It’s my birthday, so I spent over six hours watching the 2012 James Bond film, Skyfall, occasionally pausing it to write copious notes. In some ways, I’m just retelling the story, in other ways I am exploring the film. My plan had been to turn it into a 1,000 word essay, but by the time the film was over I’ve written 6,500 words. Here are all of them, in note form. I don’t expect anyone to read this. To accompany this aberration, there are a series of pictures of me with some champagne I bought cheap in a French supermarket last week. #antibrexit
Opening shot blurred – this is artful cinema
Bond tries to keep shot man alive – “I have to stop the bleeding”. Is this Bond? Life is not nothing. Or is it white British life that’s not nothing?
Car chase, tho, is CLASSIC Bond fair. Quip about female driver “weren’t using it anyway” when she knocks off a wing mirror. But she is driving.
However, when he stops the other car HE takes the wheel. But then she is also driving.
Rooftops shot is great – rooftops in Craig Bond, link to my old article.
Shot from inside an incidental car – not a standard car chase shot
Product placement I – M: ”What was that?” MP: “VW Beetles, I think”
Bond is shot. Jumps into train via JCB. “Just changing carriages, ma’am”
Stunning scenery, fight on top of a moving train
“Tale the shot, Take the shot, take the bloody shot.” M orders MP to shoot three times before she does, despite her stating that her shot is not “clean.” Bond shot, falls off bridge into river, “Agent down”. Cut to B’s body sliding down river, off a waterfall, into credit sequence
Adele song, Oscar winner. Look up what it was against, likewise the other Oscar it won.
Water, skulls, blood, dragons, targets. Fire and water, both are key in the finale, here we get a credit sequence almost retelling the rest of the scene. Graves, lots of shots of Skyfall itself. Raining blood. Lots of shots of Bond, mirrors, reflection – it is clear this will be a look into Bond himself. Is this film’s success the very basis of the trite that was Spectre? Are all of Skyfall’s very obvious strengths the single root cause of what the series went on to do, which was its weakest film starring Craig (imo QoS is underrated, but works because it doesn’t tarnish CR and SF through its retroactive replotting).
M writing JB’s obituary. Has porcelain dog he gave her on desk. Would she really be doing this personally?
Ralph Fiennes. Old school, Whitehall office. Pours M a scotch as first act.
Computer drive lost had all NATO spies. M is told it is time she will be retired. RF’s name is Mallory. “You should leave with dignity.” “To hell with dignity, I’ll leave when the job’s done.” This is now making me question if Spectre was shit purely because of the absence of Dench? Because of its return to the Bonds of the past w/ a male M and a male villain who controls far more things than would be practicable.
MI6 is receiving a cyber-attack from M’s computer. The stolen hard drive’s being unencrypted and the signal is coming from M’s office. She orders Rory Kinnear to have it shut down, and when that happens the union jack with her face in the middle burns to reveal the message “Think on your sins”. Theatrical. M’s office explodes.
Cut to Bond fucking a woman. Then: He’s drinking a Heineken, lying in bed silently while she kisses the gunshot wound of his previous scene. On a beach, beautiful inlet. He does to a bar, alone, does a drinking contest w/ a scorpion on his arm. Whole bar is watching. Cheers. Cuts to next morning. He’s probs been there all night. Drinking neat spirits. CNN on in background. Terror attack reported. 6 dead. Bond stares at screen. We cut to union jack draped coffins in vaulted room. Great shot.
M in mourning.
Cut to mansion block in West End, I think Marylebone or Mayfair. M at home. Bond is there. “Where have you been?” “Enjoying death.”
He looks fucking rough. Drinking from the same bottle of spirits – label facing away from camera – as he was drinking at the beach bar in earlier scene. We also didn’t see the label then, but the shape was the same. He blames M for him getting shot. “You know the rules of the game, you’ve been playing it long enough.” “Maybe too long.” “Speak for yourself.”
