Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Spectre: What To Look For When You See It

Even as it's shattering the British box office, critics insist on being critical of the 24th Bond film; why? I think there are at least two reasons. First, critics are simply snobs. They really are. If everyone likes it, then they have to find some elevated criticism or else they are just a part of the masses. Sadly, this is true, and excellence in film making has nothing to do with it; contrariwise, obscure films can also be elevated by them when no one else likes the piece. Secondly, James Bond is still,... James Bond, and critics reveal their own political leanings in throwing out lynching words like "misogynist," and "killing machine,"; whereas director Sam Mendes wants to invoke the history of Bond, illustrating that Bond has always been a hero against the socialism of the Cold War era and a pillar of democracy and freedom, critics,... how to put this? Hate democracy, they hate freedom and they hate individuality. As inconceivable as that is to me, because of the comments I am consistently reading about the film, that must be the lens through which they see the world, and causes them to despise those who don't want the government snooping around in their business. Now, having said that, as we watch the film, references to past Bond films will be important--I know I won't catch even a fraction of them--but Mendes and company have chosen to take this route because it's the identity of Bond, regardless of who is portraying the hero, the hero stands for and against something, and Mendes wants to remind us what EXACTLY that is and WHY. Ultimately, liberal critics will have the same problem swallowing conservative films that I, a conservative, have in swallowing liberal films, and that's just the way the world turns. Now, please remember, the poster of the Aston Martin was released before the first poster of Craig as Bond was released; why? Because special focus will be placed on the car; why? Because when you have a car maker that has a demanding clientele, such as the secret service, they are able to do things with a car they wouldn't be able to do for the general population (the general population of Aston Martin drivers, that is). We saw this in Fast and Furious 7 with the cars they were driving; remember what Paul Walker's character told his son when his son threw the car out the window? "Cars don't fly, son," but they certainly make them fly in that film, because that is what is demanded of them and so they can do it. In Skyfall, it was the extra fire power the vintage Aston Martin carried with it that allowed Bond to even the playing field with their lack of  available guns, and that was an important statement about how Bond has helped shape popular culture, the way Star Trek has.  
Last week, I mentioned that we should probably watch Skyfall again before Spectre is released; for once, I actually took my own advice and have been richly rewarded. There are not any spoilers in this post, but I am going to mention a plot device at the start of the film which doesn't give anything away, but knowing it's coming will help us bridge the events between Skyfall and Spectre in such a way that we are not accidental tourists. So, the purpose of this post is to point out elements in Skyfall which we will hear echoing throughout Spectre, as well as narrative elements which will be resolved or at least more fully exploited. So, let's take yet another look at the Spectre trailer before starting:
Why does Bond go to Mexico City?
This is the closest thing to a plot spoiler in this post: M (Judi Dench) left Bond a taped message telling Bond that Silva--born Tiago Rodriguez--(Javier Bardem) was in a plot to blow up an arena there and Bond needed to stop it (something to this effect, anyway). Watching Skyfall again, I realized all the imagery Silva had incorporated into his messages and, at some point during the events of Skyfall, M must have figured out what Silva was plotting and, figuring there was a good chance she wouldn't make it out of the debacle alive--and, even if she did, she was being forced into retirement by the Prime Minister because of her mis-handling of the stolen computer disc of NATO agents in terrorist organizations--M leaves Bond with one last mission.
This isn't the exact image Silva uses in Skyfall, but it's close enough. Throughout the film, Silva sends messages via computers and incorporates Day of the Dead imagery such as this. When Skyfall came out, it was puzzling why this would be in there, however, with a terrorist attack being planned for the festivities, it now makes perfect sense. Silva, in a sense, is celebrating the Day of the Dead by creating more dead, whereas Bond would celebrate the Day of the Dead--his "overdue holiday" he mentions to Mallory, because of Bond's hobby of "resurrection," and all the times he has narrowly avoided becoming dead. One reviewer said the opening scene of the Day of the Dead was a ode to one of the earlier Bond films which showed an elaborate funeral taking place in New Orleans; well, that's possible, however, had he re-watched Skyfall, he would have realized the trip to Mexico City was, basically, inevitable and it's because of Silva and the on-going events from Skyfall, not a lack of creativity or originality on the part of director Sam Mendes and company, which is what he accused Spectre of being: a mausoleum of old Bond films. They didn't have to choose the Day of the Dead, they could have done a Finnish ice festival or an Aboriginal walk-about, but the Day of the Dead was chosen for a reason, and that is something we have to look for, for example, there is the festival of death in Mexico, but the funeral of the dead in Rome, and this theme (apart from the dead body being of the same man in both cities) will somehow be connected as a kind of polar opposition.
