Consumers put their money where their heart is (consider what a monumental flop Cloud Atlas vs. The Avengers blockbuster). Box Office results mirror how American consumers wage war: when we believe in a film, we say it with the dollar and because Bond has always fought socialism, 007 has been the most successful, enduring franchise of all time and Skyfall's immensely successful opening weekend means people still support Bond fighting the evils of socialism (please consider this short, but informative article on The Top Five Grossing Bond Movies of All Time; when socialism peaked in the mid 1960s, the article shows us, so, too did Bond earnings). Skyfall rises above itself--like Bond standing on the ruins of the old MI6, surveying London from above--and delivers the fruit of meditative self-awareness for our own souls and, like Bond deciding to return to MI6 after the terrorist attack, Skyfall makes the decision to continue fighting the shadows of the Cold War on its own and asserts the free will of capitalism; it enters the soul of Bond, thereby expanding the visual vocabulary of all action films. Skyfall delivers it all.
|This is the primary poster for Skyfall and there are two striking elements about it. First, Bond is down in the dust; why? The active male principle means that a man of mature age, but not an old man, symbolizes the economy, and Bond being down but still fighting (the aimed pistol he holds) illustrates the economy after the global woes of the past 4 years that won't be going away any time soon. Note also, Bond isn't wearing a tie, unusual for him because--even in the most intense of chase scenes--he has that mark of the gentlemen, the status of white collar employment; having taken off the tie means he is being identified with the blue collar worker in laboring for the welfare of Britain and he's not afraid of getting dirty to do it, he's "go down fighting." The second striking aspect of the poster is SKYFALL, at the top: if you look carefully, the black lettering is not completely filled in, as is the "007" behind Bond on the bottom of the poster. What we have here, as in The Cold Light Of Day and Zero Dark Thirty, is a case of philosophical erasure (please see Trailers: Zero- Dark Thirty and Without Baggage: Erasure & Identity In the Cold Light Of Day for more). "Erasure" may be employed when something lacks sufficiency to communicate a concept, an idea, but has to be used anyway because there is nothing else to do the job. "Skyfall" is not only the title of the film, but Bond's childhood home and,... something else, something mere words cannot communicate. What? One angle is Skyfall's relationship to Bond, or vice versa, and the experience(s) at this location which he still carries with him. What does "Skyfall" invoke? The sky is falling, the end of the world, the inconceivable is happening, so, for an eleven year-old boy, the sky would fall with the death of both his parents at the same time and hence the radical changing of his status in society; who else shares this same, sudden, sad history? Bruce Wayne, Batman. An interesting conversation takes place between Bond and M when they arrive with M asking Bond what happened to his parents and Bond replying that she knows the whole story. Like so many elements of this narrative, there is the viewer's assumption that M has read Bond's file yet that can also be understood as what Bond tells us, the viewers: after 50 years, we know the story because we know Bond, and yet Skyfall is the first Bond film to ever delve so deeply into his emotions and psychology, his history, and that is a reflection upon our culture today, the need to understand our history, our psychology and emotions, our need to go back to the place where it happened (this "dive" we take into Bond is visually shown to us in the credit sequence because the abstract images we see are actually the "road map" the film provides to show us everything that is going to happen and how we are going to go into Bond the way he has gone into the depths of the water). The role the house and its influence on Bond cannot be completely understood therefore it has been placed "under erasure" and each of us will bring our own understanding and reading of the film to "fill in" what is missing because of the erasure thereby making Skyfall more about us, and Bond a mere vehicle of expression, so that, like all great art, Skyfall mirrors us and our deeper selves.|
Having said that, let us being with the film's villain: M.
But Silva dies, too.
