them die.
- It seemed to me the two more absolute extremes were anarchy and fascism. This was one of the things I objected to in the recent film, where it seems to be, from the script that I read, sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. There wasn't a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.
Encyclopedic article on V for Vendetta (film) at Wikipedia
Media related to V for Vendetta at Wikimedia Commons
An Essay by William H. Gass
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
The following is an excerpt from Finding a Form: Essays by William H. Gass. The book was originally published in 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf and was reprinted in August by Dalkey Archive. The updated essays “should be considered the final and only authorized ones,” according to the acknowledgments page of the new Dalkey edition. The essay here, titled “The Vicissitudes of the Avante-Garde”, first appeared in the October 1988 issue of Harper's magazine.
THE VICISSITUDES OF THE AVANT-GARDE
Excerpt from Finding a Form: Essays
By William H. Gass
The term "avant-garde" has had a strange and ironic history. From the main body of an army in medieval times, two smaller units were detached: one protected the rear during retreats, or from surprise attack, and sent back stragglers and deserters; the other was composed of a line of scouts who went ahead to seek out, test, and estimate the enemy. By the sixteenth century, when the term was first applied to a literary movement associated with Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay, the avant-garde had become seditious, because its enemy turned out to be the very military unit it was supposed to serve. Thus the spacial image of a marching army was modified to describe a course of rebellious events that had a temporal shape instead: initial spark, fanned flames, full conflagration, final burnout, concluding ash, and consummatory cheers.
Certainly Rosnard’s great odes broke every established rule. They employed shocking and bizarre language, including some peasant idioms and coinages of Ronsard’s own devising. They introduced a new orthography and abandoned traditional French verse forms for classical ones. Above all, against the conception of the poet as a clever craftsman, Ronsard chose not to notice the irony in Plato’s Ion in order to claim for the poet the inspiration of the gods.
Ronsard and his work were young when they were given this belligerent description. Certainly the image of an avant-garde made up of rambunctiously inspired graybeards is essentially comic. Repeatedly, in many fields, the young find their way blocked by middle age and settled success, so they try to outflank their adversaries; they call for change when often they merely want to occupy the comfortable chairs of their elders. Not only do time and repeated employment relax the rigid posture of their pens; so does the passage of centuries smooth the once revolutionary roughness of what they wrote. Thirty years after the appearance of his Odes, Ronsard is striking notes most poets have sounded since the art began. Dust has closed Helen’s eyes. Brightness has fallen from the air. Alas, poor Yorick, where are the snows of yesteryear? At the gravesite of a grandparent, you contemplate death differently than you do when you have one foot in your own.
We owe death a debt: our bodies and the body of our work;
We die to begin with, and then the waves of many ages
Roll up to wash away our words;
This is the fixed intent of Fate and Nature.
God alone lasts; of man’s poor parts
There remains in the end neither heart nor husk.
What’s worse, man feels, man thinks, no more –
A fleshless roomer in a tomb of dust.
The delightful irony is that God is now dead, whereas Ronsard’s words are still being read. Deep down, where they live, most poets must relish this result. Why else would their skulls grin?
During the nineteenth century, the avant-garde adopted a tone that was essentially negative and oppositional, and its chief enemies were members of the expanding middle class, the so-called bourgeoisie. This increasingly influential segment of society still embraced a kind of religious patriotism that many intellectuals felt had been thoroughly discredited. The bourgeoisie also practiced an unprincipled utilitarianism, a greedy love of money and its powers that left them open to charges of hypocrisy.
Avant-gardes are fragile affairs. The moment they become established, they cease to be – success as well as failure finishes them off. Their unity depends upon a common “no,” not on some “yes” that is jointly loved. And insofar as the movement moves at all, it requires the shoulders of many others at its wheels, support which most of the artists suspect is actually their exploitation. Poems must be written, paintings must be painted, but mere coffeehouse talk is not irrelevant to the success of the cause, nor are letters, broadsides, feuilletons, essays, reviews, catalogue copy, the quarrels of the cafés and the slanders of the salons; nor are tumults in the stalls, outrages of public decency, arrests, or other excursions and alarms.