Kincade (Albert Finney), the game keeper of Skyfall estate, tells M of the house, like all great ladies she still has some secrets left, and--because of the taped message M leaves for Bond, we know Kincade's statement applies to the "great lady" of M herself. Part of the vehicle of Skyfall is M trusting Bond to "get the job done," which is why M urged Moneypenny to "take the bloody shot" of Bond struggling with Patrice on top of the train, because M "should have trusted me to get the job done," and ultimately, this is why M dies: she didn't trust Bond to come and save her, taking a shot instead that got her the wound leading her to bleeding out. Why mention trust? Because trust is all through the trailers for Spectre.
Another brief mention in Skyfall which might have far greater significance in Spectre is in this image: the names of those who served their country with distinction. When M goes to talk to Silva, Silva wants M to use his real name, Tiago Rodriguez, and M mentions that his real name was struck off the wall of the MI6 building he blew up and it would be buried, never to be known again. Here, we have James Bond's name put on the wall, before he has died, and there is obviously a larger context to this we will need to know, however, it is, most likely, being linked back to Rodriguez and Skyfall
When Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) is saved by Bond, she asks him, "Why should I trust you?" and he says, "Because I'm your best chance of staying alive," then, when he's romancing Lucia (Monica Belluci) she says, "I don't trust you," and Bond replies, "That's because you have impeccable instincts." It's not going to just be those who do or don't trust Bond, there is also who Bond has trusted (like Blofeld when he was growing up) and who he should not have trusted.
Q (Ben Whishaw) has a greatly expanded role in Spectre, and yet, Bond asks the same thing of him in both films: "Make me disappear." In Skyfall, Bond needs Q to make him and M disappear as they go to Scotland to get a step ahead of Silva, and in Spectre, he's wanting to disappear again. This reveals another Skyfall theme continuing in Spectre: the shadows. In Skyfall, M and Mallory discuss why it's so difficult to combat the threats around them and that's because their enemies exist in the shadows, and M mentions this again in the Committee Hearing panel she's brought up before. In the trailer for Spectre, Madeline asks Bond, "Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows, hunting and being hunted?" Bond is a part of those shadows, and so we will need to keep our minds open for how--IF at all--the shadows have crept into Bond's soul or how he has managed to keep the shadows from creeping into his soul. When he asks Q to make him disappear, is Bond asking Q to make him become even more of a shadow, or to disappear even to those who themselves have disappeared into the shadows? On a slightly different note, in Skyfall, when speaking of leaving the trail of bread crumbs for Silva to find so Silva will know that Bond is going to Skyfall and fall into the trap, Q tells Bill Tanner, "Make the crumb too small, and you risk that he won't see it. Make it too big and he'll smell a rat." The "rat" reference goes back to the story Silva told Bond of his grandmother's island and how she got rid of the rats, by "changing their nature so they no longer eat coconut, now, they just eat rat." Q, in realizing the game he is playing, demonstrates that Silva was right: Q's nature has changed, but that doesn't mean he's a rat. There is a possibility in Spectre, however, that someone is dying from poison, and that is a poison used in killing rats, if so, that will be a direct link back to Skyfall and Silva's rat story. 
"007,what took you so long?" M asks.
"Well, I got into some deep water," Bond replies, referring to the under ice-water battle from which he just emerged and still managed to save M from being shot in the head by Silva. The "deep water" is a pun, and one of the many we get to enjoy in Skyfall (like when Moneypenny tells Bond, "I'm sure we'll have one or two close shaves," referring to when she gave him a shave in Macau). The reason puns and innuendos are important is because they have to be interpreted in order to be understood (please recall, if you will, in Guardians of the Galaxy when Rocket the raccoon explains that Drax comes from a planet where everything is taking literally, he doesn't know how to interpret something "going over his head" because his reflexes are much too fast for something to go over his head,.... we don't want to be like Drax!). So, when there is one aspect of a narrative which begs interpreting, that means there are other invitations as well, we just have to look a bit harder for it.