He then asks about Ronson, guy from v first scene, who did die. This is very unBond, checking back to previous characters and referring to minor deaths as if significant. A wiser, more rounded, film here. Unlike Spectre, which takes all nuance and meaning from previous three films and shits on them by trivialising it all. Spectre broke maturing Bond and turned it back into a child film. It is an act of naif-ity
“We’ve sold your flat and put your things in storage.” “Standard practice for an unmarried agent with no next of kin.”
“I’ll find a flat.” “Well you’re bloody well not sleeping here.”
Rory Kinnear points out how powerful the hacker villains are, and that attack deliberately avoided M. In Churchill’s bunker. “Quite fascinating, if it wasn’t for the rats.” We come back to rats – this is a cleverer script, it’s thought through.
Chairman of Intelligence and Security Committee – Mallory’s title
Bond getting physical tests as Kinnear does exposition. List will now be released, probably.
Bond is GREAT skintight tracksuit with HM crest on chest.
Tries to shoot. Inaccurate. Hand shaking. Rubs shoulder where shot. His shooting not good. Had to stop physical test as tired.
Psych test. Word association. Great scene. First mention of Skyfall. Bond is silent, word repeated. Bond says “done” and exits.
Undresses in a doorway in a beautifully lit scene, again just outlines. Uses a knife to get the bullets out of his chest. Eurgh. “Get these analysed. For her eyes only.”
MP “temporary suspension of fieldwork.” Now she’s office based. Patronising. She says she wants to be back in the field.
33 mins in, first bad dialogue. “In your defence, moving targets are harder to hit.” “Then you’d better keep moving.”
The porcelain bulldog has survived the explosion, on M’s desk. Bond passed the assessments, just, M says.
“You don’t need to be an operative to see the obvious. It’s a young man’s game.” Mallory to Bond in their first meeting. Mallory asks why Bond returned, why didn’t he stay dead? M wants him back, is accused of sentimentality.
Rory Kinnear has analysed shrapnel, obscure bullet, assassin recognised by Bond on system, sends him to Shanghai.
Vaio product placement, had forgotten about that.
“I didn’t know Bond passed the tests.” M: “He didn’t.”
Bond goes to National Gallery. 36 mins in – ask gf to tell me if these paintings are actually there. Looking at what I presume is a Turner. “Q: “grand old warship being hauled away for scrap.”
“I’m your new Quartermaster.” “You must be joking.” Mocks him for youth. Q is a hacker. “I can do more damage in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can in a year.” “Why do you need me?” “Because sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled.” “Or not pulled. It’s hard to know in your pyjamas.” THIS IS APPROXIMATE DIALOGUE.
“A gun and a radio.” “Not exactly Christmas is it?” “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more.”
Lots of aerial shots of Shanghai. Close it on the pool on top of a skyscraper hotel. Bond’s back is phenomenal.
\Bond follows the assassin from the airport. With lighting, Shanghai looks like the city from the LEGO movie.
Suddenly we are getting out of the car and we’re in Spitalfields in London. Like fucking Doctor Who pretending that Cardiff is London, this is a sad thing to see.
Assassin goes into building, murders security guard. Bond follows in.
Bond runs and jumps onto bottom of lift, hanging from it as he flies to the top of v high building. Right arm is weak, has to let go. Easily climbs out of lift onto dimly lit floor. We hear nothing but music. Neon lights on exterior building flicker by. Jellyfish and Chinses script. He watches as assassin cuts hole in window. He looks across to next building.
Bond trying to find way into room the assassin is in, confusing as all glass. Hall of mirrors.
Wind loud when hole is revealed. Assassin shoots man across the gap. Bond and assassin fight. Knock window open, on edge. Bond almost falls but grabs gun and pulls himself back in. Fight ends w/ him holding man by hand out of window. “Who’s got the list? Tell me, who are you working for?” Assassin says nothing and falls while Bond stares at attractive, younger, woman who’d been in room where murder happened.
Cut to M at home, computer has been hacked. Link to YouTube video exposing infiltrated agents that were on list. “Cover blown.”
