It’s Bonfire Night here in the UK – which means it’s time for another V for Vendetta-themed article! For this year’s Guy Fawkes Day hit-out, let’s take a closer look at one of the most memorable scenes in James McTeigue’s 2006 adaptation of the classic Alan Moore/David Lloyd comic book: Evey’s rebirth.
We’ll look at everything from the performances in the scene to how it was scripted, edited and directed, and unpack how each of these elements played a crucial role in translating the scene successfully from the page to the screen. We’ll also touch on another rebirth scene in the V for Vendetta comic that doesn’t appear in the movie and try to tease out why the filmmakers decided not to include it.
What happens in the Evey rebirth scene?
If it’s been a while since you watched V for Vendetta – and really, today is the perfect excuse to revisit the film!) – here’s a quick recap of the Evey rebirth scene.
Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) has just discovered that her recent imprisonment and torture wasn’t overseen by the police state that rules the dystopian vision of the UK she calls home, but by her erstwhile mentor, V (Hugo Weaving). His motivation? To trigger in her a philosophical re-awakening much like his own, by subjecting her to the same unspeakable conditions he endured while held in a concentration camp years earlier.
As you’d expect, the revelation that she’s been duped (and brutally so) leaves Evey feeling, well…pissed. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she lashes out at V, who justifies his actions while trying to give her the final push she needs to transform from passive victim to driven anarchist. The strain of their confrontation soon proves too much for Evey and she collapses; obliging her request for fresh air, V takes Evey to the rooftop above his subterranean hideout.
Reminded of the hauntingly beautiful letter penned by one of V’s fellow inmates, Valerie, that she found during her captivity, Evey steps out into the heavy downpour hammering the roof. And in the cool, cleansing waters she is at last fully reborn, just like V was, only different…
Using lies to tell the truth: analysing the acting in the Evey rebirth scene
Whether you’ve rewatched the scene or just ingested my summary, it’s clear that Evey’s rebirth is an emotional highpoint in V for Vendetta’s narrative – which means the actors really had to bring their A-game for the scene to connect with audiences.
Fortunately, stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving prove up the challenge, delivering nuanced turns despite the near-total absence of any dialogue in the scene.
In some ways, this plays to Portman’s strengths; although she’s never anything less than effective as Evey, her English accent is a little wobbly at times, which can be kinda distracting. A scene with minimal dialogue is therefore ideal, as it allows the Oscar-winning actor to channel her formidable talents into a purely physical, distraction-free performance – and what a performance it is.
While V for Vendetta doesn’t quite rank up there with Portman’s work in Black Swan or Closer, the way she’s able to subtly externalise Evey’s emotional gear shifts is nevertheless a powerful reminder of why she’s regarded as one of the finest talents of her generation.
Watch closely as Portman first moves out into the deluge how she behaves as if she’s in a trance – embodying Evey’s almost spiritual connection with Valerie’s letter as she echoes a line from it, “God is in the rain”, in a distant tone – before snapping out of her glassy-eyed haze as the water hits her.
It’s first rate stuff, as is the way she effortlessly transitions into honest, tearful, joyous laughter, the convincing capstone of a metamorphosis arc that’s seeded throughout V for Vendetta’s first two acts. Thanks to Portman’s skill, this emotional journey totally pays off, and there’s a genuine sense of catharsis as Evey purges herself of her pent-up negative emotions in this moment.
Then there’s Hugo Weaving’s performance. Unlike Portman, he has no dialogue in the scene whatsoever…which is a problem, considering he’s also wearing a mask!
See, until now, the gifted thespian has been able to communicate V’s emotions and personality through a combination of carefully chosen vocal inflection and body language, but in the Evey rebirth scene, he can only rely upon the latter. Yet somehow, he pulls it off; with only the slightest tilt of his head, Weaving manages to convey so much.
As we intercut between Evey’s rebirth and shots of V’s own hellish reawakening, these tiny shifts in head placement – in tandem with cinematographer Adrian Biddle’s lighting on costume designer Sammy Sheldon’s expressive mask – make it clear that these aren’t simply flashbacks we’re experiencing separately from the characters: V is remembering his own violent transformation and comparing it with Evey’s more tranquil one.