We have previously discussed the symbolism of white, however, there is a little,... organic part of the symbol I have not had cause to mention until (possibly) now. In this image is Mr. White, whom we first met in both Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. His name, "White," details an aspect of his character, and these are the possibilities. First, the virtuous interpretation of white is that of the purity and innocence of the soul in faith: even if a soul has led a sinful life, but has done penance, they can regain the innocence of their soul through grace and white symbolizes this innocence because it is the absence of the dark stains of sin., so the soul is "alive" to the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and dead to the temptations of the world. On the other hand, white can negatively symbolize a person who is dead to faith, hope and charity because a corpse turns white as rigor mortis sets in, so this application of white means a soul which is alive to the ways of the world--ambition, greed, wealth and fame, etc.--but dead to the virtues of heaven. This latter interpretation would generally apply to Mr. White, since he is a villain. Now, and element of the symbolism of white which enhances our understanding is that, when a body is burnt by flames, it turns ashen white (like a corpse) so white can also symbolize a person who has been "burned." A good person (hero) being "burned" would be burned by the purging fire of the Holy Spirit, whereas a bad person being (villain) burned would be burned by the fires of damnation and hell. There is a detail I have picked up which may or may not play out, so we will see.  Additionally, White is living an ascetic existence at this point, or at least, it appears so from the trailer, and he's wearing a gray shirt, which is usually the color of the penitent or the pilgrim, so White might be in a state of conversion/penance, and such a state might be the reason he decides to help Bond in spite of Bond having thrown him in the trunk of his car for one crazy ride at the start of Quantum Of Solace. We will have to see. Again, please remember, that at the beginning of Quantum Of Solace, Mr. White is being interrogated by M and he begins with, "We have people everywhere, isn't that right, Mitchell?" and M's body guard shoots at M; in the Spectre trailer, when Bond asks White, "Where is he?" White replies, "He's everywhere!" so there is a connection between these two scenes we will have to figure out.
Bond's "personal issues" are important in Skyfall: when he's held prisoner by Silva, Silva tries to convince Bond that M has used them and distorted them for her own ends, and Bond quickly replies, "I've made my own decisions." This debate on free will or programming is an important one, and as the narrative progresses, this very issue for Bond--did I make my own choices?--is what drives Bond to, as he explains to M, "go back in time" to Skyfall and determine whether or not he's been in charge of his life all this time. As the last fight takes place, water and ice are important, they reveal to us the stages of Bond's intimate meditation and progress in his meditation and this is going to be imperative in Spectre as well because, the very man who took care of him as an orphan is now saying, "I was the author of all your pain." But there is another means of understanding what Bond is thinking: glass. Please pay attention to the scene when Blofeld leads Bond and Madeline down the glass hallway:
Glass, as we know, is a symbol of "reflection" because, as it reflects exterior reality, it also reflects symbolically the interior reality. In other words, where there is glass/reflections, it means one or more characters are actually reflecting on events, and the action they are taking or will take is a result of what they have reflected upon. So, in the scene above, as they walk through this hallway, Bond is reflecting, and perhaps--we don't know what has happened to lead up to this scene--Bond has decided that stopping Blofeld is worth the ultimate price: his own life. The "bridge" that a hallway symbolizes is the leaving of one area or way of thinking, and journeying into another area or way of thinking (a hallway or bridge just acts as a metaphor of interior shifting or change of direction).
All three water elements are in this scene, as Bond goes to see Mr. White. The water upon which his boat sails, the fog in the air and the snow on the landscape. So what do we make of this? The snow tells us that there is something(s) Bond has all ready figured out but he's just now starting to think about something else (the water) and there is a confusion (the fog) about how, if at all, they are related. In other words, this is an incredible scene set-up and one we will need to pay particular attention to. If you will recall, as Bond enters, there is a black bird that comes flying out from the house as he goes through looking for Mr. White: the black bird is the opposite of the Holy Spirit, which appeared at Christ's baptism as the white dove. The black bird, then, is a sign of death, both physical--that Mr. White is dying--and spiritual. That doesn't mean, however, that Mr. White lacks an opportunity for conversion, or that Bond will provide him with it. Then again, Mr. White may be a completely lost cause. 
There is another means of communicating that a character is thinking/meditating without telling us exactly what they are thinking about: water. In its three stages, water (liquid), fog (vapor) and snow (solid) conveys to a viewer the mindset of the character. When a character is in contact with water (except when it is water as a beverage, to be consumed, then it means something different; or a shower/bath, it generally means something different then, too) a thought has just taken a hold of a character's attention, like the character is looking into water and seeing their own reflection, they are thinking through whatever conflict or tension has been introduced to them. When a character experiences fog, clouds, mist, or steam, this lets us know they have progressed to the second level of the thought process: the boundaries of the problem or situation are causing them problems or the problems are dissolving, depending on how the vapor is present. Third is snow: when there is snow in some fashion, that means the character has solidified their thoughts on the subject and they are ready to act or not act, as the narrative warrants. James Bond films are action films; why am I dwelling on the meditative processes?
