Never been much of a James Bond fan. I blame the constant repeats over school holidays when the only other choice on TV was football. The villains were melodramatic and their goals so overblown and their henchmen so expendable. If I were a super villain who invested a lot in training my posse at Bad Guys Academy Inc, I wouldn’t spend their lives so easily. I also wouldn’t stand around and explain my Nefarious Plans while the Hero works out how to avoid being killed by my aforementioned henchmen. If you want a job done, do it yourself, I say.
Anyway, as the UK’s answer to America’s Westerns, they are chock full of high stakes drama, occasional gambling and fighting words, damsels in all sorts of distress, gun slinging and bad alcohol. I think though these Daniel Craig ones have got rid of some of the stupidest stuff, like a bit of the overt sexism and given Bond a back story. Plus parkou.
The lifestyle takes a toll on this Bond; as well it should. Bond may mumble nothing more than a few lines in any film but he’s not a robot. He gets hurts and apparently it means drinking and pretending to be dead for a bit. But this death and returning to life is the entire theme to Skyfall.
A Bond film with a theme!
The first half of Skyfall was fairly typical Bond but it sets up a few themes for later, like the Exploited Orphan scenario. The second half gets interesting as he must hold conversations of more than a couple of words and explode his childhood home as a decoy to save his boss. It was an un-typical day away from the office for Bond, as it was dark and Scottish and a bit Arthur Conan Doyle Baskvervillian (issues of defending the inheritance, death and property. Finally, it wasn’t about wresting control back of the world from a ridiculous over actor, but one facing Bad Dude’s bad wig/dye job and his quest for revenge.
Literally, this time it was personal
In her defence of spooks, M is right, the enemy is in the shadows and Bond’s natural home is there, which is why he is necessary. As a person, Bond is barely functional, but as M quotes Tennyson, 007 is more than the sum of his scars and ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ despite the damage is exactly who Bond is. He might as well have it as his motto.
Moreover, Bond is exactly Ulysses. Like Ulysses of the poem, Bond has spent decades running around the world but never going home. Now he does go home, so he can go out into the world renewed.
His return is entirely predictable in its Freudian allusions, what with the escape via the priest hole, the destruction of his home by fire, the baptism in the frozen lake, and the death of M. Surely I don’t need to spell it out?
Ok so I’ll spell it out
The tunnel of the priest hole is the womb and the tomb. It is the underworld of the dead and a cocoon for the living. It is from whence Bond the man emerges after the death of his parents as a child, and from which he escapes death to come to the frozen Dantean limbo between the old (house) representing his past and his future. Of course his future is near a grave yard, but hey, confronting the possibility of your own death is a part of life for everyone.
Anyway, in this limbo he is baptised (in the lake), which cleanses him of his past. He says he never liked his gloomy home, but still, blowing it up is a bit transgressive and for this he gets dunked. After this, he literally follows the light to confront his nemesis.
Aptly, his enemy is trying to murder M, who is Bond’s boss but mostly his professional parent: M as in Mother. Agent 007 is almost the entirely the creation of M so it is only right Bond saves her by defeating her enemy. That M dies in his arms, almost certainly re-enacts or completes what Bond lacked as a child – closure or a good-bye to his parents. And it happens where Bond’s parents are buried. It is the circle of death.
And so Bond is reborn.
He can properly return to London and to working for the man. The new M.
None of this needs Hamlet-esque soliloquies lamenting the cruelty and frailty of life. Bond remains always, a man of action. His deeds speak for his transformation and anyway, he hasn’t got time to explain, what with the shooting and the grenades and exploding helicopters, and it doesn’t matter. If we get it, we get it, and if we don’t it’s still a rollicking adventure.
M’s speech before the Minister where she quotes Tennyson brought to mind Harry’s speech justifying his actions before his own death by firing squad in the 1980 film Breaker Morant:
George: Yeah, but killing a missionary, Peter?
Harry: It’s a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn’t been in uniform. They’re farmers. They come from small villages, and they shoot at from behind walls and from farmhouses. Some of them are women, some of them are children, and some of them… are missionaries, George.
M and her agents aren’t fighting guerrillas in the 1901 veldt of the Boer War, or the Vietnamese soldiers this Breaker Morant film indirectly addressed. No, M says they are fighting elusive and shadowy enemies. But rather than commentating on world or e-threats, once more the Bond franchise finds the shadow within. In Skyfall, as in Goldeneye, the enemies are those created by MI6. Instead of Sean Bean’s 006, Javier Bardem’s Silva’s target is personal: M. Once more a Bond film is a violent Freudian family spat, like Goodfellas, only with British accents and stiff-upper lipness.
My question is, am I right in thinking this is unusually meta for Bond, or have I been missing something all these years? Does it mean I have to bother when the new ones come out?
2 thoughts on “A Bond’s deeds are his word”
In answer to your last question, I don’t know what it means. All I know is that the Daniel Craig Bond films are the only ones I’ve liked to date. Yes, they were always primarily about the escapism, but damn if I don’t like the meat in these latest installments!
I like how the they kinda don’t shy away from the fact that he’s a bit of an arrogant, cocksure prick in Casino Royale. Then they break him down in Quantum of Solace so that he becomes this mean, rage filled, wounded creature fueled by a primitive grief that he doesn’t know what to do with. Actual character progression in a blockbuster film? Gods be praised!
Skyfall was also very good, but already I see signs that they may be taking James Bond back to the creepily sexist, campy shenanigans of yesteryear. I hope I’m misreading that though because I really like these new films, and I while I still wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a James Bond fan, I would not like to see this franchise take a huge step backwards to what bored me about the originals.
Pretty much agree with everything. Character development is everything.