Hello, everyone. I am Ithaka. And this is Sponge, a podcast of absorption and reflection in the process of returning to or becoming our most unreal selves.
The theme for today’s episode is this: it would be so nice if humans, in general, could overcome their own limitations before things hit the bottom. However, maybe it’s not possible, especially without hitting an emotional bottom first. That is what I absorbed from “V for Vendetta,” directed by James McTeigue.
Spoiler alert, everyone. Spoiler alert. “V for Vendetta,” directed by James McTeigue, is a fictional work. In this episode, there will be spoilers. If you plan to watch “V for Vendetta” and do not want spoilers, do not listen to this episode at this time.
The summary for this movie goes as follows, from IMDb. Quote, “In a future British dystopian society, a shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of “V”, plots to overthrow the tyrannical government – with the help of a young woman.”
As discussed in detail in episode 31, back in April or May, which feels like a long time ago, I saw one of the songs in this movie in my Youtube recommendation list. It was “I Found A Reason,” sung by Cat Power.
It’s a beautiful song. And in the thumbnail, there was Natalie Portman, the female lead of this movie, with her perfection of a shaved head. This eventually led to me shaving my head in mid-May. Well, I’ve always wanted to try this hairstyle, it’s just that, until mid-May, either I forgot that I ever wanted it, or there seemed to be a good logical reason not to do it. But, in mid-May 2023 I did it, and since this movie is special that way, I figured I would re-watch it for Sponge, and talk a little bit about it.
That said, in the past months, my hair grew dramatically. It has passed the stage of V for Vendetta, and has also passed the stage of Chungking Express. Chungking Express is a movie with a female lead who has very short hair as well. And I’ll probably talk about that movie, too, just so… I guess these two movies, “V for Vendetta” and “Chungking Express,” will be part of my hair change chronicle. But yeah, at this point, my hairstyle isn’t so super-dramatic anymore. It’s just short. Normal short. And I haven’t cut it at all, I haven’t trimmed it at all, since the shave. I am going to keep not trimming it, and see what that looks like. I mean, if I’m going to have long hair anyway, with long hair, it’s like… a little bit of length difference here and there doesn’t really matter. I don’t need the perfectly groomed long hair look, it’s just gonna be… the hair’s just gonna be long.
But the real theme of today’s episode has nothing to do with hair. The theme is: it would be so nice if humans, in general, could overcome their own limitations before things hit the bottom. However, maybe it’s not possible, especially without hitting an emotional bottom first.
In this movie, “V for Vendetta,” there is a lot of violence. There are citizens being attacked for not following the curfew, there are people being shot, the manipulation of media, so on and so forth. But of all the violence, the closest one to the audience is probably the one where the male lead, V, captures the female lead, named Evey. He imprisons her while pretending to be the government. He tortures her and demands that she tell him the location of him. That is, V pretends that he is the government attempting to find the location of V, and as part of that effort, is torturing Evey.
Evey does not give in. Evey bravely rises above all the torture. And then one day, her captors, meaning, V pretending to be the government, tell her that she will be shot dead if she continues not to cooperate. And Evey says, well then I shall die. Because, she’s not going to betray V and she’s not going to make up some shit to be released.
That day, V releases her. He deems her ready to be released. Evey walks out of her cell. She realizes that the whole setup, the cold cell, the torture room, all of that, was a lie. It was V’s lie.
Needless to say, Evey is mad shit pissed. She is shocked that V did this to her. It wasn’t the government. In many ways, that makes the torture worse. I mean, it’s a sick thing, but also understandable. When Evey thought that the government was torturing her, the torture meant something. But now that it turns out that it wasn’t the government, that the purpose of the torture was fake, it’s almost as if… it’s worse. It’s like she suffered for nothing.
What a terrible situation to be in, for Evey.
