Sunday, November 11, 2012

Think On Your Sins: On Skyfall

Would it be too much to suggest a deeper meaning to the message that the latest Bond villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), repeatedly sends to MI6’s M (Judi Dench) in the latest installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes)? Perhaps, but I’ll venture such a claim nonetheless. “Think on your sins” not only alerts the viewer to the personal revenge motive that guides the villain in his destructive pursuits, but it also points toward an acrostic code—“toys.” As such, this message points to the importance of “toys” throughout the history of Bond movies.

In these movies, the good guys and bad guys alike develop and deploy the most ingenious and deadly toys, as they play cat and mouse in their attempts to thwart the other’s designs. The toys have included all sundry of clever weapons, cameras, recording devices, tracking devices, underwater breathing apparatus—and all contained in the size of an actual ball point pen or wristwatch. Of course, there have also been the cars—the Aston Martins and Jaguars and Lotuses and BMWs decked out with bullet proof windows, machine guns, submarine capability, remote control, and the obligatory ejector seats. And this list only describes the toys supplied by Q at the intelligence headquarters, i.e., the toys for the good guys.

So it seems that the idea of toys provides some sort of thematic motif in Skyfall. In fact, at one point, Silva boasts that Bond (Daniel Craig) need admire (and beware) his “toys.” However, despite the emphasis on toys, Q (Ben Whishaw) provisions 007 with a mere palm recognition handgun and a simple radio transmitter. Bond retorts, “It’s not exactly Christmas, is it?” In this 21st century Bond film, the toys and gizmos and gadgets remain relatively lo-fi and DIY—muskets, sawed off shotguns, various improvised explosive devices, and even daggers.

To be sure, in this movie computers and high-tech knowhow are pervasive, but even that has a ring of the familiar to it. Bond catches up with news at a beachside bar with the help of a flat screen and Wolf Blitzer. A bit more like you and me, he reads text messages received on his smart phone. Silva is a genius computer hacker (reminiscent of Julian Assange), and the youthful Q is only one of “six people in the world” who knows how to encrypt software in order to make “obscurity” useful for the sake of “security.” But the audience has seen all of this before in the Mission Impossible and Die Hard movies, and it has even seen it as early as Sandra Bullock in The Net (or was it Whoopie Goldberg in Jumping Jack Flash?).

It turns out that in Skyfall, in order to save the day, the old school know how needs to reassert itself. And reassert itself it does.

Must one wonder which sins need to be thought on other than those alleged to M's culpability?

Skyfall alludes to earlier Bond flicks and its various toys in part to comment on its own dearth of toys. For fifty years, James Bond has morphed from Connery to Lazenby to Moore to Dalton to Brosnan to Craig, and perhaps Skyfall suggests that the franchise had become too enamored of the toys at the expense of character and story. Perhaps that emphasis had been detrimental to what Armond White calls the serious moral and political intent that once characterized popular entertainment. This newest Bond movie admirably and successfully attempts to restore some of that seriousness.

Skyfall alludes to many other movies as well—like Mission Impossible (dir. Brian De Palma), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (dir. Brad Bird), The Silence of the Lambs (dir. Jonathan Demme), the Dark Knight movies (dir. Christopher Nolan), Carlito’s Way (dir. Brian De Palma), and Straw Dogs (dir. Sam Peckinpah).

Skyfall also has an extended quotation from Alfred Lord, Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

In future posts, I plan to speak to all this intertextuality, and infer perhaps what Skyfall has to say about important themes regarding technology, globalization, nationalism, tradition, politics, bureaucracy, the relation between the sexes, war, enemies, espionage, secrecy, intelligence, and several others. Of course, I really can’t speak to all of this, but as a popular movie with immense cultural resonance, Skyfall is surely a commentary on how these themes manifest themselves in the current era.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Someone has also argued that "Think On Your Sins" is an anagram of "Your Son Is Not In HK," referring to Silva, and saying that he's no longer in captivity in Hong Kong where he was captured.