{film} skyfall

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007-skyfall-posterWe finally made it to the dollar theater for Skyfall (2012), the latest James Bond movie. It was good to catch in on the big screen. Now, where to begin, after all, it was a Bond film. All the ingredients that define the masculine icon that is 007 are there. His sexual prowess, his armament, his physique, his patriotism, his alcohol consumption. And because I am me, I cannot approach it outside a feminist reading–(okay, I could, but I won’t with Bond films). This is not so much an apology, but to confirm your suspicions and perhaps allow you to decide whether to proceed or not. As there have been plenty of write-ups, we both have an excuse to proceed where we will. Oh, and there will be spoilers.

I will start with things I liked about Sam Mendes film before I do a reading. The car is one of the few reasons I watch Bond films and I was all deep sighs with the car switch. Despite all the international travel, the scope of the film was small as, too, was the casting. Even with that crazy beautiful explosion there near the end, nothing in the action felt too over-the-top after our first rush of adrenaline. The balance between action and exposition was impressive. Javier Bardem (Silva) is incredible, as always. The cinematography and lighting, the blocking–Skyfall is a well-made film, with a rich narrative intermingled with all the silhouettes, skin and adrenaline.

bond-007-skyfall-aston-martin-db5-history

James Bond who is all about resurrection in Skyfall, unearths this beautiful Aston Martin DB5.

I grew up on James Bond films. I watched a lot of films before they were age appropriate though it can be easily argued that no young girl should see these early films. There is a collective sigh of relief for that these newer installments of James Bond stories are more “woman friendly.” And yet I laugh at all the women who sigh over the prospect of a half-naked Daniel Craig (including myself), but he strips down for the men in the audience, just as when he cleans up in those finely tailored looks it is for the men. I question that the only place for the women in the audience is so that they know how to respond appropriately to a real man—what their place is. The newer films would place women in more respected roles in relation to Bond, but are the call and responses still there?

Daniel Craig;Judi Dench

Judi Dench as M was a masterstroke in the first Daniel Craig films. And yet, she’s Mom; unequivocally so in Skyfall. Who else was excited to see the young female of color as an agent at the wheel and then behind the gun? Naomie Harris (as Eve) is one of the most beautiful females Bond films have cast. But what attribute does “little sister” Eve and Judi share? Failure in the handling of a gun (Where does M’s failure with a gun get her?). And the end decision that they are better behind the desk than in the field. The desk being hearth for agents like James Bond who have no “home.” But it was her choice right? And we’ve been missing that certain sexy secretary we all know and love. Well, there is the female Minister of Parliament Claire Dowar (Helen McCrory)—who begins to go on and opine about, but is shushed by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) at an official forum, so perhaps not. He gives the floor to M, but the damage is already done. Or was the manufacturing of the moment only to juxtapose Ms. Dower MP with M’s coolness and logic—and the authority of age.

skyfall-QA major theme is the old ways versus the new. Underground bunkers and day lit Federal buildings. New technology and the changing face of global dynamics meets old school espionage. Tech versus human intuition. Youth versus experience and the ability to take the calculated risk without awaiting another’s directives. The narrative brings Bond back to life by returning him to where he began and is effective in creating a nostalgia for things we miss in the modernization of the spy world, let alone the espionage film?

What may be implicated then, in the death of the female M? Come now, L, maybe Dench is ready to retire from the role already. And besides, M isn’t a traditional female by any means. You’re right. And it is almost that the reminder of the fact she can be female in any traditional way (by films end) that makes her no longer fit for the role? Is that another stretch? Perhaps, but I am fascinated by the return of the woman to the more traditional places as the film resurrects Bond from the dead. From his death at the hands of whom? Two women.

I can’t help but read the feminist threat of emasculating Bond being effectively squashed in the resurrection and return of the 007 by film’s end. The father figure returned to the office where Mom had not just retired but died.

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I haven’t mentioned all the women in the film. There is the token “Bond’s Lover” (Tonia Sotiropoulou). How did we find (besides the trailers) that Bond had survived his death? Cue steamy sex. Although, there was very little female nudity, silhouettes if anything, in the film. The opening credits put the bare female form to more titillating use than the rest of the film will. Just alluring elegance, see woman friendly film.

