Monday, November 12, 2012

Last Rat Standing: Skyfall & the Question Of Free Will

The iconic poster for James Bond. Seeing Bond in the barrel of the gun is easy for us to shrug off because he's a spy so of course he's going to be a target; is there another way that he's a target? The opening credit sequence, after Bond has been accidentally shot by Moneypenny and is swept away by the current, shows Bond as a target for gun practice; why? Because he is a white male. In this era of socialism, to be a white male is to be the dreaded enemy of all mankind (I am a white female myself), so that makes Bond a "target" in the political debates because--whether right or wrong--it's easy to tie capitalism in with white male domination over minorities, rather the way Jews were made the political targets of the Nazis. In this way, Bond becomes a role model, even a refutation, to the political groups waging war against "his kind," white males.
It is the best Bond movie ever.
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.
As always, I would like to remind you , dear reader, of two things: first, this review contains spoilers; if you don't want to know what happens before you see the film, please stop reading and return later. Secondly, there is a myriad of possible ways to interpret a work of art, especially a film as rich in narrative as Skyfall; my analysis and interpretation is only meant to aide you in articulating your own insights and thoughts on the film so you can engage the art more fully. I will never pretend to have a definitive reading on a work of art; no one can claim that, but I do try to asses the high-points of the film and that which cannot be overlooked in character portrayal which leads the film's message in one direction as opposed to another possible direction. There is far more in the film than I can cover in this post, so please, feel free to leave your own observations and insights (or questions) in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Having said that, let us being with the film's villain: M.
The smoking gun. One of the lesser advertised posters of Skyfall, the tagline captures the heart of the film: The past becomes the present. Which part of the past? All of it. Whether it's the past of Great Britain, England, MI6, M herself, Mallory, Bond, Silva or the past of the Cold War, it's all relevant and all present in every moment of the film. Part of the sub-discourse of the film hinges on the negatively perceived act of "living in the past," because--the logic goes--if we are still in the past, we can't be alive to the present, and accusations such as this, as well as being "antiquated" fly throughout the film. These tensions are most apparent in M's public hearing on how she has handled the lost "list" of NATO spies embedded within terrorist organizations who are being killed, and who she thinks the "enemy" is; as the trial demonstrates, just identifying who wants to kill you is a major task because former MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem) enters the court room dressed as a police officer, that is, a terrorist presents himself as being the law. Like every other pro-capitalist film released, and unlike every pro-socialist film released, Skyfall holds that the motivations and victories of World War II are still relevant and nothing about socialism has changed, and neither has anything about Great Britain.
Why call M the villain?
She dies.
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.
M is a vampire.
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 ShadowsAbraham Lincoln Vampire HunterCloud 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.
Bond and M have arrived at Skyfall, Bond's childhood home. M wants Bond to tell her how his parents died and and he replies, "You know the story," and that may be a wink to the implied viewer, the audience members who, during the 50 years of Bond novels "know" that Andrew and Monique Delacroix Bond died climbing a mountain when Bond was 11. Why does the film not just tell us this? From the stolen art work and shaken martinis, to the Astin Martin right behind them, Skyfall is both its own brand of James Bond and a monument to the legacy of 007, and this is a way of acknowledging Ian Fleming's novels. Is it important to the film? Yes. In the context of Skyfall, it can be taken that "mountain climbing" is synonomous with "status climbing," a fault cited as inherently capitalist in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Dark Shadows, Cloud Atlas and Arbitrage. "Working your way up" is a philosophy of capitalism and the way parents can spend more time on their careers than with their families is a most regrettable consequence when anyone fails to achieve balance (discussed in Iron Man 2 in relation to Tony Stark and his father). This detail of Bond's personal life, then, becomes pertinent because it shows us Bond's support of capitalism in spite of what he has lost rather than because of what he has gained.
In addition to not offering Bond a place to sleep, M doesn't trust him at Skyfall Lodge to come and protect her when a gunman is close at hand; instead, M takes a gun and fires, being hit by his bullet, then Bond enters and kills the enemy gunman, realizing M is hurt. What really happens in this scene? It's not bad that M took up a gun to defend herself, what is bad--i.e., a mortal sin by the standards of an action hero film--is that she fired unprovoked (the gunman hadn't yet fired in her direction), alerting him to her position instead of waiting for Bond to rescue her because she trusts Bond to do his job which is what Bond accosted her of at her flat back in London (and M not trusting Bond happens in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, so it's a building issue of the narrative).