Every effort to prolong an avant-garde beyond a certain point becomes of doubtful value, because an avant-garde can have but a mayfly’s life: the artists have only their negations to chorus; both their attitudes and their art will alter as they age; society’s methods of co-optation and disarmament will, in general, be effective; their anger will be softened by success and their aims divided, their attention distracted; the institutions set up by most Establishments, even if assaulted, will take longer dying than most avant-gardes can expect to live; while the strength of the support groups, so necessary to the energy of any movement, are even more fragile and momentary, depending, as they do, on the loyalty of a publisher, the generosity of a patron, the length of a love life, the cuisine of a café.
Artists who do not grow old gracefully, but rage and change through the whole of life, find themselves, at the end, alone with their innovations and not part of a refurbished movement. In that sense, the later works of Goya, Verdi, Monet, or Yeats constitute a solitary interior development whose deepest effects, like those of Turner’s final oils or Beethoven’s last quartets, are sometimes delayed for generations.
Ronsard wearies of the world. He retires from court, cultivates only essentials: his art. But he lives long enough to see the need for a new avant-garde, because the traditional enemies of poetry have returned; Ronsard’s reforms have been betrayed or abandoned. Nothing has changed (including the rust on old saws). Ronsard writes some verses concerning the declining times to his old friend Simon Nicolar, which begin:
All is lost, Nick, the bad grows worse;
The empire of France is empty as a beggar’s curse.
Vice is king and virtue’s fled,
The nobles have taken novel whores to bed:
Sly courtiers, clowns, a vile race,
Do park their asses in the muses’ place,
Gamblers, crooks, and chatterboxes,
Lickspittles, fops, and bobbysoxers …
This ferocious Pope-like poem suggests – when we put it alongside all the others, in different times and places, which express the same sentiments – that when the avant-garde turns against the army it is scouting for, it does so because it believes that army has betrayed the policies it had pledged itself to support, and that this betrayal, as well as the rebellion which is a response to it, is chronic and recurrent, if not perpetual.
There appear to be at least three kinds of avant-garde. One, such as the architectural modernism of the Bauhaus, of Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Neutra, aims to improve man and his life; it naturally allies itself with other forward-looking agents of change (the machine, for instance), and it preaches progress with the sort of rosy-cheeked optimism characteristic of metaphysical Rotarians. It tends to be impatient with the past, maintaining that little can be learned from history but its errors, and fearing nostalgia above all other passive emotions. Although the members of this avant-garde are largely arty intellectuals, there is a sense of common cause with the impoverished and downtrodden – a shared powerlessness. This is what I call the liberal avant-garde. Its influence is strongest among the arts that have a public posture (architecture, theater, cinema). When the liberal avant-garde wants to become doctrinaire, it embraces the fascism of the Left. Picasso, Le Corbusier, and Brecht are characteristic types.
The avant-garde of Gautier, Degas, and Flaubert, however, has nothing but scorn for these pimps of progress. The talismanic word here is “original,” and the focus of the group tends to be on individual and artistic freedom, on disengagement and withdrawal. Artists in this second group are ready to take from tradition and often oppose the present by looking to the past. They have a natural affinity with the aristocracy, and in general their movements are marked by an extreme dislike of the masses. Their image of the artist is the individual in his isolation. This is the conservative avant-garde, the avant-garde of Rimbaud, Lawrence, Eliot, Pound, Yeats, and Céline, and it is most prevalent among the poets. When it wants to become doctrinaire, it embraces the fascism of the Right, and often shows, alas, a racist face.
Both of these avant-gardes occupied important places in the movement called Modernism. Both were wholly opposed to the state of affairs in which they found themselves; both felt oppressed by the Establishment; both sought to produce something “new” and something thought to be revolutionary. Whether formalistic or expressionist, they shared a dislike of what was central to bourgeois taste (i.e. philistinism): representation and edification. However, history was still linear for the liberal wing; for them not every utopia was totally tarnished; society of some sort was still worth saving; and art could, as in the old days, do the job. The conservatives regarded such avant-gardes as fatally contaminated by bourgeois values; for them, society was not worth rescuing, only art was. Again, however – despite the purity and freedom they advocated – their works were scurrilously critical and contemptuous, and hence revisionary with respect to values. There was no hope to be found anywhere that would lighten their point of view or soften their animosities.
The conservative avant-garde poisoned itself. Its dislike of society could not be confined to the page, score, or canvas but seeped into the souls of its artists. As in Flaubert’s case, retching became a continuous condition. The liberal avant-garde failed when its social program failed; when the Left took over; when Modernism became, for it, the new rule of reason and the real source of righteousness. The urban reforms urged by many architects were ruthless, arrogant, and authoritarian. Yet when the political thrust of this avant-garde was blunted (as it largely was when it migrated to America), its radical works remained, ready for a reinterpretation that might return Brecht’s plays and Miesian buildings to their origin in art.
