The highly acclaimed dystopian political thriller, V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue and based off the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, helps to define the dystopian genre by portraying a failing society, similar to our own. Set in post-cold war England, and ruled by a totalitarian leader, within this fictional world, a masked vigilante going by the name of V, sets out to destroy the Norsefire regime. An authoritarian government that parallels totalitarian states like North Korea today. The movie uses lighting, sound, Mise en Scene and camera angles to capture the audience and convey a dark, mysterious and yet thrilling tone all in McTeigue’s directorial style.
A scene in V for Vendetta, that McTeigue uses cinematography techniques to enhance the viewers perception of the characters effectively in, is the ‘The Dominoes Fall’ scene. The scene focuses on Chancellor Sutler, Mr Creedy, Detective Finch and V, but also includes multiple compilation shots of random civilians and multiple characters that have appeared in the film such as Evey and Deitrich. At the start of the scene, Chancellor Sutler dominates the screen, the camera focuses on his face and mouth, which helps create a sense of authority and fear. McTeigue fully utilises close up shots throughout the council’s interactions, which gives the illusion of Sutler being larger than life, and all powerful. This not only makes the viewer uncomfortable but helps to portray and confirm to the viewer that Sutler is the true villain in V for Vendetta. The compilation of close up shots of each predominant member of the council especially Mr Creedy, that follow after Chancellor Sutler addresses the council, show us the individual emotions that the members of the council have to Sutlers obscene and seemingly impossible tasks. The reactions and subsequent rebuttal by Mr Creedy to Sutlers requests further confirms that tensions are high, as usually the chancellor’s requests would be implemented without question, and hints that the civilian populations unrest is now starting to effect even the highest levels of government.
The montage of important shots from the movie, previous to “The Dominoes Fall” scene, helps to narrate and show the extended metaphor of ‘interconnectedness’ that prevails throughout the film, and to reinforce the brutality that the totalitarian government has enacted upon its citizens. McTeigue also uses it to subtly remind the audience of key details that they may have missed or forgot, through the use of visual cues. The scene also foreshadows events that are coming with a shot of the showdown between V and Mr Creedy being shown. Within the montage there are multiple styles of shots, the two most predominant close up shots and pan up shots, giving the viewer a sense of intimacy with the events that are being shown, and makes us feel as though we are with the people experiencing these events. The most powerful close up is of a young girl getting shot by a police officer and then that police officer getting beaten by civilians, something that is comparable to the anti-segregation movement that has prevailed throughout modern American history, and seen as the largest box office was to American audiences for this film, would have incited reflection into themselves and their society.
The use of real riot footage, and the referencing of riots that took place like the ones in Brixton in 1981, are used to emphasise how scarily realistic some aspects of this dystopian world are. McTeigue tries to convey the idea that, events although heavily dramatized, are actually not too far from the truth, and aims to incite questioning and government accountability in the audience. Dialogue from Finch such as “anarchy in the UK” and “I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected” help to reinforce this sense of impending doom for the totalitarian state. The utilisation of different types of pan shots when focusing on civilians, help to capture all the actions of civilians in the scene, and gives instant context to their actions without the need for explanation. McTeigue uses this effectively to display the way civilians are reacting to their government, and subliminally makes the viewers contemplate their own actions within their society, and the role they play of allowing people in power to influence the workings of democracy.
The lighting throughout the whole scene varies. We see the use of noir lighting when Chancellor Sutler is talking, which helps to portray him and his henchmen as dark and unforgiving characters. When the council is in session, the background is completely dark with only their faces illuminated, which portrays them as villainous, and that they “pull the strings of society in the background”. The contrast between this and the shots of ordinary citizens are immense, the shots of ordinary citizens are well lit and have a lighter colour pallet, which is normally a sign of naivety and innocence. However, the idea that civilians are still naive is juxtaposed against the premise of government accountability that has been encouraged throughout the film.
V himself only shows up in snippets of the scene, carefully placing red and black dominoes to help emphasise the scenes extended metaphor of interconnectedness. Building up to his grand entrance near the end where he knocks down the first domino and subsequently starts a ripple effect that knocks down all of them. Except the last one, which is left standing, and is subsequently the one the camera focuses on, showing how everything comes down to the actions of one person. This whole scene can be compared to the ripple effect that V has caused throughout the film, not just on Sutlers government but on the civilian population as well. The whole scene, uses pan shots and bird’s eye view shots to give the viewers a sense of scale and highlight the interconnectedness of the events throughout the film, and how it all leads up to climax of the film, which occurs within the next 10 minutes. The lighting used in the domino scene, highlights the dominos and V and has everything else black, not only to focus the attention of the viewers onto the dominos, but to also show that the only hope or ‘light’ for this country lies in V, which ironically foreshadows the death of V.