Bond goes to Macau as the assassin has a chip for a Macau casino. Bond shaving. Moneypenny. “Q is afraid of flying” “Of course he is.”
Bond is shaving with a cut throat razor. “How very traditional,” says MP. “Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way,” replies Bond with a Brosnan swagger. “Sometimes the old ways are the best,” flirts back MP. She shaves Bond. They discuss Mallory. He was held captive by the IRA as a colonel lieutenant.
“You look the part now.” “And what part is that?” “Old dog, new tricks.” We are very close on their very close faces. This is intimate. Cut to fireworks. We can presume this means B and MP are fucking. Bond rides into casino standing up on a little boat. Lots of lanterns and candles and fire. Komodo dragons in a bit at the entrance. B and MP in casino. Really good use of sound as MP and Bond chat on radio then pass in real life. Bond spots the woman from scene at top of skyscraper. Bond gives in chip he found and is given a flight case of cash.
Woman from previous scene is smoking. This is rare to see in a contemporary film.
56 minutes in – bad dialogue. “Did I overcomplicate your plot?” “Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional twist?” Severin is name of woman. Obvs call towards Venus in Furs, but she turns out to be (if I remember rightly) a victim of abuse, rather than an abuser.
B and S go to a bar in casino. Bartender shakes Bond’s cocktail and he tells her it’s perfect before he’s tasted it. He would not do this. No connoisseur would do this. Suspension of disbelief suspended.
B and S chat, both know the other is armed. He asks to meet her employer. She is nervous about this. Stubs out cigarette, leaves, once she knows he knows she is uncomfortable.
He knows she is a captive. Works out that she was a child prostitute and victim of abuse. “You don’t know a thing about it.” “I know when a woman is afraid and pretending not to be,” Bond says. Not denying her assertion but ignoring and thus proving it. His awareness of her past, explicit here, is what makes the later sex scene problematic. He has the eye of the abuser, the awareness that she is used to and normalised to unwanted sexual attention. She would have been a victim of rape and as a prostitute would have had to dully accept what happened to her. Bond understands this – but how does he recognise the wrist tattoo of Macau brothels? Because he’s used them before?
“I can help you.” “I don’t think so.”
“Can you kill him?” “Yes.” “Will you?” “Someone usually dies.” She invites him to her berth on her ship. Is this a sexual proposition? To like Bond, we must believe that it explicitly is, but to respect him we need him to not fuck her.
As he leaves casino, he is attacked. He and a man fall into the komodo dragon pit. Man takes Bond’s gun and tries to shoot him with it. Doesn’t work due to handprint technology in grip. The dragons attack the man and Bond climbs out. Moneypenny directly saves Bond’s life, man has gun at his head and she breaks arm with stiletto heel.
Cut to Severin looked disappointed Bond hasn’t arrived. She gets in the shower. Bond arrives, strips, enters shower. It looks very much like he is pressing an erection into her lower back, she smiles hungrily and turns to kiss him. There is no way it can be read as rape, but his nudity and entering of shower are presumptive, but a presumption that is correct – she is either willing or keen (or both) to have sex with him. But, knowing what we know and what he knows, is this right? Is he just aware that a jaded former prostitute probably views her own worth and agency as minimal and will thus happily accept his poking? We don’t see him put a condom on, but we also don’t see coitus directly begin, so there is potential time for him to do so.
Back to London. Huw Edwards. We see the assassination of one of the leaked agents. Two others have been killed. Enquiry ordered by PM. BBC news product placement?
“We can’t work in the shadows, there are no more shadows,” says Mallory. M already knows that villain is a former spy, she’s clocked it.
Cut to Bond in a crisp white shirt and braces on the deck of the yacht heading towards a small island with Severin. All the crew are armed.
Bond wandered thru an abandoned island town. Villain made people think there was a chemical leak at a factory. Bad dialogue. “Does he always get what he wants?” “More than you know.”
Bond bundled into a room with loads of electronics, tied to chair. Armed guards.