But in this episode, I shall interpret this movie in a symbolic way. Meaning, V torturing Evey isn’t about only the physical torture, it seems to symbolize what goes on in the internal landscape of a person who breaks free of old patterns; truly breaks free. Not pretending to break free, not breaking free with the head, but truly breaking free. And when viewed in that way, V awakened Evey, so to speak, in the fastest way possible without her actually dying at the hands of a dystopian government. It is also noteworthy that in the movie, V and Evey and the people of Britain had a deadline. They had a clear date on which they were going to rise against the government, and so V needed Evey to either wake up from her traumatic past or… prove to herself and V that she wasn’t going to.
You see, Evey’s parents, a long time ago, were arrested by the government. So Evey has always lived in fear. But was she gonna continue doing it or not? That was the question.
And the reason I think this entire movie, not only this pretend arrest sequence and real torture sequence, can be interpreted in a symbolic way, is that the whole movie is so stylized. It’s staged in an intentional way. All the masks are staged, all the capes are staged, the way V presents himself on TV is staged. It’s clear that anything that is shown is shown in order to be seen. As in, there is no pretense of maybe us, the viewers, catching a secret scene that the characters or the filmmakers didn’t mean us to see. No, whatever is shown is there to be seen.
Also, whatever goes unnoticed goes unnoticed because, I believe, the filmmakers want to make it clear that the rest that is noticed is staged. For example, after V fakes Evey’s arrest and actually tortures her, Evey leaves his hiding place. However, during the arrest and torture, he shaved her head. And hair doesn’t grow overnight. So, she leaves his hiding place and walks around the streets of this supposedly highly dangerous, dystopian country. But nobody notices her. Nobody. Suddenly, all these civilians and government folks who were so hyper-alert about everything don’t notice this very weird hairstyle adopted by this young woman. Like, come on. Realistically speaking, it’s not possible.
But this movie isn’t realistically speaking. That seems to be intended. Because, as I said, the whole movie is staged. Realism isn’t the most important element in this movie. The message is clear that nothing in this movie should be interpreted as purely being realistic. That’s not the point. Yes, a dystopian government could appear and has appeared, but these characters and the specific events in the movie aren’t… they aren’t natural. They don’t aim to portray anything in documentary style or to imply that, even remotely.
And the character V, he is behind a mask the entire time. He has no face. That mask itself is a symbol. It’s clear from early on in the movie that the government did something to him, though we don’t learn until later what exactly they did. He has become this living symbol. It’s almost like… he has no life even as he breathes. And he knows it. He is a character, truly, a character, of a story, of a story that is told with a clear purpose, not life that can have an infinite number of ways of interpretations. This isn’t to say that “V for Vendetta” has a limited number of ways of interpretations, but I’m saying… that set of interpretations for V for Vendetta is smaller than the one for life, not only because V for Vendetta is fiction, but because one of the central characters in that fiction is a symbol, rather than any attempt to make him represent a real human.
So, the clear staged symbolism of V’s character makes the infinite pool of interpretations for “V for Vendetta” smaller than the infinite pool of interpretations that would’ve existed for stories with less of a clearly staged symbolic character. So it’s a smaller infinity versus a larger infinity.
Anyway. The clarity of the symbolic aspects of this movie is why I think the arrest and torture of Evey by V has a meaning beyond the surface events of how V lied, how he arrested her, and how he tortured her.
But all this, I can say because I’m outside of the movie. In contrast, Evey isn’t the movie viewer. Evey is in the movie. For her, it fucking sucks that V did this to her. So, of course she is angry.
To this, V has a lot to say. Some of the lines from V go as follows. Quote, “You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there would’ve been an easier way, but there wasn’t. I know you may never forgive me… but nor will you understand how hard it was for me to do what I did. Every day, I saw in myself everything you see in me now. Every day, I wanted to end it. But each time you refused to give in, I knew I couldn’t. … You could have ended it, Evey. You could have given in, but you didn’t. Why? … Your own father said that artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself. … What was true in that cell is just as true now. What you felt in there has nothing to do with me. … Don’t run from it, Evey. You’ve been running all your life. … Listen to me, Evey. This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it. They took your parents from you. They took your brother from you. They put you in a cell and took everything they could take except your life. And you believed that was all there was, didn’t you? The only thing you had left was your life, but it wasn’t. … You found something else. In that cell, you found something that mattered more to you than life. When they threatened to kill you unless you gave what they wanted… you told them you’d rather die. You faced your death, Evey. You were calm. You were still. Try to feel now what you felt then.” End quote.