What does it mean that M does not trust Bond?
Although this is the opening shot of the film (bond has turned the corner behind him and entered a dark hallway) we all ready know about Bond's mental and spiritual state even though no background information has been provided because of the visual vocabulary employed. Bond has, literally, "turned a corner" at this point of his career (the start of Skyfall).
To trust someone means that you know that person, (there is a "bond-ing" between people) and for M not to trust Bond means she ignores all he has done and sacrificed for her, all his past accomplishments and successes and instead she equates him with a machine capable of making a mistake or not caring about her safety (think of her cold, sterile obituary she wrote of him). Because she denies Bond's abilities to do his job and protect her, she loses the "life" she denies Bond, but she can still recover from it at this point. The point her wound becomes fatal is after Bond enters the chapel and kills Silva, and, instead of showing concern for what Bond has been through, she says, "Where have you been?" just like when they were back at her flat and Bond calmly replies, "I got into some deep water," not letting on about what he has just been through, but at this point she collapses because the virtues have expired so she expires; had she shown care and concern for Bond, her agent, her employee, she would have overcome the wound yet the blood flowing out of her is the life that love gives to us and she has run out of love and virtue, hence, she has run out of life.
But all is not lost.
To further substantiate this analysis on why M dies, please consider the controversial Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). In this scene, at M's public hearing, Silva has come in shooting and Mallory picks up a gun to protect M and ward off Silva. Is it sexist that Mallory can shot and M can't, that he lives but she dies? No, that has nothing to do with it, rather, Mallory and M have different tasks in Skyfall and whereas M ultimately fails in hers, Mallory has to show that he can succeed in his. M's ultimate fault is thinking everyone is there to serve her, they aren't humans, they are her servants; practicing trust in Bond means that M sees him as human, but expecting him to be at her beck and call dehumanizes him and feeds the socialist argument that employers don't care about their employees. (On a side note, we hear Kincaid call M "Emma" at Skyfall Lodge more than once, suggesting that is her real name; so, what does "M" stand for? Silva refers to her as "Mommy" and in Quantum Of Solace, Bond makes the comment that M would like to think of herself as his mother, and I think "M" stands for "Mother," because that is what M's role should be, a loving, encouraging, trusting parent to the orphans they usually recruit because the orphan needs that mother figure that M should be but has failed to fulfill in not trusting Bond and "bonding" with him the way his inner-humanity requires). Now, another argument of socialists against business owners is that they never do any of the dirty work themselves, they always send someone else "out into the field" to take the risks and this is what Mallory's task is in Skyfall: to show that he has gotten to where he is because he knows what needs to be done and how to do it. When he and Bond first meet, Bond throws him a criticism about getting out into the field himself, and the scene above, Mallory takes a hit as a sign of worthiness of his position because it hits him in his arm (which symbolizes our strength); because Mallory recovers from this wound, we know that he's strong enough and capable of doing what needs to be done and therefore he recognizes the same qualities in Bond and that will be the formation of their bond in future missions: mutual respect. In this way, we can understand why Bond calls Mallory "M" in the closing scene, because Mallory literally has the new virtues to wage the new war on socialism and be the new "Mother" to MI6 agents that the old virtues in the old war against socialism made the old M unsuitable for in today's fight.
M's last line as she dies is, "I did one thing right," and that is Bond himself. This is the type of affirmation a tough-love parent gives to their child of whom they are proud but never told them for fear the child would stop working and become soft, the kind of love we will see in 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.
Towards the end, when the United Kingdom is safe for another day, Bond stands atop the ruins of the old MI6 (no longer above ground, as in peace time, but now below ground as in war time) and surveys the kingdom. In a moment, Eve Moneypenny comes up and says, "I didn't know you could come up here." Generally, we would understand this line as the "general, plural you: "I didn't know anyone was allowed to come up here on this demolished, dangerous site." Yet, due to all the word play within the film, such as "close shaves," we can also understand her to be saying, "I didn't know James Bond was capable of ascending to this high, meditative position to analyze himself and everything that has happened."  Bond being up there, we are invited to join him, because it's his abilities to analyze himself and "get the bird's eye view" that makes him Britain's best agent. Through analysis of Bond and everything that has happened in the film, we will be able to climb such lofty heights because this shot symbolizes a "higher plane of thinking" and if we fail to join Bond, we have given into the enemy, those symbolized within the film and those within our own, personal life because that is what great art and great stories do, they teach us about ourselves and our own struggles.