Javier Bardem. Speech about his grandmother’s island. And rats. Trap them in a barrel, let them fight until there are two survivors. This is Bardem and Bond. He talks about M’s control. 86-97 agent in Hong Kong. Bardem was M’s favourite. “Barely held together by your pills and drink” “Don’t forget my pathetic love of country.”
Bardem tells Bond what his evaluations actually said. Bond doesn’t like authority. Psychologist said Bond mustn’t be in the field. Bardem: “Mommy was very bad” in sending Bond off. Bardem unbuttons JB’s shirt and looks at his wounds. “Look at what she’s done to you.” “Well, she never tied me to a chair.” “Her loss.”
“We are the last two rats. We can either eat each other..?” Bardem is flirting.
“First time for everything…”
“What makes you think this is my first time?” – mental images of Brosnan and Bean as Goldeneye lovers. Ooof.
Bardem unties Bond.
“You’re living in a ruin as well, you just don’t know it yet.” Great pre-brexit line.
Bardem tells Bond he does whatever he wants. He is a cyber terrorist for hire.
“Everyone needs a hobby.” “So what’s yours?” There is a pause, as Bond has nothing in his life but his job. He replies “resurrection”, but this is bullshit.
Bond and Bardem go outside. Severin tied to a statue, beaten up.
50-year-old MacLellan. (check brand) This is the bottle we’ve seen throughout. The odds of this being in the speed rail of a dodgy beach bar and M’s house is unlikely. Disbelief attacked again.
Bardem aggressively kisses S and puts a glass of scotch on her head. Tells Bond he must play William Tell. Old duelling pistols. End of gun shakes, he can’t do it. Misses. Bardem just shoots her dead. “What do you say to that?” “A waste of good scotch.” I know it’s meant to be a throwaway one liner, but one can’t help but – given the context of this woman supposedly being a victim of abuse and forced work as a child prostitute, B responding like this to her death compounds the problems indicated above. This line is more problematic than the sex scene. It cannot be argued that new Bond is remotely feminist.
Bond kills all of Bardem’s guards and MI6 arrive in helicopters, summoned by the radio that Bardem didn’t notice with all his digital tech. Though how no one noticed their approach or why Bardem had no other guards. Later it is revealed that he wanted to be captured. This should have been obvious here.
M speaks to Bardem in MI6 cell. She says she doesn’t remember him well. “Regret is unprofessional” she says. Bardem talks about being tortured, protecting M’s secrets, until he realised it was her fault he’d been captured. After years he decided he couldn’t take it any longer and bit into cyanide capsule, he didn’t die, but damaged himself horrendously. “I had to look in your eyes one last time.” He is called Silva, but he tells her this isn’t his real name and she should know it. It is on a memorial wall in the MI6 building. M will have it removed. He pulls out fake teeth plate and shows what his face looks like as a result of the cyanide. It’s CGI and uuuuuuuuugley. HE then starts laughing. Crazy and physically deformed. A CLASSIC Bond villain. Diego Rodriguez. He started hacking the Chinese, beyond remit, so M gave him up to Chinese in exchange for 6 prisoners and a peaceful transition of HK power.
Q is best hacker in the world, he claims. He’s hacking Silva’s computer, while Silva sits, relaxed, in his cell. Also now cutting to the enquiry about lost hard drive. Silva stretches, guard says, “Going somewhere?” M accused of being responsible for many deaths.
Q turns thing he’s hacking into a map and then all the doors open and the laptop says “Not such a clever boy.” He hacked them. Guards dead in Silva’s cell. Bond follows ladder into subterranean London. They now start using the map they got from Silva’s computer as a guide to help Bond as he moves through the tunnels. This doesn’t make sense. Why would they trust the map’s accuracy, how would they have plugged Bond’s tracking device into it, and how would said tracking device then work underground where there is no way to send signals, is there? Their communication channels are not discussed.
