Several students have told me that the film V for Vendetta is “just like” 1984. Since I’m always interested in resources that might make Orwell’s important warning clear to younger people, growing up as they are in a world that is so shaped by Newspeak and Doublethink–now referred to as “political correctness”–that his message is hard for them to hear, I watched the film.
It was similar, in the sense that in both stories humanity is being oppressed by a totalitarian regime. Still, it was the differences that mattered most.
For one thing, Orwell understood the political threats that would most matter in this age. He accurately identified the main source of modern totalitarianism as socialism, characterized by an ontology of materialism and an ethical philosophy of utilitarianism. This film, I thought, could have been produced by the Party in 1984. There is no God, and humanity’s fate is determined by economics; there is no moral law–the “rational” guide to ethics is to focus on the collective–doing the most good for the most people. Inevitably, “good” will be defined by the leader. We’ve been down that road several times. What is good is what is good for the Revolution. Who opposes the party opposes humanity.
So it’s quite ironic–though very politically correct at this moment early in the twenty-first century–for director James McTeigue to cater to socialist fears that the totalitarian threat comes from Christians. His film portrays a Christian fascist party at the helm of a negative utopia. Like Orwell, he uses an authentic verse memorized by British school children to evoke a distant, ominous memory from a Christian past. Orwell used lines from “Oranges and Lemons”:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
McTeigue reaches back to the Gunpowder Plot–one of the seventeenth century religious battles between Protestants and Catholics, immortalized in a rhyme popular among British school children:
Remember, remember the fifth of November.
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
This linkage of terrorism and violence to Christianity flatters the sensibility of moderns, still believing they are achieving some sort of liberation from religion, while they continue pressing forward in a world where individual liberty erodes in a morass of political correctness, and the dominant power in Europe is a European Union intent on eroding national sovereignty through all the accouterments of a propaganda state and rationalized regulation, while churches all over Europe remain empty and quiet each Sunday.
The main danger to freedom in Europe now is the same as it was when Orwell wrote: the progressive fulfillment of socialism’s managerial fantasy, the depth and breadth of its control increasing. The main obstacle to this dream has always been the churches–think of Catholicism in Poland–which provide both a rival center of power and an incommensurable reality forever beyond the reach of the state, for those who believe. McTeigue’s vision of a state-run Christian fascism will distract many in the audience from a more credible danger.
In some ways, V for Vendetta resembles the French Revolution more than it resembles Oceania in 1984. In Enlightenment France, a utopian naivete fed the passionate belief that if the horrible French aristocracy (and the Christian clergy) could be destroyed, that then. . .then. . .then, somehow, liberty and fraternity and equality would, um, burst forth–or something.
But. It was not to be. As Edmund Burke noted at the time, when long-established institutions are suddenly destroyed, what follows is not utopia but a mad scramble after power wildly careening into the streets–a mad scramble for which the most brutal and Machiavellian are best equipped. Terrorism did destroy the aristocracy, establishing itself as a principle of power. The Reign of Terror was enacted to the tune of noble platitudes and motivated by an unscrupulous will to power, in time, of a single man: Maximilian Robespierre.
The hero in V for Vendetta is an intellectual. We never see his face, but we hear his voice and we watch the entire nation brought to attention at his single will. It is clear that this will opposes evil. It is far less clear that this will is not evil itself. Still, isn’t there a pleasure in seeing evil overpowered? One could easily mistake this pleasure for the triumph of goodness.
This film differs from 1984 in that Orwell did not offer even any appearance of a solution to the problem of fully realized socialism. Winston Smith’s defeat is total and thorough. He loves that which has destroyed him. Though Orwell supported the desires and intentions of the do-gooders who became socialists, he could never see how those intentions, after consolidating power to do good things, could keep that centralized power from the brutal and devious thugs who would always be attracted to it. Since he didn’t see a solution, he focused on making the threat clear.
McTeigue’s story, by contrast, ends on a triumphant note, as though destroying totalitarianism were as simple a matter as shooting a bank robber in some Hollywood West. The image of triumph is not without horror, of a sort, as a mass of identically masked terrorists grin their porcelain grins–a not overly appealing nod to equality–amid explosions bringing down the architectural symbolism of Western Civ–the fireworks of emancipation, or something–with rousing music.
McTeigue’s story is self-aware enough to play with the nihilism of his avenging hero’s vision, which cannot get beyond destroying evil. The masked hero falls in love, and this brings home, painfully, the essential joylessness of the quest that has consumed his life. He cannot be deterred from his fate by the attractions of love. He knows enough to blow up a bad world, but he knows far too little of how to create a good one. The story’s grace note is that he does know, at an existential level, that it is love that he has missed. But the point of the story, still, is that he does miss it.