In my post on Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, 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.
The hero, by choosing to do what he is doing at that moment, affirms his identity and gains strength from his choice of being a hero and that strength is what permits him to be able to do whatever the circumstances require of him. For example, in another Daniel Craig film Cowboys and Aliens, Craig's character knows aliens are going to take over the world, and he says he would rather sit on a beach and get drunk, but he doesn't do that, he chooses to fight the impossible fight against the aliens and for that, he is rewarded with the abilities demanded to win the battle he has chosen to fight (please see Cowboys & Aliens: the US-British Alliance). We the audience believe this and we buy into it because we willingly suspend our disbelief so we can identify with the hero in his/her victories and make them our own so we are encouraged in our own fights. Let's see how this is employed throughout Skyfall.
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.
Bond knows he can get the hard drive from Patrice and he's not giving up. (When Q and Bond meet at the National Gallery, Bond tells Q that sometimes you need to know when not to pull a trigger, and he's referring to Moneypenny shooting him when she should have known better and let him handle it). Why is Bond so confident of getting the drive back from Patrice? Like Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) in Lawless wearing the key to his money's safe around his neck (symbolic that money guides him or he is led by the gain of money), Patrice wears the hard drive around his neck: symbolically, he's lead by what the drive will bring him or lead to for him. This is not what "drives" Bond, rather, love for his country, compassion for his fellow agents and just doing what is right; these qualities are the qualities of the heart and it's why James Bond is 007 (trust me for the moment, we will explore this later on why Bond misses the shot at the glass on Severin's head). M, however, doesn't see this in Bond, at least not when the drive is at stake, she loses faith in him and this hurts Bond more than any bullet.
What exactly goes up in flames? Not much. The death of the MI6 employees is tragic, but we can really look at this more symbolically: those employees were the "outer skins" of the real players, the mask of Bond, M, Tanner, Mallory, because they all come out of the explosion stronger than if there had not been an explosion (the little bull dog statue that survives, survives in each of them, not just on M's desk). Silva attempts to "take something away" in this explosion, but the outer skin that is destroyed only reveals the deeper, tougher skin of British endurance, and Silva--like Hitler in World War II--hadn't counted on that. Why does Bond blow up Skyfall Lodge? "I've always hated this place," he says before ducking into the priest hole to escape the flames; why does Bond hate it? First, it's important to note that MI6 has all ready sold the house, so it belongs to someone else. Secondly, this is the second time Bond has been in the priest hole (that we know of) the first being after the death of his parents when he was only 11 and he stayed in there for two days.
So why does Bond "enjoy death" for three moths?
He doesn't.
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?
Bond taking the tests. Remember, please, that a young male symbolizes the future; an older, mature male symbolizes a "founding father" or an elder while a middle-aged man (such as Bond) symbolizes the economy. Bond's time of "being dead" can be taken, as mentioned, for capitalism "being dead" during the last four years. When Bond returns, however, his failure of the tests--physical and mental--is important for two reasons. First, when Bond meets Silva, Silva tries to convince Bond that M lied to him to weaken Bond and his faith in M and England (as Silva's own faith had been weakened). Silva pulls up Bond's evaluation scores and reads to Bond how he failed everything, Instead of depressing Bond, this strengthens him because, knowing that he failed and shouldn't be in the field, but is because of M giving him the "PASS," he knows that she has demonstrated her faith in him and placed her confidence in his abilities to get the job done. The second reason Bond failing the tests is important is because it validates all I have said about the power of super heroes coming from their heart and mind, their worth in choosing to fight the good battle. Bond's physical tests show us that he's not super-human the way we tend to think of 007 and his feats of heroism. When Bond does something, like kill Severin's three bodyguards, it's because he has a surge of virtue that "Might Is Right" and overcomes bad and evil. In other words, Bond can't physically perform the heroics he performs, there is a inner-strength that permits that and it's that same inner-strength which M lacks which means her death from a simple gun shot wound.