Q informs audience that S was planning this for years, wanted to speak with M seems like a minor motivation for such a risky plan. Also, this map is now taken as reliable. S handed a package by someone dressed as a cop in tube station. Inside Temple tube station. Does it ever get this busy? Q spots S w/ CCTV link and tells Bond to get on train. Bond runs down platform and jumps onto back door. There is a woman sat in the backwards driver compartment reading a newspaper. I don’t think this would ever happen. We cut to passenger on platform who says, “He’s keen to get home.” V. early Bond. “Open the door” order Bond. “Health and Safety,” he says to the TfL employee, “Carry on.” This is bad Bond. This is a Brosnanesque quip.
Q: “he’s dressed as a policeman.” Not police officer – I think high ranking govt officials would have been trained to not make this sexist error. Bond replies to this “of course he is”, which is the second or third time he’s made this construction in the film.
Bond realises M is at risk, but she doesn’t want to leave the enquiry as it will look bad. Bond has sightline on Silva. They run thru Embankment then to a different station. Slide down the central bit of the escalator, which would be impossible in real life due to those barriers they put down to stop people from doing it. Also, they wouldn’t be going down at that station. They’re then deeper into the station but in a concourse clearly near the surface. Silva melts into the crowds of many policemen that fill the stations near Whitehall. Silva goes thru a sidedoor and leaves it open behind him, Bond sees this and enters, implicitly understanding that TfL workers would never be so slack? Or is this just a chance that happens to be right?
Mallory interrupts the main antagonist against M to let M speak. Bond turns on loads of lights in a big underground room, Silva is at the other end. Bond fires at him twice but misses, Silva up a ladder. Explosion. Misses Bond, then a tube train – empty of passengers crashes through the hole and almost hits Bond. We see the driver, alive, throughout all of this.
We are back above ground, Silva gets in a police car driven by an associate.
M speaks about irrelevancy of her agents as Silva races towards her. M is frightened of the world she sees. “I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us.”
Talks about changes from nation states to independent criminals. “In the shadows, that is where we must do battle.” “How safe do you feel,” M asks, and begins to quote Tennyson as Silva and his guards murder their way thru the building towards her. This is a literary touch, as Bond sprints down the road towards the building, Silva enters the room and starts shooting. Mallory is shot by Silva, Bond is still outside, we see him get to the room v quickly. He kicks MP a gun, Mallory grabs one from a shot policeman. Silva kills a lot of people, Mallory takes out a terrorist too. Bond and M flee after Bond shoots the CO2 fire extinguishers. Bond, Kinnear and M get to M’s car. Bond drives off before Kinnear can get in.
“If he wants you, he’s going to have to come and get you.”
“IT’s time to change the game,” says Bond. There are so many references to espionage and international security being playful, a game. It detracts from the weight of the film to see its protagonists so dismissive of its realities. However, it is partially adding to realism, as one can imagine the people in these positions in real life would need to be blasé to get thru them.
Bond takes M to a lock up to change cars. He opens up to a beautiful classic car, one from an early Bond film, I don’t know which though do have a book where I could look it up.
BMT 216A is the numberplate and we’re shown it twice. Does this have importance?
M comments on car being uncomfortable, to which Bond flips open the top of the gearstick and says, “If you’re going to complain the whole way..?” M knows this is an ejector button. How? Bond has already stated that it is not a “company car”. Surely she would ask, “What is that?” unless there was already a shared understanding that Bond had a functioning 1960s MI6 car in his possession, which there definitely isn’t.
“Where are we going?” “Back in time. Somewhere where we’ll have the advantage.” This line, I think, sums up the entire film. For if Bond needs to be back in time to have the advantage over his enemies in his films, surely this applies also to the franchise itself. Are future Bond films destined to be period pieces? I think they should be.
Cut to Rory Kinnear drinking a Heineken in the office w/ Q. Mallory comes in and gives his blessing to Bond’s plan to lure Silva to Scotland, to the past. He’s now “in with the guys” and the patriarchy begins to take over. MP has been shut out – it is Kinnear, Mallory and Q just like it used to be. The side-lining of Naomi Harris was worse in Spectre – let’s hope that is a trend that is fixed in the next film.
Cut to STUNNING shot of a Scottish valley in mist. Bond has stopped to have a look at the view.
