James Bond: Skyfall part 9

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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.

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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).

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(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.)

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“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.

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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.


18 Responses to “James Bond: Skyfall part 9”
  1. Greg Manuel says:

    Has there ever been a Bond song more on the nose than Skyfall’s? I think you’d have to go as far back as Goldfinger to find another one…

  2. Jon Wood says:

    >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.

    This is getting uncomfortably close to some discussions I had with my mum before I left for college this year, and I can’t believe I didn’t notice the parallels.

    Except I don’t have an elephant gun and a lunatic wasn’t coming to kill us both.

  3. Curt Holman says:

    I like Silva playing The Animals’ “Boom Boom” as the soundtrack for his attack, although it’s a little on-the-nose: “Boom boom boom boom! I’m gonna shoot you right down!” I wonder if they considered ‘House of the Rising Sun” with its reference to “Mother” and the word “sun”(“son”). I wonder if they picked a British Invasion band to pivot off Connery-Bond’s line “That’s as bad as listening to The Beatles without ear muffs.”

    I saw some commentators complain that Silva’s thugs arrive by walking down the road in full view, which seems strategically foolhardy. But Silva’s been about showmanship from the very beginning – he’s not inconsistent.

    A friend of mine didn’t like the fact that the film ended by restoring the original Bond film status quo — M is a man with a female “secretary.” I think he has a point, but I like the idea of Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris in the roles too much to object.

    • BenjaminJB says:

      Surprise surprise, I agree with your friend, Curt: along with “predatory homosexual with mommy issues villain,” the restoration of the 1960s status quo (women shouldn’t be in the field or in charge) was one of the nostalgia issues that left such a bad taste in my mouth. “Sometimes the old ways are best,” sure–look at my classy car and this cute bulldog statuette. Oh, and also, we don’t let women, homosexuals, or blacks into the club.

      As for Silva’s consistency, I have less problem with him sending people in a showy manner, than the fact that he has a very wavering commitment to the idea of offing M with the personal touch. In London, he doesn’t want to kill her with a computer hack (too impersonal), he wants to shoot her himself after exposing her incompetence in open committee meeting; but in Scotland, eh, he’ll send a first wave of goons and a helicopter to shoot up the house and then toss in some grenades–that’s much more personal. Wait, what?

    • Yeah, I was enjoying the callbacks to classic Bond right up until the very end, when we’re back to the male M and Moneypenny in the outer office. I don’t think that arrangement has to be a straight-up return to the ’60s — Moneypenny already has more going for her than she did before — but I found the restoration of the status quo to be disappointing.

  4. BenjaminJB says:

    1) That’s not just a deer, that’s a stag–otherwise known as a hart. As in, “Home is where the heart is.”

    2) If you’re reading the chapel scene as a consummation/marriage between Silva and M, then Bond’s knife in the back (paging Dr. Freud) is Oedipal to the max. After all, he’s just been reborn through the underground journey of the tunnel, what a great time to kill dad and claim mom. But that would be too weird, so the narrative pulls a switch on us: mom dies (through no fault of his), make friends with new dad.

    (Now, why does new dad look at 007’s record–“went AWOL after failing mission, failed physical and mental tests, used old M as bait in plan that resulted in her death”–and decide to offer 007 his job back?)

    3) If you wanted to make a list of Bond self-quotes in this movie, we have to add that padded door that the new M has.

    4) Also, I totally forgot to mention during Silva’s confrontation with M in the glass booth: here’s a gay computer expert who has done secret work for the government and who tried to kill himself with cyanide. Now let’s look at Alan Turing: gay, computer expert, secret work for the government, killed himself with cyanide. Along with Churchill, this seems to be another intentional echo of WWII.

    • Todd says:

      I yield to your superior analytic skills.

      I will also note that in the brother-vs-brother drama of Skyfall, Silva presents himself as Cain but ends up being Abel, while Bond ends up being Cain even though we were told explcitly that Bond wasn’t able.

  5. N.A. says:

    Apparently, a close viewing of the film and its props reveals that Dench’s M had the wonderfully Fleming-esque name “Olivia Mansfield.”

  6. Rob says:

    >>I saw some commentators complain that Silva’s thugs arrive by walking down the road in full view, which seems strategically foolhardy.

    Only if they know Bond is waiting for them – which they don’t. Remember, Silva believes that he has tracked Bond to his hideout secretly, completely unaware that he’s been following a trail of digital ‘breadcrumbs’ laid by Q.