When Bond leaves the woman he's with and walks down the beach to the bar, he goes there because he's looking for something; so what attracts him to the scorpion and the alcohol, away from the bed of the woman who obviously adores him? Just as M is attracted to the little statue of the pit bull she keeps on her desk, Bond is attracted to the scorpion because it makes his enemy concrete, and removes the enemy from within; who is Bond's enemy? The troubles he feels inside. He's drowning himself in pills and alcohol because he's trying to drown the anguish inside himself. In the morning, he looks in the mirror behind the bar and sees MI6 exploding beside his reflection and Bond's face beside the explosion means one thing: Bond has made a decision. Whereas the time Silva spent in the Chinese torture made him want to destroy M and MI6, the time of torment Bond has spent on the island has made him want to rebuild it all and succeed this time and this is the decision that brings Bond "back from death."
Have you ever been in a bathroom this dark? No, of course not, unless we are speaking of a room within your soul, because that is what bathrooms usually symbolize. Just as we cleanse ourselves in the bathroom, we also cleanse our soul and remove the "waste" so the darkness in the bathroom conveys the spiritual darkness in which Bond is living and his difficulty of healing. Now, in the previous scenes, we saw Bond struggling with all the physical and mental tests and we know he has been out of the field for at least three, maybe four months. Please look at his body: does his chest and abs look like a man who has been getting drunk every night and couldn't pass his chin up test? No, in this shot, he's in perfect physical condition, because in this shot, it's not his body that is sick, rather, his soul, and the shrapnel he's removing with such a steady hand isn't the same hand that couldn't hit his target earlier. Bond cutting the shrapnel out of his shoulder is symbolic for capitalism cutting the evidence of the wound out of it and realizing it was militaristic socialism--still bent on taking over the world--that caused the painful wound; taking it out not only allows for Bond to realize what really happened to him but heal because the poison has been removed at last. Again, we can know this is a metaphorical wound because, Bond obviously had to have a doctor remove the bullet lodged in him by Moneypenny, and we saw him taking prescription pills while he was on the island, so wouldn't the doctor have taken out the shrapnel as well? No, because Bond had to take threat out himself at the right time; he literally has to "dig deep" within himself to pull it out, and pull it out he does.
After Bond has been given the okay to go to Shanghai, he himself is not okay and we know this by two actions: he goes swimming and he doesn't shave his beard (look guys, I am speaking in the realm of art here, so do not take this personally!). It's good that Bond goes swimming, because that is an act of cleansing and Bond needs to "detox" his soul. While he's hunting Patrice, however, he still hasn't brought himself up to the mental level he needs to be in (gripping onto the bottom of the elevator, after we have seen him fail the chin up test, again, demonstrates that Bond's strength isn't physical, rather, it's inner). In art, a man not having a shaven face means he's feeding his animal appetites because civilized man shaves but uncivilized man doesn't so at least part of Bond's mental powers are still back at that island, playing drinking games with the scorpion, and he needs something else to bring him out of it, to, literally, shave the beard off his face.
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.
Why does Eve Moneypenny shave Bond with the cutthroat razor and why does this help Bond and get him, "back on track?" He makes a move to unbutton her shirt while she shaves him and she stops him (good for her!) but he's healed after this so he can go track down Severin and get to Silva. So what happens? Human intimacy. The very person who sent him headlong into a downward spiral of black oblivion is now the same person who helps him return to discipline and the purpose of MI6. The "life" on the island wasn't life, it was downing the dregs of death as quickly as possible, but Moneypenny tending to his personal needs and making this act of care erases the misery of the last four months and we know Bond is back as he enters the gambling club where we find out the real villainy of the villain: slavery.
Each time we see her, she wears less and less make up.Why? She's literally returning to a more natural state, and that is incredible use of special effects for the making of a political statement. Why would socialism be linked to artificiality (her make up)? Socialist governments do not believe in markets or consumer demand, they just do what they think is best to do, like bailing out auto industries, Wall Street, starting up their own solar companies that then go bankrupt because no one wants them,... artificial means of controlling the economy like that. The more Severin is under Bond's influence, the more natural she becomes.
