James Bond: Skyfall part 7
Skyfall, up to this point, has been eerily linked to The Dark Knight Rises in many ways, but now suddenly it links itself to The Avengers, or, rather, to Silence of the Lambs, with Silva brought to justice mid-movie and placed in what can only be an escape-proof glass cage. (How odd that MI6, just recently relocated, nevertheless had the foresight to build an escape-proof glass cage in their offices.) The glass cage, because of its cinematic echoes, dramatically ramps up our fear of Silva — up ’til now his threat has always been cyber-specific, but suddenly he’s being treated like a dangerous animal, as though he might bite. (Ironic that his Bond-villain deformity is a damaged jaw.)
“You’re smaller than I remember!” beams Silva as M comes to visit him, exactly what a son returned home from a long absence says to his mother. Silva wants to press the mommy button, but M counters brilliantly with “Whereas I don’t remember you at all.” Silva, he reports, was left for dead with some enemy spies who tortured him for months (shades of Die Another Day) and his only recourse was his cyanide tooth, which — damn British manufacturing! — was defective and only disfigured him. Silva’s egotism is directly related to his hatred of M, in the way of growing boys everywhere: he seeks, in his own way, to cut the apron strings, to wipe his mother off the earth so that he can finally be his own man.
M gets Bond alone and tattles on Silva. The upshot is, Silva pretends to be a good son betrayed, but in fact he was a bad son — he exploited his freedom as a secret agent and went into business for himself. She gave him up to the Chinese and got six imprisoned agents free, and “a peaceful transition” (this is 1997 I assume we’re talking about). The numbers don’t lie, but Silva’s ego doesn’t allow him to see the balance sheet. Like Hamlet, he’s been wronged and now everyone must pay. The best way to examine Silva’s logic is to look at what Bond does when similarly betrayed by M and left for dead: he vanishes, retires to an exotic location, and sets about sexing up ladies, popping pills, drinking and gambling — his status quo. He doesn’t trade on his secret-agent status, he doesn’t go into business for himself (except to pay rent on his beach shack and his pills, I guess) he doesn’t hire himself out as an assassin. He instead runs home to M when she is imperiled — a wayward son, enjoying a moment of adolescence before returning to the family manse to take up the mantle of responsibility.
(When the analyst says “Country” and Bond says “England” instead of “Scotland,” he’s thinking of England in the form of M — his duty.)
Not wasting a moment, the narrative moves into a terrific three-pronged extended suspense sequence — while Bond and Q decrypt Silva’s computer, M testifies to a commitee featuring both Voldemort and Mrs. Malfoy, and Silva prepares to escape. We know he’s going to escape from his escape-proof glass cage, we’ve seen both Silence and The Avengers, but we don’t know how but the look on Silva’s face tells us it’s going to be good.
The three prongs of the sequence weave together nicely — not the easiest trick in the book, especially for a Bond screenplay. Bond and Q decrypting Silva’s computer is the very thing that allows Silva to escape (computers — they can do anything!) allowing him to dash to M’s hearing, chased by Bond, to attempt to kill M. (The “I can rule the world with a computer” plan was also used by Moriarty on Sherlock last season — and then tossed aside as being too silly. Still, it’s more plausible than, say, Blofeld’s plan to destroy the world by kidnapping astronauts.) Bond gives chase, through subterranean London (echoing The Dark Knight Rises again), (and, Bond leaps onto his second train in a single movie) leading Silva to drop a train on him. (I was watching both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice recently, and I’m struck by how, as Bond as become more realistic, his surroundings have become less grand. No hollow volcano for Silva, no soaring Ken Adam sets, it’s as though Bond has suffered budget cuts along with everyone else. And yet Skyfall succeeds just fine as spectacle, taking Bond’s privations and making them visual — where he once would have the world at his doorstep, he now skulks through public works and abandoned islands.)
(And you know, there’s the old cliche, a cliche so bald that my children know it without ever seeing a Bond movie, the scene where Bond comes into the room and the desk chair swivels and there’s the bad guy with his cat and he says “I’ve been expecting you Mr. Bond.” The reason that moment is ridiculous is because it presumes that the bad guy had nothing else to do than to sit behind his desk, facing the wall, waiting for Bond to show up. That moment focuses the early Bond attitude to a pinpoint because it presumes that everything is there for Bond’s edification, that everyone is simply waiting around for Bond to show up so that they can fulfill their roles in his story. It’s not just chauvanist, it’s imperialist, to present an espionage narrative in that manner. That’s the key difference in the Craig reboot, they’ve made Bond an outsider, not the hero everyone is waiting for.)
The chase through the Underground nicely highlights the new Bond/Q dynamic. Q calls the shots from his command center, watching Bond on computer grids and CCTV, while Bond struggles with the physical difficulties at hand, the rusted doors and the crowded platforms. Q is not in his pajamas exactly, but his attitude is clear: he thinks of Bond as a kind of videogame avatar, and a glitchy one at that.
What’s happening at M’s hearing, of course, is the exclamation point on her whole crisis — the authorities think she is too “old fashioned” to be doing today’s espionage work, that her way of doing things is outmoded and irrelevant, right before Silva comes in to kill her. Ironically, the very moment that should prove M’s worth is the one that seals her fate — Bond rescues her and spirits her away, away from her trials and away from her bad son. She leaves her home, her office, her city and her nation, never to return.
This is Bond at his low point — Silva is free, M is in danger, any place with a computer is unsafe. The only thing he can do is to go home. Which he does, literally, by returning to Skyfall, his boyhood estate, and figuratively by — somehow — taking his 1965 Goldfinger Aston Martin, complete with machine guns and ejector seat, to get there.
Before the act ends, we check in with Q and Tanner again, who are laying a “trail of breadcrumbs” to lead Silva to Scotland. Mallory comes in, bandaged from the shootout, and Q and Tanner whinge like the headmaster has caught them. But Mallory, an old soldier himself (we still halfway expect him to turn out to be a bad guy at this point) surprisingly reveals himself to have changed during M’s trial. He’s no longer a young lion (well, middle-aged lion) looking to clean house, he’s learned that M knew best all along, that the world of Bond has always been one of shadows and double-blinds, and that Bond himself is his best bet for catching Silva, and, perhaps, M.
That ends Act III of Skyfall, a swift 25 minutes, again, cut into three sections, of quite unequal length: Silva in the glass box, which is one five-minute scene, Silva escaping, which is the three storylines entwined in the suspense sequence, and escape aftermath.