But M could have survived her "flesh wound," but being too weak (not to mention the cause of her wound) she dies and, by the standards of Bond films and action heroes in general, that is a serious moral implication of which she is guilty, regardless of how much we admire and adore Dame Judi Dench. This "twist" in the plot is exactly what makes the whole film so intense and delicious, and a serious manifesto against the charges socialism has been waging against Western civilization and capitalism.
|From her very first lines of dialogue, M (Dame Judi Dench) shows herself to be increasingly dehumanized and dehumanizing, and this is important because of her last line of dialogue which must be compared in order to understand her role in Skyfall's message. The little pit bull statue on her desk articulates her at her best so we know why she dies; why? Like the interpretation of Turner's The Fighting Termeraire at the National Gallery Q (Ben Whishaw) and Bond look at (Daniel Craig), serving as an interpretation on characters in the film, so the pit bull wrapped in the Union Jack is M's own interpretation of herself; the question is, does she interpret it correctly and does she live up to it? Everyone in the film asks this, if--and in what way--M really knows what she is doing today, and if she isn't just living in the past of the Cold War's socialism vs capitalism, cloak and dagger games? At the hearing, when M is being grilled by the committee (and the committee reflects those in our society who scoff at the new war of socialism against capitalism), she mentions her late husband's fondness for poetry. Great works of art invoke other great works of art, and if something in a film reminds you of another film it's probably because it was intentional and the film makers want you to think of their film in some kind of relationship to the invoked film. For example, is there a great British film about poetry and war, The Four Feathers of 1939 which examines bravery and courage and, we have to ask, in what other Judi Dench film does she have a deceased husband? 1997's Mrs Brown for which Dench was nominated for an Oscar in her role as Queen Victoria. During Skyfall's hearing of her conduct, she recites these stirring lines from Lord Alfred Tennyson's Ulysses: We are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;/One equal temper of heroic hearts,/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. As she recites these lines, knowing her life is in danger, she is the English pit bull wrapped in the Union Jack (in the image above, note how her posture, arms and turned face mimic the pose of the bull dog), she epitomizes all the virtues of British-ness: courage, resolve, faithfulness to the cause, love of country, self-sacrifice and commitment to personal freedom and individual liberty (we also see this in Steve Rogers' character in Captain America and The Avengers: his anti-Hitler duty is both past--World War II--and present when he fights the take-over launched by Loki; please see Captain America: A Movie Of Movies and The Avengers @ War for more). That is why, when Silva comes through the doors, dressed as justice (his police uniform means that he sees himself as an executor of justice, i.e., it is just that M should die "for her sins") it is not possible for him to kill her because her demonstrated virtue has outweighed the gravity of her sins to this point in the film, she can still be redeemed in spite of the wrongs she has committed (more on this line of thought below). Bond arriving in time to utilize the fire extinguishers is quite literal: Bond "puts out "the fire of rage" against M and she escapes because old-fashioned British virtue has strengthened M to "die another day," but not today. The English bull dog statue, therefore, symbolizes St. Winston Churchill, the Nazi Slayer, because those were the virtues of his administration leading Great Britain and the world through the ultimate battle of World War II against socialism (remember the "new" MI6 goes to Churchill's war-time underground bunker to fight Silva and I promise you, that is not a coincidence; more analysis on this with Skyfall Lodge) those were the virtues passed onto M and MI6 and that M passes to Bond after her death (in the statue of the dog). Now we can understand why the pit bull is all that escaped the tremendous gas explosion at MI6 caused by Silva: because those virtues the statue represents is all that would escape a terrorist attack like that, and utterly necessary to have in the upcoming fight. From the "greatest work of art in a British museum" (Turner's The Fighting Termeraire) to a kitschy bit of decor, Skyfall becomes a great work of art because it knows art.|
I mean this metaphorically, of course, based on the caricature of business owners and capitalists socialists films have created of those who employ others and, thereby, suck the life out of them (please see Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Cloud Atlas and Looper); from the first lines of dialogue when Bond has entered the room where he discovers the hard drive is gone, M displays her lack of concern for her agents (her "employees") and only cares about getting the missing drive; Bond wants to stay and stop Bronson's bleeding--a wounded MI6 agent--but M insists she'll send an ambulance and Bond has to go chase the drive; then, M insists Agent Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) fires a shot that isn't clean, knowing she will likely hit Bond and so she does; after being "dead" for three months, Bond suddenly appears in M's apartment. Bond doesn't say a word (unlike what we see in the trailer, he just stands in the shadows) and M says, "Where the hell have you been?" without anything else in the way of welcome back, glad you're alive, etc. Bond then accuses her of not trusting him to "finish the job" and ordering Moneypenny to take a bad shot (and Bronson died). Not trusting Bond is the reason M gets shot and it's from that "wound" that she dies.