One interesting chapter in the history of co-option might concern itself with the eagerness and ease with which corporations all over the world made Modernism their business image, the skyscraper the cathedral of credit, and the steel cage a manifestation of commercial hubris, while the domestic work of those same architects was largely rejected. Avant-garde apartment complexes, on the whole, did not prosper, and tract housing went ranch as readily as souring cream. Of course, architects tend to begin their careers with less extensive projects and scheme their way from factories and shops to banks and office towers; nevertheless, the percentage of domestic architecture in the corpus of Mies, Aalto, Saarinen, Le Corbusier, and Gropius (for example) remains shockingly small. The Weissenhof project in Stuttgart (which commissioned Le Corbusier, Oud, Mies, and others to design apartments, villas, and row houses) is unique in Europe, and suffered for a while from indifference and neglect. Wright, almost alone, worked as a domestic, yet even his houses, eventually admired and critically influential, did not make it in the market. No Levittowns were built of his low-cost and brilliantly designed Usonian houses.
It was also natural for painters to take on the coloration of their patrons, and for artists in general to exploit the system that exploited them, becoming personalities for the press and pets of the powerful. Many remained unsure of themselves for some time, unable to decide to whom to sell their souls, while others – poets and composers, mainly, who would have prostituted themselves for a shiny penny – looked on with envy while fame and fortune went to flamboyant virtuosi, tyrannical maestros, over-the-register opera singers, and abject scribblers of rape and romance. Initially confused by the liberal image that critics had reflected for them, John Dos Passos and Norman Mailer eventually righted themselves.
The existence of a third avant-garde is more problematic. The activities of any such “group,” whether artistically oriented or socially focused, are so determined by the times that to call one sort permanent seems to court contradiction. Yet I believe there are works to which habit won’t have a chance to get us comfortably accustomed; works that will continue to resist the soothing praises of the critics, and that will rise from their tombs of received opinion to surprise us again and again. These works may pay a dreadful price for the role they have chosen to play, but if they are going to be a permanent part of “the” avant-garde (that avant-garde common to all kinds), they must remain wild and never neglect an opportunity to attack their trainers; above all, it is the hand that feeds them which must be repeatedly bitten. They have to continue to do what the avant-garde is supposed to do: shatter stereotypes, shake things up, and keep things moving; offer fresh possibilities to a jaded understanding; encourage a new consciousness; revitalize the creative spirit of the medium; and, above all, challenge the skills and ambitions of every practitioner. Such a pure avant-garde must not only emphasize the formal elements of its art (recognizing that these elements are its art); its outside interests must be in very long-term – if not permanent – problems. It may have to say no to Cash, to Flag, to Man, to God, to Being itself. It cannot be satisfied merely to complain of the frivolities of a king’s court or to count the crimes of capitalism or to castigate the middle class for its persistent vulgarity. The avant-garde’s ultimate purpose is to return the art to itself, not as if the art could be cordoned off from the world and kept uncontaminated, but in order to remind it of its nature (a creator of forms in the profoundest sense) – a nature that should not be allowed to dissolve into what are, after all, measly moments of society.
In order to define the permanent avant-garde, or even suggest its possibility, I must turn in particular to such works as Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin, Beethoven’s Opus 111, Liszt’s Transcendental Études, Bartók’s 1926 Piano Sonata, Schoenberg’s Suite for Piano Opus 25, Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Kafka’s story “A Country Doctor,” Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Stein’s The Making of Americans as well as Tender Buttons, Beckett’s trilogy, late Turner and Rothko, some Duchamp, Hölderlin’s late piece “In lovely blue …,” the poetry of Mallarmé and Paul Celan, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, that most beautiful and disturbing of diaries, Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.
The critical theories accompanying these three avant-gardes – to defend, explain, and ballyhoo them – have, in addition to such customary functions, another one that is just as important, although less advertised. That function is to disguise, both to itself and to others, how backward-looking this forward-looking group of revolutionaries is. The avant-garde looks over its shoulder at the main body, of course, and by making that look adversarial, turns against itself as well; for it was once part of the main body; it was born in that body; and while it will reject resemblance, while it will wish to forget its parents and desire to shake the dust of its cultural village forever from its feet, it cannot escape its genetic links, its childhood history, and all its early loyalties.
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