    I think Skyfall’s climax is the strongest of the entire series. Couple of observations; I really admire Mendes’ eye for small character details and his precision in embedding them in the story. Just after Skyfall explodes Silva spots M and Kincade across the moors and as as he starts after them he trips on the ground. Cut to Bond emerging from the priest hole and he too trips and falls. The point is made: dangerous ground. But then as the music crescendos and Bond takes off in pursuit the camera deliberately emphasizes Bond’s agility as he darts between obstacles and jumps over frozen logs. It’s not just another by the numbers chase scene and although it’s just a couple of small details it impressed me.

    As did Silva’s final confrontation with M. I think it’s a brilliant moment when he turns in an instant from vengeful killer to caring, doting son; ‘You’re hurt .. what have they done to you?’ For an actor to pull that off is quite a challenge, especially this late in the game. Watching Silva struggling with his conflicting emotions towards M as he tries to pull the trigger is an extraordinary, involving moment. Both the script and Bardem’s performance create something that no other Bond film has ever managed – a sympathetic monster. We know he’s a killer of a good many innocents and yet we can’t help feeling a bit sorry for him because the circumstances that have made him what he is don’t seem to have been entirely his fault.

    Key to this is, IMO, is something that appears to have been largely overlooked in the online rush to claim that Silva was inspired/copied/ripped off from the Joker in Nola’s Batman film. But I think Silva stems from an altogether older creation: Frankenstein.

    Now I’m not suggesting Silva is literally M’s creation but I was struck by the fact that just as in the book and the movies this is a human monster for whom it’s possible to have a degree of pity for, as well as an ambivalence towards the object of his wrath. Like Mary Shelley’s creation Silva sees M as his Mother (creator), he wants to humiliate her in front of her colleagues and when he finally confronts M he can’t bring himself to kill her but wants them to die together.

    There’s also the technology angle. Frankenstein was the creation of science rather than magic or fantasy and Silva is likewise the epitome of our hi-tech computer world. Both begin as innocents and seek revenge following their brutal treatment at the hands of others. There are other comparisons but those are the ones that stood out for me.

    • Todd says:

      There have been a handful of great, nuanced Bond Villain performances, but none in a script this good.

  7. Melanie says:

    If a Bond film was ever going to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, this was the one, and I’m still a bit peeved it wasn’t.

    It embraces the Bond tropes and gadgets, but acknowledges the modern world and our 21st century technological and gendered dynamics.

    It closes out Craig’s origins trilogy, taking Bond from orphan-with-a-heart to calculated woman-bedding killer.

    It encompasses themes from Greek tragedy to Freudian thought.

    It looks bloody gorgeous – the takes are long and superbly choreographed, the cinematography is beautiful, the scenes at the old house fade agonizingly through the shades of nightfall: everything is perfectly executed, perfectly encompassing the theme. I hate when people claim someone was ‘robbed,’ especially when most of the nominations are sound, but Deakins surely deserved a win here.

  8. planettom says:

    Just as an aside, I think this is the first time anybody says “fuck” in a Bond film. I’m not sure anyone ever even says “shit.”

    For all this is a good movie, I thought it was an interesting solution to a practical problem: I don’t know if Judi Dench strongly hinted that she couldn’t do these indefinitely, or if they just realized, if the time comes when she can no longer be in them, it’s going to be very undramatic to suddenly announce, “Hey, you got a new boss!” Having a movie that basically revolves around her send-off was a great idea….

  9. Bill Willingham says:

    In addition to what it needed to accomplish as a stand-alone story, this film seems to have had the dual purpose in destroying everything that is or was Bond, in order to reset – truly reset this time – the entire franchise, whilst simultaneously, and lovingly, embracing all of it.

    Bond doesn’t escape either. He dies in the opening segment and then is reborn in water – one of the traditional and still approved methods of rebirth.

    In the opening credit sequence, Craig slays four shadows of himself, execution style, those shadows being Connery, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan? (one presumes Nelson, Niven, Lazenby, etc. don’t count.)

    Later in the same sequence, in order to drive the point home, I suspect, he does the same thing with a number of mirror images of himself.

    M was problematic. She was the one holdover from the previous films. She was Sam Gamgee at the end of Lord of the Rings. The only one to carry a ring of power that didn’t have to sail away to the death/afterlife of The Grey Havens. Although, even in those books, the author promised us Sam would be crossing over too, in time. This then is M’s time to finally cross over and join the rest, so the world can be scrubbed clean of the last of the old “too magical by far” Bond world. From now on Bond will be mortal and his world unmagical to the extreme.

    At the same time, everything is reset to the old way. M is a man again, a stuffy bureaucrat again. Moneypenny is restored. Q is back. And so on. The Bond franchise seems determined to have its cake and eat it too. I’m curious to see if they can pull it off.