What does it mean that M does not trust Bond?
But all is not lost.
A Good Day To Die Hard with Bruce Willis which, like Skyfall, is also anti-socialist. This dichotomy stands in stark contrast to the seemingly constant attention Silva's character demands from M (in some ways, Silva's a big baby, and that's an attack on what socialist governments create out of their people). This final affirmation of Bond has a human and England's best is the medicine he needs to stop the wounds he has from becoming fatal. Now we have to turn our attention to Bond and how he perfectly fulfills the action-hero requirements; until we understand why Bond is the hero, we can't understand why Silva is the villain.
James Bond: Beyond Boundaries, I discussed why a super hero never dies from their injuries and can always do the seemingly impossible. At the start of Casino Royale, Bond--a new 007--clumsily chases the villain who seems lighter than air and faster than the wind but, by the end of the film, Bond has, literally advanced and chases more difficult villains each time. Bond's invincibility is attributable to two qualities: he has unlimited free will and spiritual maturation. For a hero to have unlimited free will means that anything they decide to do is carried out exactly how they will it to be done, for example, outside the Skyfall Chapel on the iced over pond, Bond uses the bad guy's gun to perforate a hole in the ice so they fall through and Bond can choke him to death then, realizing he cant find the original hole again, grabs the flare gun out of the sinking dead corpse and successfully uses it to break a new hole in the ice before running out of breath or dying of hypothermia, which is what would happen to one of us in the same, reality-based circumstances.
Why can Bond do things like this?
|Agent Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) watching Bond go over a bridge to follow the bad guy, Patrice and retrieve the stolen hard drive. Eve isn't Bond, and we have seen this recently in Wreck It Ralph when Ralph, the bad guy, wants to be the good guy like Fix-It-Felix; whereas everyone has a talent, not everyone has talent for the same thing or in the same degree, a regrettable attribute socialism makes when determining people's futures (please see Children Of the Candy Corn: Wreck It Ralph & Game Jumping for more on that line of analysis). Likewise, Skyfall validates that Moneypenny has talent, just not in the field and she is validated as a character for realizing that. Her severely limited free will (her ability to decide to do something and carry it through) demonstrates that she is not as advanced as Bond.|
|There are many films Skyfall invokes and Preston Sturges' 1941 classic Sullivan's Travels is one. In the opening sequence, Sullivan (Joel McCrea) a Hollywood director, shows his newest film to other film makers and it's a scene of two men fighting atop a train, as Sullivan explains it's capitalism and socialism killing each other when both fall over the bridge, off the train; why would he want to make a movie about this, instead of his lucrative comedies that have done so well? Because he wants to let the communists know that we're thinking about these things. Sullivan's Travels is still a hit today (the Coen Brothers' Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? references the film) and we can see the wounded Bond attacking the terrorist Patrice on top as a invocation of Sullivan's cinematic manifesto. What does this scene really mean in the context of Skyfall? We know that Bond falls over but he's not dead. In the action sequence leading up to this, we see Bond on construction equipment, rolling over VW Beetle cars and tear open the top of a train car to pursue the bad guy; why? The Volkswagen Bug/Beetle was the creation of Adolf Hitler who, for his socialist program, ordered that an affordable vehicle be created that would be "the people's auto," das Volks' Wagon. Bond smashing the cars is Skyfall smashing the socialist agendas and (supposed) programs for the people because of what socialism leads to: a loss of freedom for all people. If we see the train as "the engine of the economy" and Bond as he active principle of capitalism, Moneypenny shooting him on M's orders translates to something like the bad element of capitalism (M and her bad attitude towards her agents) confuses the best way to regain control and disregards the best element of capitalism (Bond and his loyalty to getting the job done) and ends up losing everything. Note that Bond is all ready wounded in his shoulder, which symbolizes our ability to handle situations, to hold up under pressure; this could be referencing the 2008 financial crisis because it "wounded" people's perceptions of capitalism's vitality and stability. Of course, Bond going over the cliff and everyone presuming him dead is everyone presuming capitalism has died.|
When we see him living by his appetites on the island, he's obviously dying for real; why? The gunshot wound and falling from the bridge, going over the waterfall, and nearly drowning didn't kill him; those types of things don't kill action heroes because those are symbolic of metaphysical/spiritual battles, and the hero is the hero because he overcomes them; so what subdues the hero? Either the hero giving into sin or losing faith in what's he's fighting for. We learn what is killing Bond from Silva, when Silva talks to M about being in the Chinese prison, being tortured and trying to take the poison but he couldn't die; Silva is what Bond would have become had Bond not been as dedicated to his job and so full of love for England (and even personally devoted to M). Bond's black cancer eating at him "during his three months of death" is that he didn't finish his job in retrieving the drive, he's not important to MI6 and that M didn't believe in him.
