On Skyfall

Has anyone ever wondered where James Bond comes from? Ever since his earliest incarnations via Sean Connery, he has been a brooding, enigmatic, and dangerous character, already a man, never a child in spite of logic to the contrary. The 23rd Bond film is highly reminiscent of those earlier Bonds as producers, writers and directors strive to resurrect the fifty-year-old series. This Bond is not indestructible or infallible, and the opening series of shots, a high speed urban chase, end in disaster for the British Secrete Service, Bond sinking to the bottom of a river, apparently dead. As the movie progresses, the audience finds out that Bond is an orphan who has not yet dealt with a traumatic past which has left him vulnerable in a number of ways. The evildoer de jour is very evil, specializing in cyber attacks and dark personal vendettas, which make him dangerous and problematic because he is not driven by larger or universal ethical concerns for society at large. He’s a sociopath who is uninterested in larger geo-political concerns, driven only by the money he might extort from this or that victim. An ex-gent who has worked for M, the evildoer is a cinematic doppleganger of James Bond in the sense that they both have the same experience and training. The evil agent wants to kill M, the mother/father figure who, at some time in the past, gave him up to the other side. The entire movie then is about two things, vengeance and resurrection. The images of water in which James finds himself confronting death and life strongly clash with the images of dry death and decay with which the bad guy surrounds himself. Though one might question the mere existence of Bond, a violent assassin who is used outside the normal channels of law and order to eliminate, with deadly force and extreme prejudice if necessary, security problems that the Crown might have. This is a lingering question that haunts the film: are there problems which might invoke a state of exception? One would like to suggest that in a post-cold war world, that Bonds and others of his ilk would be superfluous. It would seem that, given the complexity of our digital/cyber world, other kinds of dangers may still lurk in the shadows that might require exceptional treatment. The movie humanizes Bond, showing what a remarkable subject he really is and that his special qualities, abilities, and strengths have less to do with physical prowess and more to do with mental toughness and mental agility, the ability to think six moves ahead of his opponent. The metaphorical chess match between the two combatants is of apocalyptic proportions, one combatant locked in his path of self-destruction and madness, the other blazing a trail out of the allegorical savage forest where he has been lost and pursued by old personal demons. The screenplay parses out these conflicts bit by bit, carefully peeling away layers of guilt, hate, betrayal, treason, sacrifice, cruelty, hypochrisy, nihilism, self-destruction, doubt, fear, and envy. One knight looks for his destruction, the other, his resurrection. The allegorical battle between good and evil plays out slowly, ambiguously, without clear answers as to who is good and who is bad. If the movie is about being reborn, it comes through small steps, small symbols, a classic car, and old country house, a hunting knife, thin ice, an old chapel, the wilderness. Though this is a classic Bond film, perhaps one of the best, and subtlety is not one of its great qualities, the 23rd Bond film gives viewers a lot to think about in terms of right and wrong, terrorism, vengeance, growing old, and, curiously, retirement. There is both the fresh air of innovation in this film and a wink at Bond tradition, shaken, not stirred.