Anarchy wears two faces: diving into the themes of the Evey rebirth scene
Is this baptism of fire versus baptism of water symbolism subtle? Not in the slightest. But it is thematically potent, and an example of McTeigue, editor Martin Walsh and screenwriters Lilly and Lana Wachowski leaning into the visual aspects of film as a storytelling medium.
The obvious thing to do here would have been to depict Evey’s rebirth exactly the way it was shown on the page; to replicate every line of Moore’s dialogue and frame every shot to mirror Lloyd’s panel compositions and pacing.
Instead, the Wachowskis suppress their penchant for over-writing – which rears its head elsewhere, such as V’s gratingly overwrought introductory speech – stripping out nearly all the dialogue and inserting the aforementioned flashbacks.
They aren’t telling us about Evey’s rebirth and its parallels with V’s own transformation, they’re showing us. And you know what? It works…really well, in fact.
Moore’s script and Lloyd’s layouts are a masterclass in sequential art, but comics are a different beast to movies. What’s more, when you’re adapting a story for the screen, it’s more important to capture the source material’s spirit than get bogged down by slavish (yet soulless) fidelity.
This is ultimately what McTeigue, the Wachowskis and Walsh have done with their live-action spin on the Evey rebirth scene: they’ve recreated the original scene’s essence (and one of the key themes of the V for Vendetta comic), namely, that positive and negative anarchic forces are needed to bring about social change.
By intercutting between Evey and V’s formative experiences, it’s immediately apparent that we’re dealing with two different types of revolutionary figure. Just like in the comic, V’s fiery, rage-fuelled genesis has forever marked him as a destroyer, whereas the circumstances of Evey’s more gentle transformation have positioned her to be a creator.
That’s when we start to realise that (again, like in the comic) this was V’s plan all along: to create a nurturing counterpart to himself – someone who can rebuild a new, better world after he’s torn down the old one.
This is why McTeigue makes it so clear that V is recalling his own past in this moment; it’s not to show that V comprehends how much he and Evey are alike, but rather to underscore how relieved he is by how much they are not.
So, while the V for Vendetta filmmakers often fail to fully grasp the point of Moore and Lloyd’s original story, when it comes to Evey’s rebirth, it’s fair to say they nailed it.
Finch’s revelation: the lost rebirth scene
OK, that’s Evey rebirth scene done and dusted; what about the other rebirth scene alluded to earlier – what was that all about? Well, as fans of the V for Vendetta comic will already know, in Moore and Lloyd’s original tale, Inspector Finch undertakes his own mind-bending journey in Book 3, “The Land of Do-As-You-Please”.
Desperate to understand how V thinks in the hopes that this will make apprehending him possible, Finch gets high on LSD (seriously!) and visits Larkhill, the concentration camp where V was held years earlier.
There, the conflicted lawman goes on a suitably trippy, nightmarish vision quest that unlocks his mind in a similar (albeit less extreme) fashion to V and Evey, allowing him (and us) to finally understand V’s brilliant brain works – apparently, his genius is powered by self-determination on a near-superhuman scale – and to track his quarry down.
So, why didn’t McTeigue and the Wachowskis include Finch’s reawakening in the V for Vendetta movie?
The most likely reason is that three rebirth scenes was probably one too many to squeeze into V for Vendetta’s 132-minute runtime, especially since Finch has a less prominent, more thinly-drawn role in the film compared to the comic. To put it bluntly, we just don’t care enough about him for this to land.
Still, the filmmakers at least pay lip service to this “lost” rebirth; there’s a montage sequence where Finch accurately predicts how V for Vendetta’s third act will shake down that seems inspired by the character’s arc in the comic.
Other than that, though, McTeigue and his team have focused most of their energies on making sure that the Evey rebirth scene was on target – and considering it’s a scene cinephiles still remember (particularly every November) it’s fair to say they succeeded.