In Romans 13, Paul wrote: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
A literal reading of this does not allow for any rebellion against an unjust government. Submission is the rule.
What happens when a government does not use its power for the betterment of its citizens? What if the government oppresses its people? Does the citizenry have the right of rebellion?
"V for Vendetta" is the new film written by the Wachowski brothers (who directed "The Matrix" trilogy). Their screenplay, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, tells of a freedom fighter/terrorist called V (Hugo Weaving), who is battling a totalitarian British government in the near future.
V hides behind a mask of Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605 as means of overthrowing the king. V wants to overthrow the government that now provides peace—in the form of safety from "undesirables." "Undesirables" are defined as non-Christians, non-citizens and gays.
The chancellor (John Hurt) proclaims that strength comes through unity and unity through faith. He wraps himself up in the flag, brandishes the cross and rules with an iron fist. Relevant subtexts aren't hard to come by.
V's story is told through the voice of Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), the daughter of former rebels. As a child, she witnessed the forcible removal of her parents by the secret police and was sent to a "re-education" camp. In the current reality, Evey works for the television network that disseminates government propaganda.
After saving Evey from a rape, V takes her under his wing and shows her what the government has taken from the people and why he wages war against it. She learns from V his most important truth: "People should not be afraid of governments; governments should be afraid of the people."
In one scene, Evey asks to see V's face. He resists, explaining the unimportance of who is under the mask. Who he is has nothing to do with his face, for under the mask really lies an idea.
V's philosophy stands against the government, and his pursuit of truth and justice stands at the center of his actions. He wants truth—not some religious ideal—to dominate people's lives.
The Wachowski's follow Moore and Lloyd's story to a point, but there are some major departures. For example, Evey and V do not share an attraction in the graphic novel, but there is a clear attraction in the movie. There is a scene where Evey kisses V and we are led to see this as longing for romantic love. Moore and Lloyd's V, however, is single-minded in his pursuit to overthrow the government.
"V for Vendetta" attempts big ideas. Central to its story is the belief that governments that fail to meet people's needs must be overthrown. Merely providing "safety" is not a good role for government. In light of Paul's words, submission to government is rejected. The government that does not give freedom is to be overthrown no matter the cost.
"V for Vendetta" certainly provides an opportunity for people, including Christians, to discuss one's responsibility to government and vice-versa.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and some language.
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Andy and Larry Wachowski (based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd)
Cast: Evey Hammond: Natalie Portman; "V": Hugo Weaving; Finch: Stephen Rea; Dietrich: Stephen Fry; Sutler: John Hurt.
The movie's official Web site is here.