V for Vendetta illustrates the power of the state to rob people of their rights and identities. As the scenes shift, we as viewers dart between an understanding of the individual and the collective, the “anonymous” versus a person with history, character, and sense of self. Indeed, these shifts are unsettling. It is unclear whether V’s mask is a powerful or hindering disguise (in fact, it seems that it is both): being masked allows V to be anonymous. We see this most vividly when state officials chase V but are unable to determine which V is “real.” And yet, V is unable to show his face. The only vision we have of him is anonymous, without a name. We learn, in the scene in which he stands amidst flames, that he is faceless. I wonder, to what extent can people maintain identities and still be part of a collective movement? What is the power—and the danger—of the anonymous? What happens when people cannot find their “I’s” among a “we?” V calls on people to join him in dissenting against the state and yet his tasks are solitary. When he could remain with Evey, he imprisons her. Being anonymous means being alone.
I’m interested in the moments in which being anonymous is a choice versus imposed on people. V says, “what was done to me created me.” He goes on to say, “What was done to me was monstrous.” Evey replies, “so they created a monster.” And yet we, as viewers, are made to wonder: to what extent did they create him, or, to what extent did he create himself in resistance to them? How do we negotiate this tension between being created versus creating our own images of ourselves? And if we are defining ourselves in resistance to being overwritten, to what extent can this model expand beyond “what we are not”? Berlant examines how people constantly renegotiate themselves within spaces, a task made difficult when viewed as “interchangeable.” Gordon says, “you wear a mask so long you begin to forget who you were beneath it.” I am reminded of Rosetta and the importance of her embroidered name, cementing that she existed. If working was the way to exist within a capitalist structure, the embroidered name indicated “I am here.” In V for Vendetta, we learn, “the subject said he could no longer remember who he was or where he was from.” We are pointed to a history of forced forgetting in the scene in which the doctor poisons masses of people. Evey, when jailed, looks like those being killed. Her image, head shaven and vulnerable, is linked to that of bodies being thrown into a mass grave. This is Evey’s story and this is the story of many. Being made anonymous happens on a daily basis and in more dramatic moments of trauma.
The state is a structure made up of individual people. Here too is a tension between anonymous and named, between individual actors making decisions and structural forces at play. Indeed, the doctor is an actor using medicine that kills people and yet her actions are particularly powerful because the state stands behind her. She can choose to become anonymous. To call the “state” a structure without people is dangerous: the state is made up of people who exert their dominance through violence and control. And yet those with power can be obscured, falling under the category of the state. This is the double bind and the danger.
Thrift discusses the power of affect. He writes that “the arts of rhetoric” is a “staple of political life” (247), drawing on a use of repetition and imitation. Thrift’s point can be linked to the scene in which Gordon uses affect to engage citizens. We see the affective power of his video, it mimics and mocks, making fun of those in charge. V says, “words will always retain their power.” In this case, words and images were so powerful that the state was willing to crush Gordon at all costs. And yet, Thrift’s argument lasts: developing political movements relies on the struggle to claim words and space.