So what brings him back from the dead?
|Patrice is assassinating a man who looks at this painting in Severin's apartment. Amedeo Modigliani's Woman With A Fan, 1919, stolen from the Paris Museum of Art in May, 2010, along with four other paintings (Modigliani was also mentioned in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris). It was in Dr. No that Goya's stolen Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was seen, linking real villains with the gluttonous act of keeping art works all to themselves. Since Skyfall is the 50th anniversary of Bond, little homages of past films are hidden like precious gems throughout various scenes, but we have to ask, of all the paintings the film makers could have chosen to have in the film, why this one? There's nothing particularly famous about it, in spite of what inflated claims the museum directors make for insurance purposes, this is a minor work of Modigliani's and, while Modigliani is a personal favorite of mine, a Picasso was stolen at the same time, so why not show the more famous Picasso? Two reasons, at least. First, the story of Modigliani and secondly the iconography. The legend in art history goes that Modigliani and Picasso went to the art museum together and saw the same African masks at the same time but did completely different things with them in their art. Why would this be important? It demonstrates the creativity of chaos theory and how individualistic we are (more on chaos theory below). It appears that the iconography of Woman With A Fan is the more appropriate reason for it being in Skyfall. When the painting is shown, Bond watches Patrice prepare to assassinate someone in Severin's apartment who has his back to Patrice and sits down to have Woman With a Fan unveiled (which only artists and art historians recognized). Since this is the first time most of the audience has seen this work of art, and this is the first time Bond sees Severin, I would like to suggest that there is something of her in this painting. A woman fanning herself while sitting in front of a fire place... such an odd predicament may in fact be the accuracy of the sitter's lust for Modigliani and his lust for her, of which they could do nothing, and the sitter's position of trying to "cool" her lust for the artist even as she's sitting in front of the fireplace putting out heat; what good is the fan going to do in keeping her cooled down? The strong upstrokes of the red background give us the impression of fire, and the sexual appetites may well be involved; it's at least one way of reading the work, as a permanent reminder of temporary passion and lustful fulfillment forever denied (Modigliani died one year after the painting was finished). In terms of Severin, the fireplace is likely Silva, and his pressure on her (the heat from the fireplace) and she has no more power over the situation than to merely fan herself, achieving absolutely nothing. The yellow dress, of course, symbolizes the color of dignity (because yellow is the color of gold, so anything of great worth is intended) and that could be Bond seeing her worth as a human being and Silva failing to see her as anything but his servant to be used for his own ends (don't worry, we'll talk about her death in a moment). This is a wonderful painting, and I don't want to "corner" the interpretative possibilities so please don't stifle your own response to the work because of mine; I only want to get you thinking about different options for engaging it.|
The Hunger Games: Hitler & America's Anti-Socialism). Well, it's good to know that Silva is so peace-loving and compassionate.When Bond states "Last rat standing," after killing Silva, Bond states, "I may be a capitalist rat, but that's better than being a socialist rat, and it's better than being a dead socialist rat." The other means Silva uses of identifying himself as a socialist is in talking about Bond's relationship to M and how she has used Bond. "I've made my own choices," Bond says, and we know he has because we have seen him. Silva, on the other hand, flat-out contradicts Bond: "No, you haven't." Why? Socialists believe that humans are animals and we essentially have no free will, we are completely controlled and manipulated by the employers for whom we work; Skyfall presents for us a mirror-image of Silva's world because Silva was "going too far" in his operations against the Chinese but he refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, blaming M instead, which is what a socialist society teaches people: nothing is your fault, everyone else is to blame.