“Is this where you grew up?” “Mmmmmm.”
Scenery is stunning, incredible. We forget this is here on this island, up at the other end. Why do we crowd down in the south in the hideous cities when gorgeous nature roars aflame less than 1,000 miles away?
“Orphans always make the best agents.” Says M.
“Storm’s coming,” says Bond.
We follow the car with a series of aerial shots of truly breath-taking views. We turn into Skyfall’s gate, the name of which is typed in the font of the film’s poster, which is far too contemporary for the state of the place itself. There is a statue of a stag on the gatepost.
The house is old, grey, with a cottage beside it. “No wonder you never came back” says M, unimpressed. I don’t understand this, it’s gorgeous. Bond looks around his house.
Albert Finney appears out of the shadows in a part everyone knows was written for Connery. In real life, the actor is six years Connery’s junior. Imagine if Connery had come back for this. Oh my fucking Christ, imagine if Connery had come back for this. Good joke where the gamekeeper thinks M’s name is Emma. All the guns (he had a collection) have been sold as Bond’s executors thought he was dead. The one that remains, Bond’s father’s hunting rifle, has AB on the handle. Cubby reference?
There may also be dynamite. They have three guns and a knife.
“Try to stop me, you jumped up little shit.” He says when Bond suggests gamekeeper doesn’t fight with him.
“What did you say you did for a living?” he asks after Bond does some good shooting.
Gamekeeper shows M a secret passage, a tunnel that leads under the moor. Bond hid in there for two days after his parents died. “When he came out he wasn’t a boy anymore.”
They prepare the house for an invasion, like a grown up home alone. They make traps, over the windows with pallets. Throughout this sequence, Bond is wearing a cravat. Gamekeeper saws off the end of his shotgun. Bond nods sagely at the damage the gun can now do. He waits.
“I fucked this up, didn’t I,” says M. Only use of fuck in the film. Interesting that it was given to M.
Bond admits he read his obituary. Didn’t like it.
“I was ready before you were born, son.” Says gamekeeper when asked if ready. This would be AMAZING if spoken by aged Connery. But it isn’t.
Silva’s men arrive, start walking thru the grounds. Put a mine on the door. Bond is in the car, which has machine guns at the front. He shoots at the soldiers as they wait for the mine, they enter the house, some dead, gamekeeper shoots two more with his sawn-off shotgun. “Welcome to Scotland,” he quips. He’s great.
M kills two using bombs attached to ceiling lights. Bond picks up an assault rifle using his foot. Gamekeeper kills another. Bond kills one more. M shoots at last one, misses, Bond comes in and kills him. This is all of them dead.
Suddenly loud sound of music coming from outside. It is speaker attached to approaching helicopter, like in Apocalypse Now. Is it the same song? Will have to check. “Always gotta make an entrance” says Bond, which is only half true. Tho Silva’s first appearance – slow walk to camera whilst giving a speech – was pretty dramatic, none of the other times he has begun a scene have been dramatic. Bon d shoots at the helicopter. It returns fire with a much bigger gun. Shoots out every window.
“Go to the chapel, use the tunnel” orders Bond. AF goes with M. Silva steps off copter with another batch of men. There are a lot of them. He throws grenades into the building. The floorboards are now on fire. The fire is bright. Lots of shadows.
Bad dialogue (116): “Everyone listen to me, don’t you dare touch him, he’s mine.”
Great shots of Bardem with the helicopter light and rotors behind his head.
In tunnel we learn that M has been shot. Bond finds gas canisters and carries them through house. AF and M emerge from runnel and look back at burning house. Helicopter shoots up the car. It explodes. Bond is fucking livid. He has made a fuse going into the dynamite on top of the gas canisters. “I always hated this place” he says as he runs down the tunnel.
The house explodes, some shrapnel hits the helicopter and it spins, crashing into the house. As its rotors slice through the brickwork and the helicopter twists forwards, it too explodes and the whole house springs outwards. A wave of heat follows Bond down the tunnel, but he jumps out of its way and is fiiiiine.
