V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005)

All day, all day, watch them all fall down

There is one moviemaking technique that defines V for Vendetta. It’s not the bullet time fighting – that earlier visual discovery by the Wachowski Siblings (screenwriters on this film) in The Matrix: since then a staple for action films and making its appearance here as well. Nor is it the slick costumes, the ensemble cast trappings of this stylized dystopian parable or its symbolism of masks, secrets, subterfuge.

Witness the power of the montage.

A film montage triggers a sense of progression. In its most basic form (parodied brilliantly by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in their song ‘Montage’, used in Team America: World Police) it is a way to show that time is passing and the hero is gathering skills to overcome problems faced. V for Vendetta uses a different approach. The montage is here a means of explaining the effects and consequences of both the troubled history of England’s subjugation to fascism and the anarchist plot that V has set in motion. The montage enables us to quickly see how the entire cast reacts to it, indeed the whole country. It’s a smart solution to a communication problem: how to get across the importance and scale of what is happening?

True to the comic book the visual element of dominoes falling plays a big part. The key montage in the film, leading up to the climax, centers around small occurrences gathering force and momentum and pushing the chain of events. Take a look at how it chronicles myriad threads.

1. V sets up his dominoes
2. Mysterious parcels are delivered all over London
3. A little girl receives one of them
4. Inspector Finch receives one and opens it to reveal a Guy Fawkes mask
5. More dominoes are placed
6. Finch is back at the office and discovers the parcels are everywhere
7. The little girl is dressed up as V and dances around on the street
8. Chancellor Sutler responds to the events by ordering police suppression
9. An unknown thief wearing a mask holds up a grocery store
10. Finch realizes V wants to sow anarchy
11. Sutler beats down on his right hand, Creedy
12. More dominoes
13. Creedy decides to betrays Sutler, taking up V’s earlier offer
14. Finch explains he went to Lark Hill, a forbidden area
15. Finch explores Lark Hill and tries to figure out what is going on
16. A montage within the montage showing various events of the past, the present and the future
17. Dominoes
18. Finch then predicts the future as we see it
19. A government thug shoots the little girl wearing the mask, her neighbors respond with violence
20. A news program reports on an uprising
21. Riot police enter the streets
22. V flicks the first domino
23. Fighting in the streets
24. The dominoes have created a giant ‘v’ design, V picks up the last domino standing and holds it in his hand

It should be obvious now that there is much more going on than just the rise of a hero. The montage here is used as a storytelling device to structure information in a way that makes it at the same time accessible and dramatic.

What this montage also brings is the ability to skip back and forth in time. The rules of narrative are less strict than during standard editing, the montage functions almost like a dream where boundaries disappear. We are treated to images from the past and the future in quick succession. Forecasts as dreamed up by Finch are contrasted to actual events before they occur. A moment later, the future is here and we are actually in it. The montage ties it together without it becoming a jarring mess.

A third benefit of using a montage is the emotional response it evokes in the audience. The building up of music, coupled with the rising tension and excitement of seeing V’s long-mysterious plan put into action, resonates strongly. The key here is the soundtrack: these montages play as music videos. It’s no secret music is a highly effective way to inspire people, and V for Vendetta makes excellent use of it.

The film puts these montages front and center, explaining huge pieces of plot in a short amount of time. Besides being an effective technique for condensing blocks of story to a manageable size, it’s also a strong artistic choice. The montage reflects the fractured, layered quality of the story. It emphasizes how much of a puzzle the plot is and how the characters struggle to understand what it means. As such, it has become much more than just a means of maturing a hero: it’s a valid filmmaking technique with many unique benefits.

Roderick Leeuwenhart

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