From Austria to the Sahara, the snow to the desert. Such landscapes contribute to, or even become, characterization. Not knowing what part of the film this scene plays out in, we do know that the drama of change will have something to do with Bond's inner-self. For example, when Blofeld tells Bond, "I was the author of all your pain," that is more than likely going to have some overtures to the death of Vespers in Casino Royale because of Mr. White's involvement with that whole affair, and we know that Quantum is a subsidiary of Spectre. The change in landscape might mean he's becoming more attached to Madeline, who is there with him, but Bond doesn't have the interior resources to nurture nor sustain a healthy relationship (the desert of the heart, so to speak). Regarding "Madeline," we know it is a form of "magnificent," which is what Q calls the Aston Martin, but others have also linked her name to an episode in Volume One Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, an epic work about memory and involuntary memory; given that Dr. Madeline Swann is a psychologist, she is going to have something to do with an important memory, or, indeed, may be a metaphor of Bond's memory. 
We have all ready seen how Bond was meditating on his free will in Skyfall, and going to Skyfall was going "back in time." When Moneypenny presents the box of effects forensics released from Skyfall, that, too, is going back in time, and the experience of someone Bond trusted intimately who is now claiming, "I was the author of all your pain." Bond will be reflecting upon this throughout the film; even up until this scene takes place, whenever it does, in some way or another, this is the statement the film will be about. Now, what about Mallory?
Why have the character of Mallory? He symbolizes and legitimates Bond's opposition. In other words, we need someone who can go out and pull a trigger if we need that done, but we also need someone at home making that decision and being held accountable. If you will,think of the story of the Wind In the Willows, and how Toad wants you to "Come with me! I'll show you the world!" and what happens? Because of Toad's follies, the weasels take over Toad Hall, a metaphor for British colonization and corrupt politicians taken advantage of the real leaders being spread out all over the British empire and the corrupt are ruining the country. With someone like Mallory still at home, they keep the weasels at bay, and I think we are going to see exactly that happening in the film. 
Mallory seems to be terribly stern with Bond, but the last shot of Skyfall leaves us with a different impression: the row of battle ships in the painting of the background suggests that they are men of one mind and action and they will make a formidable team. There are always bumps in any relationship, especially one where there is a 007 involved, but we shouldn't be too hard on Mallory: remember, he took a bullet meant for M in the committee hearing which Silva aimed at her.
Please note the collar on this shirt. Why do communists always wear this type of shirt? That's easy: you can't wear a tie with it, so it's not a professional shirt, it's the shirt of a workman, it's a shirt of "equality," whereas a tie puts other men above others, the "professional, white collar class" instead of the "servant, blue collar class." Another important reason is because the lack of a collar is supposed to mean that they are being led or tied to someone or something other than their ideology and loyalty for the Party. Let's see if I am right about this.
Lastly, please remember the Catholic theme running through three films: Casino Royale, his love interest is named Vespers; Skyfall, there is a priest hole wherein young James hid for three days upon the death of his parents and, Spectre, we have seen the clip of Madeline asking Bond why he does what he does and Bond replies, "It was this or the priesthood," so the spiritual element is one we need to keep in mind as well. Because there is a continuity between Skyfall and Spectre, I think we will also hear echoes of the poem Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson which M read at the hearing:

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.

If we see the bulldog wrapped in the Union Jack, that will be an echo of this poem. I am going to see the first showing Friday afternoon, I was going to go to the late Thursday showing, but I will be too tired to concentrate, so I will work like the Dickens to get that post done and up asap!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
This poster is slightly different than the earlier released one: it has two spots of orange in it; why? Well, technically, it's because orange and yellow marigold flowers are popular during the Day of the Dead celebrations, but in terms of the film, we know that orange symbolizes life and virbrancy: in this scene, then, Bond is doing exactly what he is good at, this is not just a thrill for him, it's his life, it's what he was born to do and it's what he lives to do: protect and save others. Madeline being in her evening dress in this shot means we are supposed to tie the Day of the Dead scene with the scene of her asking Bond why he does what he does, two scenes we might not correlate otherwise if not for this poster and the way the symbols have been juxtaposed to communicate to us the viewers.