V for Vendetta sets the Gunpowder Plot as V's historical inspiration, contributing to his choice of timing, language and appearance. For example, the names Rookwood, Percy and Keyes are used in the film, which are also the names of three of the Gunpowder conspirators.
The film creates parallels to Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, by drawing direct comparisons between V and Edmond Dantès. In both stories, the hero escapes an unjust and traumatic imprisonment and spends decades preparing to take vengeance on his oppressors under a new persona.
The film is also explicit in portraying V as the embodiment of an idea rather than an individual through V's dialogue and by depicting him without a past, identity or face.
According to the official website, "V's use of the Guy Fawkes mask and persona functions as both practical and symbolic elements of the story. He wears the mask to hide his physical scars, and in obscuring his identity – he becomes the idea itself."
As noted by several critics and commentators, the film's story and style mirrors elements from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. V and the Phantom both wear masks to hide their disfigurements, control others through the leverage of their imaginations, have tragic pasts, and are motivated by revenge.
V and Evey's relationship also parallels many of the romantic elements of The Phantom of the Opera, where the masked Phantom takes Christine Daaé to his subterranean lair to re-educate her.
As a film about the struggle between freedom and the state, V for Vendetta takes imagery from many classic totalitarian icons both real and fictional, including the Third Reich and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
For example, Adam Sutler primarily appears on large video screens and on portraits in people's homes, both common features among modern totalitarian regimes and reminiscent of the image of Big Brother.
The slogan "Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith" is displayed prominently across London, similar in cadence to "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength" in Orwell's book.
There is also the state's use of mass surveillance, such as closed-circuit television, on its citizens. Valerie was sent to a detention facility for being a lesbian and then had medical experiments performed on her, reminiscent of the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
The name "Adam Sutler" and his hysterical style of speech are inspired by Adolf Hitler although Jews appear to have been replaced by Muslims as a target for persecution. Norsefire has replaced St George's Cross with a national symbol similar to the modern Cross of Lorraine (both crossbars near the top).
This was a symbol used by Free French Forces during World War II, as it was a traditional symbol of French patriotism that could be used as an answer to the Nazis' swastika.
The filmmakers added topical references relevant to a 2006 audience. According to the Los Angeles Times, "With a wealth of new, real-life parallels to draw from in the areas of government surveillance, torture, fear mongering and media manipulation, not to mention corporate corruption and religious hypocrisy, you can't really blame the filmmakers for having a field day referencing current events."
There are also references to an avian flu pandemic, as well as pervasive use of biometric identification and signal-intelligence gathering and analysis by the regime.
Film critics, political commentators and other members of the media have also noted the film's numerous references to events surrounding the George W. Bush administration in the United States.
These include the hoods and sacks worn by the prisoners in Larkhill that have been seen as a reference to the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. The Homeland Security Advisory System and rendition are also referenced.
One of the forbidden items in Gordon's secret basement is a protest poster with a mixed U.S.–U.K. flag with a swastika and the title "Coalition of the Willing, To Power" which combines the "Coalition of the Willing" with Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of Will to Power.
Despite the America-specific references, the filmmakers have always referred to the film as adding dialogue to a set of issues much broader than the U.S. administration.
When James McTeigue was asked whether or not BTN was based on Fox News Channel, McTeigue replied, "Yes. But not just Fox. Everyone is complicit in this kind of stuff. It could just as well been the Britain's Sky News Channel, also a part of News Corp."
V For Vendetta - 2005
In the late 2020s, the world is in turmoil, with the United States
having been fractured as a result of prolonged conflict, and a
pandemic of the "St. Mary's Virus" ravaging the European
continent. The United Kingdom remains the only stable country,
being ruled by the fascist Norsefire party, referred to simply as
"the party". Under its regime, society is heavily oppressed.
Political opponents, immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals and
other "undesirables" are imprisoned in concentration camps.
On 5 November, Guy Fawkes Night, Evey Hammond, a woman
who works at the state-run British Television Network (BTN),
is rescued by a Guy Fawkes-masked vigilante who identifies
himself as "V", from an attempted rape by members of the
"Fingermen" secret police while she is out past curfew.
He leads her to a rooftop to watch his destruction of the
Old Bailey criminal court building, accompanied by
fireworks and the 1812 Overture. Inspector Finch,
Scotland Yard's chief of police, is given the task of
investigating V's activities, while the party uses
the BTN to declare the incident an "emergency
demolition" but V takes over the broadcast to claim
responsibility. He urges the people of Britain to rise up
against their government and meet him in one year.
V promises to destroy the Houses of Parliament on 5 November. During the broadcast, the police attempt to capture V. Evey helps V escape, but is knocked out in the process. V takes Evey to his home, where she is told she must remain until 5 November the following year.
After learning that V is killing government officials, she escapes to the home of her boss, comedian and talk show host Gordon Deitrich. In return for Evey trusting him with her safety, Gordon reveals to her a collection of prohibited materials including subversive paintings, an antique Quran, and homoerotic photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.
Gordon explains that he acts the part of a womanizer to conceal his homosexuality, well aware that if he were honest he would be "black bagged"(Taken away by the "Finger" and executed). Inspector Finch learns that V is the result of experimentation on humans, and his targets tortured him while he was detained.
After Gordon performs an over-the-top satire of the government on his show, his home is raided and Evey is captured while trying to escape. She is incarcerated and tortured for days for information about V, with her only solace being a note written by another prisoner, actress Valerie Page, who was arrested for being a lesbian.
Evey is told that she will be executed unless she reveals V's location, but when she says she would rather die she is immediately released. It is revealed that her imprisonment and torture were staged by V to free her from her fears. The note was real, having been passed by Valerie to V years earlier when he was similarly imprisoned.
Although Evey initially hates V for what he did to her, she realises she is now a stronger person. She leaves him with a promise to return before 5 November. Inspector Finch searches for the true identity of V, eventually tracing him to a bioweapons program at a detention centre for "social deviants" and political dissidents in Larkhill.
Finch meets William Rookwood, who tells him that the program, directed by then-under secretary Adam Sutler, resulted in the creation of the "St. Mary's Virus" and its release in a false flag terrorist attack. The deaths of 80,000 people and the resulting fear enabled the Norsefire party to win the next election, silence opposition, and turn the country into a totalitarian state under Sutler's rule as High Chancellor.
Shortly thereafter Finch is told that Rookwood has been dead for years; the man he met was actually V in disguise, and Finch initially disbelieves his story. As 5 November nears, V's distribution of thousands of Guy Fawkes masks causes chaos in the UK and the population questions party rule.
On the eve of 5 November, Evey visits V, who shows her an explosive-laden train in the abandoned London Underground tunnels, set to destroy Parliament. He leaves it to Evey to decide whether to use it, believing that he is unfit to decide. V meets secret police chief Creedy, with whom he has made a deal to surrender in exchange for Sutler's betrayal.
But after Creedy executes Sutler, V reneges on his deal to surrender and kills Creedy and his men, effectively decapitating the Norsefire government. Surviving many shots but mortally wounded, he returns to Evey to thank her and tell her he loves her, then dies in her arms.
As Evey places V's body aboard the train, she is found by Finch. Disillusioned by the party's regime, Finch allows Evey to send the train on its way. Thousands of unarmed Londoners wearing Guy Fawkes masks march towards Parliament.
Without a living command structure and with no orders coming, the military general allows the crowd to pass. Everyone witnesses the destruction, which V arranged in the same style as the Old Bailey. Finch asks Evey for V's identity, to which she replies, "He was all of us."