|This scene is terribly disturbing. As in Casino Royale, Bond is tied to a chair and being abused. Silva unbuttons Bond's shirt and starts examining his scars, touching him suggestively; why? It's a means of mind-control over Bond, but, more importantly, I think it's supposed to remind the viewer of Lawrence Of Arabia with Peter O'Toole (which has all ready been referenced this year in Prometheus). After Lawrence is "raped" by his male captor, he changes and is never the same; something changes in Bond during this scene, not only because he mentions "Resurrection" as his hobby (it is, because of all the times that he has had to resurrect himself) but because in this very scene, he has to pull himself together. For example, when Silva takes Bond outside, Bond is in the daylight and puts on sunglasses; please refer back at the top of the post for the image where Bond is in darkness but his eyes are lighted; the two scenes are, structurally, diametrically opposed. Bond putting the glasses over his eyes insures either that Silva can't contaminate him (the eyes are the windows of the soul, and Silva might see vulnerability in Bond) or to keep Bond from breaking down and keeping himself in check. When he sees Severin tied up, he knows that, no matter what Silva is going to kill her, and this is Bond dying, too, because he does care for her. So, when Silva shots Severin and Bond complains about a waste of good Scotch, remember, Bond himself is "Scotch" (being from Scotland) and Silva has wasted him during this time and Bond will exact his vengeance later. On a side note, there are at least three more films referenced by Skyfall: The French Connection, Silence Of the Lambs and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. MI6 has Silva locked up in a clear glass gas, invoking Loki's containment in The Avengers as well as Hannibal Lectur in Silence Of the Lambs. When Silva has dressed like a cop and escaped, Bond is trying to decide to get on the train or not; when they are exiting, Mendes invokes the same scene from the Gene Hackman film The French Connection which won Best Picture. When Bond and M stand looking at Skyall Lodge, Bond tells M, "Storm's coming," although a storm never comes (of course he means it metaphorically, yet, in the beginning of the film, it was raining pretty hard when Bond got shot). This reminds us of the ending of Sherlock Holmes after Holmes has handcuffed Irene and she warns him of Moriarty. On another side note, when Bond is trying to get to the chapel and he and one of Silva's gunmen go through the ice, Mendes sides with The Dark Knight Rises, where director Christopher Nolan used ice as a metaphor for the way capitalists take risks and balance that risk (please see War & Revolution: The Dark Knight Rises & the Great Socialist Lie); on the other hand, Lawless opposes Nolan's scenario and how risks are weighed when Forrestt Bondurant falls through the ice at the end (please see Lawless & Brass Knuckle Tactics).|
|The Fighting Termeraire by JMW Turner of 1839, the painting Q and Bond look at while in Room 34 of the National Gallery of Art, London. Before I saw Skyfall, I posted a preliminary summary of why this painting was so important int he film in Skyfall & England's Greatest Painting, (the other paintings in the scene ar analyzed as well) but, having seen the film, I am confident that those suggesting the old ship is Bond are wrong. Bond doesn't die in the film, but M does, and that M would be visually depicted as an old war ship with Silva as the tug boat trying to haul her into justice is exactly the reason why the painting was used. This kind of thing couldn't be said in convincing language, but it is brilliant when there is only the suggestion of the painted idea. This painting, like all art in all films, is important because, in the very last shot of the film, in Mallory's office, there is a painting on the wall in the background between Mallory and Bond: that painting is a line of war ships ready to set sail; that the painting is place in-between Bond and Mallory demonstrates that Bond and Mallory have a common ground and they are ready for what is going to be dished out to them.|
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