And slowly, Evey does try to recall how she felt. She feels dizzy, and she and V go outside, because Evey needs fresh air. There, it’s pouring rain.
Evey looks different. She isn’t scared, she doesn’t think she’ll die, she isn’t furious. She is alive.
She says, “God is in the rain.”
And thusly she overcomes her lifelong trauma.
So… I mean… again, this sucks for Evey. And at the same time, as a symbol, this act of capture and torture—is this what we require? We, humans, in general. Is it ever possible to overcome our own limitations before things hit the bottom to this extent? And I don’t mean hitting the bottom in some objective way. There cannot be an objective way.
Everything we experience, we only experience subjectively. It’s actually kinda remarkable how prominent science has become. When I think about it these days, it’s no wonder that it took so long to become prominent. It is useful, oh, very useful for coordinating and logistics, but it’s uniquely limited in that before something happens it cannot do anything. It is a field of observations and averages, and perhaps that is why it took so long for it to become prominent, and perhaps it only ever did become prominent because the prominent system before that was, in the case of the West, established religion which took something that could’ve been purely beautifully personal and ruined it, in large part, into a system of literal torture and if not that, oppression.
At any rate, science and its related values of objectivity, measurability, and replicability being touted is a relatively new phenomenon. Most of what humans experience is subjective. Time, for example. There aren’t 24 hours in the day. The clock says so, but literally, try being closely aware of your own days without the clock and with the clock. I tell you, the day contracts when you think you don’t have time, and it expands when you think you have a lot of time, or even better: when you don’t think about time at all. Is that not real because it’s in a person’s experience, while the clock can be said to be real because it ticks at the same rate no matter what happens? I don’t think so. I think it’s the opposite. The clock is unaware. Humans are aware. And awareness doesn’t bend to the environment. Awareness bends the environment. If it looks like the environment is bending awareness, it’s because awareness let itself be bent by believing that it can be bent.
And… something like this is what V is telling Evey. At the symbolic level, it does not matter whether Evey was “really,” in air quotes, arrested by the government. She believed she was. And it also doesn’t matter whether Evey was “really” going to be shot dead. She believed she was going to.
So, this experience of having been captured and tortured by V doesn’t suddenly lose value because it wasn’t “real,” again, in air quotes.
Which, by extension, implies that, if only Evey or anybody else could imagine that they’re in this situation, then they could experience the freeing awakening that she experienced, minus the actual torture and capture.
Only, is that ever possible? That’s what I’m wondering. Theoretically it should be possible, but it seems that unless we’re compelled to—we, as in most humans in my experience—we don’t really… we don’t want to imagine being captured and tortured and potentially being shot dead. If anything, we try to avoid thinking of such nightmare scenarios. Even when we do think of such scenarios, what usually happens, at least in my case, is that I think I am “preparing,” in air quotes, for such scenarios. Meaning, I’m not doing any full accepting of any nightmare scenarios at all. Rather, as I am busily ruminating about the nightmare scenarios, I am doing my best to deny that they could ever come to fruition.
So… it would be so nice if humans, in general, could overcome their own limitations before things hit the bottom. However, maybe it’s not possible, especially without hitting an emotional bottom first.
This emotional bottom is what finally releases the rumination. It is what renders all preparations and logical rationalizations fruitless. It’s, in a way, I guess it’s kinda like giving up. Or, to use a more active verb, letting go.
It’s what Evey went through. In her case, the situation was both physical and emotional, but, even with all the physical torture, if she hadn’t let go emotionally, I think her awakening would have been impossible.
This emotional bottom, this full acceptance of “This is the end and that is fine because I actually feel so” is what seems to distinguish between a lasting change in which one becomes fearless, as opposed to going through the exact same external events but spending the rest of one’s life in increased terror, as one makes a huge list of elements that one wants to avoid in life.