Now for the Femme Fatale that isn’t. “Femme Fatale: an irresistibly attractive woman, especially one who leads men into difficult, dangerous, or disastrous situations; siren” (dictionary.com). We are not unused to the idea that many of the characters in this role are put up to the leading men to their doom part (North by Northwest). But this feels especially important to Skyfall who would make the siren’s own victimization undeniable. Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) had been sold for sex from an early age and ending up with her current lover was more Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) than Pretty Woman (1990). She is offered a promising way out, as sure as we were that if anyone could kill the monster Bond would. (And he will). I’m not sure if she’d thought she’d be a witness, but at least she was “loved” by a real man before she was beaten up and murdered by boys playing with their guns, right?*

I had hoped that Bond would find a way to save her, as he seemed to promise. But what is a Bond film without the tragic failure for a woman to be saved. In this case, her loss feeds into Bond’s worrisome inability to get his mojo back. As well as the overriding theme of sacrifice—how do we measure a person’s value? Bond, despite failing the standardized tests proves himself to be exceptional just the same. And the sequence in which Sévérine dies is one that is triumphant for Bond—or so we thought. Still, he looked good there, great shooting choreography. And his goal was to get the monster, with M being his greater priority. The gray hue cast over his decision taking a back seat to the action for the time being, until we consider the following dilemma M’s own choices have wrought.

Procedure is shown to be necessarily flexible when one plays in the shadows or tunnels or ruins–correctness judged by experience and intimate knowledge rather than the disdain of the public hearing (i.e. M/Silva, “breadcrumbs” scene). How comfortable are we with this notion? {I find it interesting that The Bourne Legacy (2012) interrogates this conflict as well}.

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Berenice-Marlohe_as_Severine_Bond_Girl_in_Skyfall-e1352896677588

* Sévérine: My friend S feels in the minority on this one, but I believe she makes a valid point in questioning whether Bond was invited into the shower of a woman like Sévérine who is a woman to be used. Was consent implicit and if so, when was that made? Is the robe and the two glasses by a chilling bottle our signal in the film (even if they are not necessarily Bond’s)? Also, how does the sequence not reiterate the notion that Sévérine is a woman to be used. She admits to being trapped and afraid after he makes note of it. How does this not translate into exploitative behavior of an exceptional sort for Bond? Was there a way to treat this sequence more delicately because I want to recover Sévérine as a more than an object whose end was a given. The manner of her death is disturbing.

Why does this matter? Young men and women watched this PG-13 film. Do they understand Bond to be a morally gray character even as he is depicted as a masculine ideal? Do not-young men and women read Bond in this way. Is this only Sean’s take on Bond?

I believe (because I know men who’ve expressed as much, not just Sean) that Bond may be an idealized figure of masculine expectation but he is also a man and as a man he confronts the morally gray areas men experience. Which brings me in my circle back to where these films are movies for men**, but by no means necessarily addresses the above stated concern.

**yet another post worthy of conversation, but this does connect directly with the need for the film’s narrative to address the influences of feminism and our politically correct world regarding James Bond, the character, and the films. Fight Club (1999), anyone?

of note: We were disturbed by Sévérine’s death sequence (Sean and I) and we had such awesome conversation (he and I, and then with S) on the assumptions and responses made as audience members viewing the shower sequence.

also of note: I find fascinating parallels between Sévérine and Bond, both having be sold into violent industry at young impressionable ages and think that is more interesting to think about than the parallels between Silva/Bond and Bond/Mallory.

skyfall poster

Skyfall (2012) Directed bySam Mendes, Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan. Produced by Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Broccoli, Music by Thomas Newton, Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Editing: Stuart Baird & Kate Baird; Starring: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Javier Bardem (Silva), Ralpha Fiennes (Gareth Mallory), Naomie Harris (Eve), Bérénice Marlohe (Sévérine), Judi Dench (M)

Running Time: 143 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.

IMDb; Wiki

3 Comments Add yours

  1. theokester says:

    Great review and great reading of the movie’s various themes. I really enjoyed this film not only for the action-adventure fun but also for some of the interesting concepts of the film. I think your feminist reading is fairly accurate in a lot of ways. The James Bond canon has never been particularly forward thinking towards women. Some of the changes in recent films make the appearance of moving towards a more feminist attitude but Bond is still Bond and the films never were able to wholly get away from the misogynistic attitudes of some of the characters and behaviors. I’m interested to see where they go from here now that they’ve “killed off Mom” as you indicate. I’ve really enjoyed the direction the franchise has been going and this has been one of my favorite Bonds in recent memory

    1. L says:

      thanks. I am curious, too, and it would be nice if Mendes is still on for Director. I see a “Bond 24” for 2014 w/ the same Producers but not much else.

  2. Judi Dench started life as M, the fictional head of MI6, by calling James Bond a ” sexist, misogynist dinosaur “. Oh how we cheered, us feminists sick of a long-running multibillion-pound franchise that left a series of beautiful women as little more than roadkill in the path of the spy we never loved. Seventeen years later, the great Dame seems to have left us with a film, Skyfall , we can all cheer. Or at least a proper female hero.

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