Tangent: in the cinema, we watched the trailers. The Hobbit was the first. Now, my boyfriend is not wired to obsess over stories. So he has no idea which movies and series are coming up. So about two thirds into the trailer I saw the lighbulb over his head turn on: “Hey!”, he whispered, “he’s that guy!” He meant Martin Freeman -bless his heart.
For a director who is acclaimed for making condensed stories, I found Skyfall long. At some point I was really completely done with it, and it dragged on for another twenty minutes. But mostly I enjoyed it. It kind of passes the Bechdel test, with the minister chewing out M in front of the intelligence oversight committee. It has no scenes that made me assume it was inserted to create a spin-off video game.
(contains spoilers for Skyfall and The Dark Knight)
Skyfall gives us another take on an ageing hero. M lies that he passed the fitness test, when in fact he’d failed it -both mentally and physically. Which is what reminded me so much of The Dark Knight: Batman too was supposed to be dead. Bruce Wayne was physically not up to the task anymore. Both men are shown ‘shaping up’ for the task ahead, a task it’s not sure they’re up for anymore.
Now, these two hurt supermen could be a coincidence. Or it can be either of two things. On the one hand, narratively speaking, it’s a far more interesting movie. Since we’re told the hero is not neccesarily capable of winning, the tension rises. The other…
Now, What Do We Do
But I’ve wondered if it may say something about the time we live in. Much of the superhero mindset is based on a very clear right/wrong dichotomy which (I guess) made sense during the Cold War. But since the Cold War, we’re confused: who are the bad guys? Who are our enemies? What motivates them? And how can we defeat them? I’m inclined to think that our stories of ageing, rusty superheroes reflect a fundamental uncertainty of our position.
I guess we now live in a more fractured world then my parents did at my age. Even if there was discord between the western nations -and I’m sure there was- it was clear that there was an outside enemy to be defeated, and to keep us in line.
I’m Bringing the Party To You
Which brings me to something I absolutely loved about this film: the fact that so much of it was set in London. Bond movies were often set in exotic locations, and of course Shanghai counts as such, as does Turkey, but most of the action is set in London and the middle of Scottish nowhere. Much of the danger no longer lies in recognisable war zones: terrorism has brought that straight to our doorsteps.
The Changing Nature of Field Work
One of the things that has changed as a result of the (ongoing) information revolution is that of field work. Fifteen years ago, communications between the field and Head Quarters were sporadic. An operative would have to be trained, briefed, and let go. In the opening sequence of Skyfall we see how that has changed: M is in direct communication with Moneypenny and Bond. She gives the order to shoot herself. The relationship between each and any HQ and its field agents has been tightened substantially. This means that agents have far less room for independent decision making. Which means we need a new personality type to do it: the ability to work with/inside/around the bureaucracy will be far more important. Another result of the information revolution is the increased importance of Q. Not so much as the Creator of Cool Gadgets For Our Hero, but as a Player In The Game In His Own Right. Another reason why it may be for the best that we have a new Q. All these things mean you can’t make a spy movie the way we did anymore, not without paying in credibility. So perhaps, Bond ageing means he’ll be replaced with someone more like Q. And more like Mallory. We’ll see.
Civil Service Note
I assumed that as head of the intelligence oversight committee, Mallory was political figure. So, when he walks in on Q and his assistants using government property to help Bond above and beyond the call of duty, I whispered to boyfriend: this is what happens when a civil servant finds out that your minister has your back. You stand tall and work twice as hard for her. The relationship between the political and civil service branch deserves a new take.
Another theme that played heavily was family relations: Bond’s psych evaluation reported that he had a problem with authority (that used to be a job requirement!), based on unresolved issues with his parents. M snears at Bond that “[storing his belongings and selling his flat] is standard procedure when an agent dies without next of kin”. Silva refers to M as a ‘bad mummy’. M says at some point that “orphans always did make the best recruits.” The suggestion is that Bond’s attachment to his parents has shifted to MI6. He behaves incredibly loyal to M. He is angry at her for ordering to take the shot, but it doesn’t shake his loyalty to her, not really. The minute he sees she needs him, he returns to London. Is MI6 the only family he has?