Further on in the film, we see another scene in which McTeigue uses cinematographic techniques to enhance viewers experience and perceptions while watching. In this scene McTeigue uses slow motion, over the shoulder shots, 3rd person camera angles and close up shots in order to capture the tension and action throughout the scene. At the start of the scene we see Mr Creedy take centre stage, symbolically standing between V and the light that would allow him to escape. Surrounding him on either side are his henchmen, although in less dominant positions in order not to take away from the authority and presence that Creedy has within the scene. This draws the viewers eyes to Creedy, portraying him as the only true obstacle between the people and democracy, and making a statement that in reality there is always someone else to take a bad leaders place.
Creedy’s snarl, along with his seemingly relaxed stance gives off a sense of arrogance, but also danger. Interestingly within the scene, one of the most well-lit objects is V’s mask, which helps to imbed him as the focus of the scene, but also adds a creepy, horror movie esque vibe. This could potentially state that even the symbol and advocate of peace, and democracy in the county still has flaws and a dark past, and is not a perfect fix to the totalitarian leadership. This danger is added to, by the use of minimal lighting elsewhere in the scene and a slight blue tint that has strategically been applied to the scene by McTeigue in post-production. The effect of both of these is that the scene is significantly darker than any other scene in the film, potentially foreshadowing the retribution and rebellion that is to come, and aligning with the quote “The darkest night, is just before the dawn”. The darkness couples with Mise En scene of destruction and abandonment, elevates the sense of danger in the audience. Props such as rubble, large metal gates and flooded ground, can be comparable to those used in a horror film, in order to scare audiences, overall making the scene tenser and contributing to the dark undercurrent in the film and specifically this fight.
In the fight sequence that ensues, the camera angle changes so that it only tracks V’s knife movement, and utilises slow motion to emphasise the speed at which the scene happens in real time. This strange style of fight scene filming is seen throughout the movie in other small scenes but is utilised the most in the finale. McTeigue may have chosen to do both of these techniques in order to minimise distractions within the fight scene and emphasise the speed at which V moves, due to the strange environment that the scene is shot in as well as the large number of opponents that V has to face. The White trails that come off the knives as they move through the air, are comparable to the vapour trails from planes an occurrence that happens when they are travelling extremely fast. Therefore, implying that these knives and V himself move at a speed that is unrealistic to humans, which is reinforced by Creedy and his forces moving in slow motion while V seemingly moves at normal speed, signalling that he is significantly faster that they are. This portrayal of V as a super human or something larger and more powerful than all of us, fills the viewer with a sense of purpose as V stands for something that if every citizen works together they can topple even the strongest of regimes. As seen in the reality in the form of the Arab spring.
The scene ends with V living up to his promise of strangling Creedy, even after taking multiple shots to the lower and upper torso. With the last words V saying “underneath this mask there is more than flesh, underneath this mask there is an idea Mr Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” This line is arguably the most important line in the film, and McTeigue specifically uses techniques such as close-ups and close over the shoulder camera angles in order to capture the mannerisms and emotions of both characters and make the dialogue more powerful. This serves to make the scene not only tense but to provide a deeply emotional finale to the fight scene.
An important part in the portrayal of the Norsefire regime throughout both of the scenes is the colours that are used. McTeigue uses two main colours, red and black which are used to represent death and subliminally associate the Norsefire regime as one of evil. These colours show up everywhere, within England, and help to show the dominance and control that Sutlers government has over the citizens of England. These colours also play a very important role in both the final fight scene and the dominoes fall scene. The darkness in the final fight scene, alludes to impending death and serves to elevate the viewers sense of danger. Whereas the colours used in the dominos fall scene are red and black seen in the form of dominoes, and the toppling of them foreshadows the destruction of the Norsefire Regime. One could also argue that Vee’s colours are also red and Black, this shows the perceptive viewer as a way to show how in a sense he was created by the Norse fire regime, and therefore Sutler and his council actually orchestrated their own destruction.
Throughout both of these scenes McTeigue’s, camera and directorial techniques shine through. McTeigue has created a film that warns society about the dangers of totalitarianism, by portraying a that in some ways is remarkably similar to our own. The use of lighting, sound, Mise en Scene and camera angles help to capture the audience and convey a dark, mysterious and yet thrilling tone, that captivates audiences everywhere, and helps to solidify the films place in the dystopian genre.
By Bowen Greenaway