It’s Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night here in the UK, and that means it must be time for another V for Vendetta-themed article.
I’ll be the first to admit that as a movie – hell, as an adaptation of an existing work – V for Vendetta is far from perfect. That said, it also gets a lot right, and this scene is a prime example of that fact.
If you haven’t seen the film or read the original comic, let me just say that from here on out, we are going to be wading deep into spoiler territory.
Still with me? Great!
For those of you in need of a quick recap, the prelude to the moment we’re about to scrutinise is the discovery by Evey that her recent imprisonment and torture has all been a brutal ruse masterminded by V, in order to subject her to the same the circumstances that led to his spiritual awakening.
In the ensuing confrontation between the pair, a physically and emotionally exhausted Evey collapses in asthma-fuelled hysterics, as V attempts to give her the final push needed to trigger her complete transformation from passive victim to driven anarchist.
It seems V’s efforts will all be in vain; Evey is too frail to continue any further, and begs for fresh air, a request V obliges by taking her to the rooftop above his subterranean hideout.
Here, free at last of her claustrophobic surroundings, Evey’s strength returns. Reminded of a letter she read during her captivity, she steps out into the heavy downpour and is at last fully reborn – just as V was, only different…
Stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving are both in strong form throughout proceedings, not just for the rooftop rebirth scene but also in the moments leading up to it.
Portman holds onto her English accent well overall, but far more importantly, she is utterly believable throughout every stage of Evey’s emotional roller coaster ride from shock all the way through to jubilation.
When Portman first moves out into the deluge, she acts almost as if she’s in a trance right up until Evey speaks aloud the connection between the rain and Valerie’s letter.
Portman then snaps out of her haze and breaks into tearful, joyous laughter, and this skilful transitioning between states means that we totally buy into Evey’s metamorphosis.
Weaving, meanwhile, delivers all his dialogue with a spot-on blend of edge and tenderness, and does a masterful job of conveying the rest of V’s thoughts and feelings through his body language.
With only a subtle tilt of his head, Weaving is able to communicate to the audience that V is remembering back to his own escape and re-awakening, and crucially, that he is mentally comparing his experience to what he is witnessing in the present.
You could chalk this up to the flashbacks spliced in-between each of these gentle neck shifts, but I’d argue that if not played right, it would seem more like we were simply being shown flashbacks to V’s past, without any sense that they represented V’s own thoughts.
It’s fair to say that both of these performances are very well-shot; in my earlier review of the film, I argued that some of the visuals in V for Vendetta can be a bit bland, but that criticism certainly doesn’t apply here.
Director of Photography Adrian Biddle has crafted some beautifully lit and framed shots, and the contrast between the baptism of fire versus the baptism with water might not be subtle, but it IS stunning and thematically potent.
The music by Dario Marianelli is equally on-point, and provides tremendous support to the imagery.
The score is quite slow sinister initially, as Evey uncovers V’s deception, before building in intensity and tension, suggesting Evey is about to snap under the unrelenting prodding of her mentor.
As V changes tack and tries to gently ease Evey towards enlightenment, you’ll notice that the tension in the score subsides, and Marianelli then weaves in a fittingly warm version of the film’s “changing the world”-related leitmotif, which subsides when it seems Evey is too weak to go on.
This lull doesn’t last long, as from the moment Evey walks out onto the roof, this motif returns in full-bodied and goosebump-inducing form, aurally signposting the momentous undercurrent of what is taking place.
All this talk of music leads me to my next point, which is that the scripting, directing and editing are all on song here as well.
Despite indulging in their penchant for over-writing dialogue elsewhere in the film (like V’s gratingly bad introductory speech), the Wachowskis actually make the very wise decision to strip the rooftop rebirth scene of virtually all dialogue.
Moore’s original script worked perfectly for a comic book, but comics are a different beast to film, and the Wachowskis made the right call to include one call-back line of dialogue – “God is in the rain” – to acknowledge letter Evey read, and then step back and let the sound and imagery do the rest.
Director James McTeigue and editor Martin Walsh likewise play to the strengths of the medium through their decision to intercut the main action with the previously mentioned flashbacks to V’s liberation.
By doing this, not only are they able to highlight (arguably even more clearly than in the source material) the divergence between the fire, hurt and rage of V’s rebirth and the water, tranquility and joy experienced by Evey during hers, but they also hammer home one of the key themes of the comic and film versions of V for Vendetta.
As V himself puts it in the original comic:
“Anarchy wears two faces, both creator and destroyer.”
Here we see clearly that the nature of V’s genesis has forever marked him as a destroyer, whereas the circumstances of Evey’s transformation have positioned her to be a creator.
This will be important later in the film (as it is in Moore’s story), as we’ll learn that this was V’s plan all along: to create a nurturing counterpart to himself – someone who can rebuild a new, better world after he has torn down the old one.
It’s part of why McTeigue focuses so heavily on V as he recalls his own past; it’s not just to show us that V understands how Evey and himself are alike, it’s to make it clear that he also realises and appreciates how much they are not.
All in all, the rooftop rebirth scene is a great bit of cinematic storytelling, and if there’s anything about it that disappoints, it’s that we didn’t get to see Inspector Finch have his own moment of revelation, as he does late in the comic book.
But then, to be fair to the filmmakers, that might have proved one rebirth too many for 132 minutes of screentime, especially given Finch’s character has a less prominent and well-developed role in the film (and they do pay a form of lip service to the idea, at least).
That’s a wrap for this Anatomy Lesson – now it’s your turn! Agree with my thoughts on the rooftop rebirth scene in V for Vendetta? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook!