What’s the Hidden Message?

When it comes to the examination and interpretation of images there are numerous forms of analysis. Three examples are compositional analysis, content analysis and semiology. Although these methods do share similarities they are also very different in both their approach and analytical methods. Compositional analysis is the examination of an image’s formal compositional elements. It relies heavily on the background knowledge and critical thought of the viewer. Content analysis is a much more research based method. It often examines a large body of images, and it uses quantitative methods to deduct meaning. It requires no background knowledge, and can be done by following a step-by-step procedure.  Both content analysis and compositional analysis are great methods to use when examining images. However, they really only examine what is on the surface of the image. Semiology examines what is “embedded” in the image. What we often do not see or think about is the river of social practices and stereotypes hiding underneath what makes up the images and advertisements we see on a daily basis.

In the scene from the movie V for Vendetta there are several signs that play an important roll in the overall effect of the scene. Two such signs include the mask that the character “V” wears, and the falling dominos. This scene is a very dramatic and chaotic and it is a crucial part of the movie. In many ways it sums up the entire movie into one scene. The mask that V wears is a sign throughout the entire movie because it never leaves his face. Therefore, you are constantly reminded of the symbolic meaning behind it. In the movie, the mask is given power and meaning through association, stereotyping and social understanding.  The falling dominos are another sign representing V and his ideals. They stand for social injustice, inequality and the power that lies in the hands of people when they unite behind an idea.

At the beginning of the movie V for Vendetta a story is told about a man by the name of Guy Fawkes who attempted to blow up parliament on the fifth of November in 1605. The character Evey Hammond states at the beginning of the movie, “We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail.” In the movie the country of England is being controlled by a semi-totalitarian government on it’s way to becoming a completely totalitarian government. The mask V wears was made to look like the face of Guy Fawkes and therefore represent his ideals, which were to live in a country that recognized and respected the power of the people. As stated before, V never removes the mask. The mask gains power and meaning because of the story and stereotypes surrounding Guy Fawkes that have been passed down in England for generations. Throughout the entire movie you are constantly reminded of what V is after. After all the dominos have fallen the camera shows V and he gives a subtle nod looking directly at you. The shot is entirely black except for the white face of the mask leaving you once again to think about who Guy Fawkes was and what he did.

This scene in V for Vendetta flashes back and forth between the falling dominos and images of riots and war. The falling dominos are the most dominating element in the scene. The fact that they are falling adds to the chaotic feeling that the scene emits. Dominos are associated with the “domino effect“ which can be associated with losing control. The domino scene is meant to illustrate what happens when people unite behind an idea. The effect is a “domino effect”. At the end of the scene all of the dominos fall together and there is one left standing. The one domino is representative of the idea, which is the backbone of the revolution. It shows the power than one idea can have.

Alan Moore, the creator of V for Vendetta, could have chosen any mask. Instead he chose to use the face of Guy Fawkes, a revolutionary. Using just any mask would not have had the same effect on the viewer or the concept. The stereotypes associated with Guy Fawkes bring power, meaning and particular ideals together behind a mask. As a result, V becomes the ideals making him more than just a character and a man. The same principle applies to the dominos. Any other object other than dominos would not have illustrated the concept. Dominos are associated with the “domino effect” which was needed to foreshadow the pandemic events that would take place. An image can have an entirely different effect when you begin to examine the “embedded” meanings. As designers we must be aware of this when we are designing and interpreting because in order to achieve the perfect effect there has to be a subconscious balance between implicit and explicit meanings.

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