Silva looks around and sees a light on the heath (or moor) in the distance and suddenly realises there was a reason why Bond blew up the house. Understanding that B wouldn’t have knowingly killed M.
S walks away from the burning house. He injured. The lighting in these scenes is phenomenal. The burning fire ekes out into the darkness. Trees stick out of the moor in silhouette as Bond and Silva race towards M. B reaches a frozen lake and steps onto it. We’ve already had water introduced as a theme at the start of the film, so it is unsurprising that we return to it again here. Especially the obvious Freudian connotations of Bond in his childhood home about to be engulfed in wetness. Is his relentless pursuit of sexual fulfilment nothing other than his long search for a mother he never had? Is this what M became and why he is so keen to protect her? A mother he didn’t fuck? And is the allusion to Silva earlier that he’s had a few men in his time earlier on an indication that he’s also been looking for a father figure? No, probably not.
Bond starts running across the ice with the fire behind him. Silva is shooting at him from the edge. The lighting, the red glow, is again very strong. It is light that makes this film significant, it is the use of light that lifts this. This scene here, the section in the skyscraper earlier. The cinematography far exceeds the franchise, this is like nothing out of a Bond film and, again, Spectre matches the cinematic quality of Skyfall in NOTHING but the initial shot, which is adventurous and compelling, but only by length. This, however, is beautiful. I keep pausing it as I write notes and every frame in this flame-lit section is dazzlingly composed, like a Caravaggio or a Rembrandt (in use of darkness). This is artful cinema, in many scenes.
There is a henchman with Bond on the ice. Bond grabs the henchman’s gun and shoots the ice. They fall in and fight underwater. Silva says what we’re all thinking and rolls his eyes at the idiocy and arrogance of Bond, believing that plunging into ice cold water is the best way to save M. Obviously, the viewer presumes (and the repeat viewer knows) that Bond will survive this and live to defeat the villain. If we’re meant to share this disdain for Bond – for Silva is a charming villain (he has been wronged by M and his plan and actions have been a very personal quest for legitimate (?) revenge) – is this then in conflict with our awareness as viewers of a long-running franchise that the protagonist is not in danger? When we see him take risks, when he know his risks will (in the long term, at least) pay off, should there be less tension? This is, I think, the third or fourth time I’ve watched Skyfall, and I’ve enjoyed this as much as the other times, despite knowing what and when will happen. What is it about certain films that shouldn’t really be enjoyable to rewatch (i.e. thrillers) that saves them? Bond is not wholly likeable, we see him as a sexual opportunist, but he is loyal to M. Tho she is not loyal to him – in the pre-credit sequence she directly orders actions that almost kill him, and not in a macro sense but in a direct, aggressive, way. Is B’s blind loyalty to M a fault? If so, though, it is a fault that goes forever unpunished. Dench’s M dies in a short while for her actions. Silva would not have come after her if she hadn’t sold him to the Chinese. It was, she argues, for the greater good. But is a sacrifice delegitimised if the victim a) survives and b) never wanted to be sacrificed in the first place? A sacrifice that survives is powerful, see the story of Abraham in the Bible. Is Silva surviving the cyanide a sign of divine forgiveness? Did his survival make holy his actions? The use of the phrase “Think on your sins” encourages the viewer to think of religious imagery, and Bond also speaks about being resurrected. With Mallory taking over MI6 the old order is restored, we see his office later and it looks like the office of M in the 1960s. Anyway, getting ahead of myself.
Bond fights in the water and seems to be losing. Eventually he breaks the man’s neck but then follows the sinking corpse down so he can grab the man’s gun to break the surface ice. The gun is a flare gun. We then cut to Silva finding the grave of Bond’s parents: Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond. Are these names used elsewhere? I forget. Silva smiles at seeing the grave and walks into the chapel. Silva is weak. Again, more religiosity. “IT had to be here. IT had to be this way,” he says and shoots towards Finney. He doesn’t kill him.