It's Bond's quick eye and keen intellect which reveals what Severin's wrist tattoo means: she was sold into the sex trade at a young age and Silva bought her permanently. It's important to the story because it substantiates how Silva symbolizes socialism: Bond fills in the blanks for Severin, telling her, that she looked at Silva as her freedom, then realized that he was an even worse prison ("What do you know about fear?" she asks Bond, "Not like this, not like him" she says). While some people hail socialism as the freeing of their shackles in the slavery of working pointless, meaningless jobs, and socialism will set them--and all people--free, Skyfall wants us to know that socialism is the worse of the two jailers. Severin, for example, doesn't have bodyguards, but three jailers who make sure she doesn't stray, and that's what happens in a socialist government, which is why Servin and Bond go meet Silva on a ship, the ship is "the ship of state," so Severin symbolizes a country all ready possessed by socialism which, in having sex with her, Bond tries to "reclaim" for capitalism.
Where in the world are we used to seeing "tumbled statues?" Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and the "satellite countries" of the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, in short, anywhere there are dictators, the people will pull down the monuments they erect to celebrate themselves, but you don't see toppled statues in capitalist countries, do you? In this scene, Silva wants Bond to use one of two antique pistols to shot a Scotch glass off Severin's head; Bond misses, then, after Silva has killed Severin, Bond does some incredible shooting and physical fighting to put down all of Silva's guards and secure Silva so he has to come with Bond to London. What is the discrepancy between not being able to shot the glass on Severin's head and Bond's escape? Being a "hero," Bond doesn't  (even "can't") use his powers/virtues to just show off, or command his skills at will; the situation has to be for a greater good. Saving Severin's life is good, but even she knows that (like M whose virtue isn't strong enough to save her) Severin can's here it through this battle and so she sacrifices herself to bring Bond to Silva.
The second way we know Silva is a socialist is by the story of the rats he tells Bond: like the competition in The Hunger Games, the rat-trap story Silva relates to Bond illustrates how socialists view capitalistic competition: as violent (please see 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).
I'm going to skip a lot because this post is all ready significantly longer than I anticipated, so let's go straight to Skyfall Lodge. Why does Bond say, "I've always hated this place," before going down the priest hole and blowing up Skyfall Lodge? Knowing that Bond no longer owns Skyfall, that it has been sold, and knowing that houses always symbolize the soul, we can say that Skyfall symbolizes the past of Great Britain (because it belongs to someone else, that's the future) and all the trauma which has taken place: the wars between England and Scotland, the wars with the Catholics, the the battles for the Crown, class rivalries, clan rivalries, the politics, everything in the United Kingdom's past that keeps it from being united because each of these are elements which socialism will use against the UK to cause dissension and successfully wage war; by blowing up the house himself (everything it symbolizes) Bond insures that Silva can't use it for his advantage, i.e., by letting go of the past, socialists can't exploit old wounds and grievances to divide the United Kingdom for their own advantage.
When Silva catches up to M in the Bond family Chapel, why does he say that it had to be there, in a chapel where he confronted her, and why does he want the same bullet to kill them both? Please remember how Silva initially announced himself to M, "Think on your sins," and being in the chapel, a place of worship, offers the perfect place for Silva to bring about Divine Judgment upon M. The problem, of course, is that one, Silva doesn't believe  he doesn't believe in God so there is no "divine punishment" to be meted out, except in as much as Silva sees himself as being "divine" and that is probably the point: in a socialist government, because God has been removed, the government is divine and issues divine decrees.
Why does Silva want the same bullet to kill them both? Because that means they are equally guilty of the same crimes. Silva refuses to take any responsibility for his own actions; while M doesn't doubt or ever second guess the wisdom of her responsibility when she's wrong, regardless of what the cost will be to herself. This is where Bond enters, after the struggle in the frozen pond, and throws the knife into Silva's back. Is this cowardly? No, its Justice. Silva threw a dagger in the back of MI6 with betraying the agents and blowing up the building, so for Bond to knife Silva in the back is the perfect punishment.Socialists always brag about how a socialist government "has your back," and you're not alone, but Skyfall makes it clear that they will only betray you by using everything against you.
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.
In conclusion, Skyfall not only delivers a fitting summary of the Cold War's greatest anti-socialist, but re-afirms that now, today, and always, James Bond will remain anti-socialist, the reasons why he must do so and the most effective way of fighting the old battles in a new way. With the strength of its structure and convictions, Skyfall achieves the pinnacle of franchise success!
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The Fine Art Diner