But he continues onward in his story, knowing that it can only end as he and his enemy fulfill their destiny in mutual self-destruction. This aspect of the movie’s vision rings true. We are indeed entangled in a titanic struggle with enemies, the end of which is our mutual death.
This dark tale will be quite ironic to one who believes Christianity’s story with its powerfully articulated vision of how a world might grow to be truly ordered by love. Without knowing that story of faith and hope and love intertwined in a workable vision of human happiness, the modern world increasingly constructs meanings centered in willfulness, pessimism and violence–V fits that pattern; it’s a bloody tale in which, as Isaiah prophesied, the wicked are destroyed, again as during the French Revolution, by the wicked.
Goodness is somewhere else doing other things, unimagined by the film.
Comparing and Contrasting 1984 and V for VendettaGet Your
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The novel 1984 and the graphic novel V for Vendetta have similar views on how society is being run. However V for Vendetta was based on 1984 since 1984 was written before V for Vendetta. Both of these novels are similar in a way like the themes and how the male protagonists are the one in charge of overturning the government. The first similarity between 1984 and V for Vendetta is that the society is being run by totalitarian rule.
It is the government that controls the lives of the people and how the society should be run. In 1984, ‘Big Brother’ aka the Inner party, is the figure that keeps an eye on the people and uses telescreens to watch their movement while in V for Vendetta; ‘Leader’ aka Adam Susan, is in charge of England, its people and the Norsefire party. Another thing is that both factions have secret police. The jobs of the secret police in 1984 and V for Vendetta are basically the same as they spy for the government and try to capture people who are against the government.
The people are being controlled by the leaders of their country to make sure they behave themselves and not try to rebel. The contrast between 1984 and V for Vendetta for the totalitarian rule are a bit different. In 1984, the government, more specifically the inner party, watches every move of the people and check carefully what they do while in V for Vendetta the government, more specifically the Norsefire Party, is a bit more lenient as they don’t set up cameras on the houses of every people but still set up cameras on public properties.
The secret police are quite different in 1984 and V for Vendetta as in 1984, the secret police are deeply loyal to the inner party and don’t express their behaviors like in sexual desires unlike the secret police in V for Vendetta as in page 11, the secret police tried to attempt rape on Evey. Also in V for Vendetta, there are also normal police forces unlike in 1984. The government in both of the novels likes to use the media to spread their influences to the public.
The Inner party tends to use mostly telescreen and sometimes radio to propagandize and the Norsefire party seems to use the radio more than the television. Both two governments need to have the support of the people to operate as the citizens are the majority of the country and if brain washed well, won’t have to worry about rebellion (the governments are set in England in 1984 and V for Vendetta. However the difference between how the nner party and the Norsefly party use propaganda is different as the inner party tend to use lies to tell the people about its development and all the good news while the Norsefly party improvise and not tell directly to the people about any incident like the bombing of the parliament. Another similarity between 1984 and V for Vendetta is the relationship between the protagonist and the girl. In 1984 Winston Smith had a relation with one of the party member, Julia. In V for Vendetta there was also some sort of relationship between V and Evey.
The relationship between Winston Smith and Julia tends to be more in love and sex while the relationship between V and Evey is more or less about friendship and sibling type. Another thing in common between the relationships is the age gap between the opposite sexes as the male characters are older than the female characters. However the contrast between these relationships is that; Winston and Julia stays together most of the time in 1984 and in V for Vendetta, V and Evey are mostly separated the whole time. The setting in 1984 and V for Vendetta contrast with each other.
In 1984 England, more specifically Air Stripped One, is all in ruins as it suffered from a civil war and has not been rebuild effectively ever since. In V for Vendetta, the buildings are more clean and livable and the living style is much better than the living style in 1984. In 1984, the country is lacking supplies and food for the general population and the people have to deal with the hardship while in V for Vendetta, the people are living more comfortably but are still ruled the totalitarian Norsefly Party. 1984 and V for Vendetta share a lot of similarities and yet also have contrast.
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The sad part about both of the novel is that the main character ‘dies’ as Winston Smith was tortured and brain washed to be loyal to Big Brother and couldn’t overthrow the party and V literally died and couldn’t live on to see the world change and be a better place. The people played in a big part on both of the parties as they were needed to make the parties more powerful as they were all brainwashed. V for Vendetta was based on 1984 but the stories and ending were quite different as V for Vendetta seem to hold a good future while in 1984 the future will be the same and will be ruin.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Comparing and Contrasting 1984 and V for Vendetta
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