James Bond: Skyfall part 9
In case the reflective nature of Skyfall were not already apparent, the “preparation montage” begins with a shot of Bond revealed in a full-length mirror. The mirror will later be used in a trap, the classic “fooling the bad guys with a full-length mirror” trick. As Kincade says, “Sometimes the old ways are the best.” We see some traps laid out, others are merely hinted at. All of them (spoiler alert) work exactly as planned.
As they wait for the Bad Son to show, M asks Bond “I fucked this up, didn’t I?” I just want to tell my younger readers, speaking as someone with kids, not as old as Judi Dench but older than Daniel Craig, this is what every parent thinks every day. My own mother, near her death, asked me almost this same question (as a WASP, she never would have used profanity with her son). Not being James Bond, I didn’t have his answer at hand: “No. You did your job.” And again, I’ve seen this come up in movies from Bambi to Les Miserables, that the crisis of parenthood is not knowing if you’ve ever done the right thing, that all you can really hope for is to teach your children well and hope they make good decisions. This moment alone would make Judi Dench the best M ever, a genuine parent instead of a strawman father figure.
Bond, not wanting to get too sentimental, goes on to criticize M’s obituary of him. She says “I did call you exemplary of British fortitude.” Fortitude being the strength to carry on while suffering, and bringing up the question “Why is the ability to move forward while suffering (KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON) a specifically British quality? If Bond had been American, M would have mentioned his “rugged individualism,” if he’d been Italian she would have referenced his “hot-blooded passions.” Craig’s Bond has certainly suffered more than any other (Roger Moore wouldn’t even get his feet wet while running across a pack of crocodiles), but why must Bond — or Brits — suffer at all? Maybe it’s the British Empire that’s suffered so greatly in the past fifty years, maybe it’s Bond’s cultural position (certainly not his popularity — the Brosnan Bonds were all hugely successful).
(To give you an idea of just how steeped in Bondness Skyfall is, check it out — the deer statue from Thunderball comes back for an encore. Earlier, a hand tattoo from the same movie shows up on Severine’s hand. The movie is filled with references like this, some tiny, some played for laughs, all much more elegantly presented than in any previous Bond movie — they have quoted themselves from the very beginning.)
Act IV of Skyfall is in three sections: arrival, preparation, and siege. The “siege” part is the longest and is also divided into three sections: springing the traps, which ends when M is wounded, Silva’s counter-assault, which involves him showing up in a helicopter, deliberately misquoting Apocalypse Now by blaring The Animals instead of Wagner. So the first act of the siege is “Yay, We Won!” (“Welcome to Scotland!” barks Kincade after he shoots a guy down — yeah, that part was totally written for Sean Connery). The second act is “Silva Strikes Back.” And boy does he! He shreds the Bond manse with everything he’s got. His counter-attack is so fierce that Bond must retreat. The third act of the siege, “Showdown,” concerns the retreat, and involves a chase across the frozen marshland, Bond almost drowning (again), and a showdown in a chapel. Along the way, Bond blows up his own house (destroys his past) and has his adult identity (his Goldfinger car) taken from him. So, some past is shed, some is taken, but Bond is finally free.
(The three acts of the siege are even color-coded: blues for the early victory, oranges invading the blues for the counter-attack, and all-oranges for the third.)
“Of course, it had to be here,” says Silva as he confronts M in the chapel. (The house with a priest-hole has a chapel – I’m not a religious scholar, so I can’t tell if it’s a specifically Catholic chapel or an Anglican one or what, and the tombstone for Mom and Dad Bond don’t give any clues — except to say that they are “TRAGICALLY DEPARTED.” I wonder whose job it was to editorialize on the manner of Mr. and Mrs. Bond’s deaths, and who chose the au courant font.) Why does it have to be there? Because it is the resting place of Bond’s parents, or, ickier, because perhaps Silva is proposing a kind of wedding. Which, when he finds out M is dying, he does. He switches immediately from vengeful son to tender lover, and there on the altar of the Bond chapel, Silva attempts to join himself and M in everlasting unity.
His unholy sacifice is undone, ironically, by a literal knife in the back. Ironic because M has been seen, multiple times, figuratively knifing her agents in the back. M, unfortunately, is too far gone to save, and while the scene begins by hinting toward a forced jocularity between Bond and M, it lasts only two lines before M delivers her dying words, “I did get one thing right.” The “one thing,” presumably, being Bond himself, her decision to make him a 00 agent, her decision to stick with him after all the crazy stunts he’s pulled, and the decision to send him back out into the field after he’d failed his tests. She had a mother’s faith in him, even as she tried to give herself a bureaucrat’s distance from him.
An epilogue starts with Bond again with his back to camera looking out over London. The shot is a deliberate echo of the one introducing Act IV, to show that this is his Bond’s home now. And even though M has just died, I notice that all the British flags over Parliament are at full mast. Another fact of life at MI6, that you suffer and die and no one knows, and no one mourns your passing. That’s what comes of a life spent keeping secrets.
Here comes Eve. M has left Bond her Churchill bulldog, that other exemplar of British fortitude, as a message to keep going through suffering.
Eve, we finally are told, has the last name of Moneypenny. Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny always pined for Bond, never got him, but I like very much the idea of a Moneypenny who can be a genuine friend — and a genuine lover — to Bond. It is, after all, the 21st century.
Mallory, we find, is the new M. (I guess it’s a prerequisite for the job that your name starts with “M.”) Mallory’s character arc, we’ve seen, is bureaucrat-to-believer (with an echo of past service). Mallory was a stranger to Bond, and us, but we’ve seen him come into focus as he’s turned into, if not a father, at least a stepfather to Bond. Who will, no doubt, carry on.