Silva seems genuinely worried by M’s injury. He strokes her face and points his gun at it too. He gives her the gun and holds her hand with finger over the trigger and puts his head next to hers and says, “free us both with the same bullet”.
“Only you can do it” he says, before collapsing in pain as B throws the knife in his back. He turns and walks towards Bond, getting weaker with every step. He kneels, Bond says, “Last rat standing” and keels over forwards. “What took you so long?” M asks, like she usually would, and Bond tries to crack a joke as she falls over. He holds her as she dies, on the floor in the church as if a baptism. “I did get one thing right,” she says, then closes her eyes as if to die. She opens them again with her final breath. Bond kisses her on the forehead, Finney takes off his hat and the camera pans backwards taking in the two corpses and the two living men.
Silva’s begging for suicide in this scene seems somewhat odd, as tho he had seemed to be psychologically damaged, he didn’t seem to actively be depressed elsewhere. He spoke, of course, about trying to kill himself with cyanide, but that was within the context of being held captive by torturers. His inevitable death would not have held any more meaning had it occurred a moment earlier, though his unwillingness to kill himself despite wishing for death is confusing. His fear to step into death alone? His willingness to perish once his enemy is gone, or to perish with her? Or because he didn’t want to live without M? In his pain he had empathy for hers? He hated her but he still cared and hated himself for caring? He had nothing to live for once he had secured her death as this was what drove him for decades?
I don’t think the Christian symbolism and references add to the film very much. If anything, they are a tad muddled, because they fade in and out. It almost feels like the film is trying to imply deeper meaning by referencing familiar artistic tropes. Skyfall is not a complex and deep exploration of existence and humanity, but other artistic works that are often use religious symbolism to draw attention to traditions of grief, traditions of belief and modes of thought and philosophy. This film is perhaps trying to piggyback on that…
We cut to London. Bond is, again, on the roof of a building, looking towards Big Ben and a Union Jack. MP approaches him.
“Hate to waste a view” says Bond. MP will not go back into the field. He jokes about feeling safer now she’s in an office. Bit sexist. M leaves Bond a box in her will, containing the porcelain bulldog.
We cut to M and B entering an office, like M’s in the Connery films. “We’ve never formally been introduced,” says Bond, which seems an unbelievable oversight if one is expected to believe that the characters exist in a world inbetween the scenes we, the viewer, sees. She admits she is Eve Moneypenny.
Rory Kinnear is still here, and Bond enters into a v trad office. Mallory is, of course, M. Arm in a sling. “So, 007, lots to be done.” “Are you ready to get back to work?”
“With pleasure, M. With pleasure.”
We then get the John Barry theme in full, the Bond walking across the screen and shooting at the camera as traditionally started all Bond films, then a little tag informing us that the film was celebrating 50 years of Bond.
In all, it’s a pleasurable experience, with moments of the kind of cinematic style one would never dream of seeing in a Bond film. However, the problems that arise when asked to consider the actions and emotions of Bod a bit more seriously are quite troubling. M is cold, M allows her men to be killed and tortured knowingly, yet she gives a pleasing closure to Bond as she dies. Is this in keeping? Was her coldness a mask all along that she felt was required in the world she worked in? Most problematic is Bond’s sex with Severin, then her horrible murder in the abandoned city. She, as a character, is completely side-lined and objectified, the plaything of men. MP who starts off as a field agent, is strong and powerful in the scenes in Macau and London, is reduced to being an administrative assistant, whilst the real powerful woman, M (M also for mother?) is brutally killed off by a male child she didn’t care for with enough nurture, as if being punished for her lack of maternal instincts.
As a Bond film, it is intrinsically v conservative, but as an arty Bond film that is trying to be something more than the franchise before, it lets itself down, because it isn’t quite as strong as it should be. It is still sexist and reductive and stupid, silly, things do happen. There are one-liners where they aren’t appropriate and though the images on the screen are often beautiful, we watch the death and the demotion of two women as men fight amongst themselves for power, forever referring to it as a “game”.
If I get the time, I’ll come back to this and turn it into actual prose.