There is an excellent example in this movie, of a similar case of facing death but having a different reaction. The high chancellor is later captured by V. This high chancellor dude is the one who caused most of the suffering in this dystopian society. And as he is about to be killed for his crimes, this man does the opposite of what Evey did. He weeps and struggles and resists. To the very second he dies, he resists. Even if he had survived, I think he would not have transformed the way Evey did.
Meaning, the external event of almost dying is not what’s the key to transformation. This high chancellor dude could’ve nearly-died a hundred times, and if this was gonna be his reaction those hundred times, this… this not wanting to hit the bottom, this… “This cannot be true” reaction, this… “If only I get out of this I will ensure that I never ever almost die, ever again,” then… no, no transformation for him.
This… ah, sort of randomly, I was watching Game of Thrones again, recently. Eh, spoiler, by the way. There will be spoilers for Game of Thrones for the rest of the episode.
At the end of season 1, a character named Daenerys walks into the fire. Her husband, Khal Drogo, died. He is being cremated, in the wide open, not in a cremator, but with actual fire under the wide open sky.
Why does Daenerys walk into the fire? Multiple complicated reasons. With him dead, her own safety cannot be guaranteed anyway. And also, in a way, she loved him. So she walks into the fire.
Before this scene there are a few foreshadowings of the things that are magically special about her, because of her being of the blood of the dragon. One of those magical special abilities is that fire cannot harm her. However, I don’t think that she or anybody else clearly knew, beyond little hints here and there, little possibilities here and there, that she might survive walking into a full fire. Like, burning hot, giant fire, which was started with the explicit intention of cremating Khal Drogo.
But she survives. She walks into the fire and the next day she is still alive. And she is never the same anymore. She is not the same to anyone else, but most importantly, she isn’t the same to herself anymore. More than the physical event of her walking into the fire and surviving, the emotional power of knowin that she made the choice to die and havign not died is immense.
This… is this what’s required for a transformation? Especially for a transformation to be instant, is this fire in Game of Thrones, or the water torture done to Evey in “V for Vendetta,” what’s required?
Holy shit. What I think I went through is a tiny transformation, if even that, compared to this. What… what do I have to do to experience something like this without actually dying in a fire or being waterboarded? Goodness.
I guess maybe something like this freedom after transformation is why folks meditate hardcore. But also, as I’ve discussed in the previous episode, it seems difficult to maintain that line of “I want to awaken” and “I am being obsessive about awakening and really resistant against the idea of never getting there.” See, both in the case of Evey and Daenerys, there were elements of unintentionality. And I don’t think this is because it’s fiction, I think it’s because the truth is that the intent to change hinders the change. Rather, full acceptance of what is, a.k.a. death, seems to be what, ironically, initiates rebirth.
How do I almost die, without forcefully being logged out of this game, and at the same time, not want to almost die too much, so that it becomes neither obsession nor resistance?
There is one line from V that I very much like, from the movie. Quote, “I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence.” End quote.
He is so theatrical. So staged. But this line, which implies the absolute… accuracy of events, of… what is meant to happen will happen… this apparent theatricality, this stagedness, is actually… I think this is what happens in life. When we pay attention, we can see it. What some call coincidence, others call synchronicity.
So, maybe I should adopt the attitude of, if I am meant to transform or transform more, then whatever is required for that will happen. And when that moment comes, I guess I just gotta remember not to be like Mr. High Chancellor and instead be more like Eveye and Daenerys.
Anyway, it’s nice, the symbolism. When Evey transforms, rain pours, and she says, “God is in the rain.” When Daenerys transforms, she rises from the ashes. It’s Water and fire, fire and water. And rebirth.
And that is all for this episode. Thank you for listening.
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You can find a link to the full transcript in the show notes. Also, visit ithakaonmymind.com to find out more about everything else I do, besides Sponge.
Stay true, everybody.
- “V for Vendetta”
- Episode 31 about my hairstyle change
- “I Found A Reason,” sung by Cat Power
- “Chungking Express”
- Game of Thrones
- Previous episode about no-needless-suffering meditation
- Rewind Kid – Rhythm Revolution – Instrumental Version
- Doug Kaufman – Quiet Revolution
- Guest of Rapture – Your Quiet Revolution
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