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Archive for April 13th, 2013

***SPOILER ALERT*** DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT THE ENTIRE MOVIE TO BE A SURPRISE***

Skyfall BondDaniel Craig has been a controversial James Bond.  Some of that controversy focuses on the physical. “He’s the only blond Bond.”  Some of it focuses on the trivial.  “He isn’t as suave or comical as his predecessors.”  And some are turned off by his brutality, which is unmistakably part and parcel of this latest incarnation.  Regardless of whether you love him or hate him, one fact is unescapable: He isn’t your father’s James Bond.  And that’s ok, because none of us live in our father’s world.

The earlier James Bond movies were like cartoons for adults, which we could accept on some level because the world of the Cold War was a world with rules and with clearly delineated players.  Being suave and sophisticated, being the essence of British gentility while in the middle of maintaining that uneasy peace, and bringing to heel those who would overthrow it for chaos was believable to us in the audience because, whether we wanted to believe it or not, the idea of mutually assured destruction that was the backbone that kept the Cold War from turning hot had become a part of our collective subconscious.

Even after the end of the Cold War, it was a front that this guardian of the West could maintain on the silver screen, even if by the time of Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond, we allowed him to wink at us and himself through the entire movie solely because he made it fun.  But with the opening of Casino Royale, the uncertain realities of our world today came into the world of James Bond.  This new dawn brought a harsh new reality to us in a venue where we had previously gone to escape it, and reintroduced us to the concept that has often been attributed to George Orwell “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  With Casino Royale, the Bond franchise reminded us that a rougher world required a rougher man, albeit one who could still bring the charm and sophistication when the occasion allowed.

Skyfall opens with a frantic effort by Bond and another field agent to retrieve a list of NATO agents that are embedded in terrorist organizations around the world.  It is a list that should not even exist, and M is desperate to have it back.  Desperate because it threatens the lives of the brave men of our world who try to keep chaos at bay for the benefit of civilization, and because the reputation of her agency is at stake.  With everything on the line, Bond suffers a workplace accident, and the list is lost.

In the wake of this intelligence catastrophe, M is instructed to assist in the transition of her agency to whomever the bureaucratic gods would replace her with, and she is told that it will be a retirement with honor, befitting someone of her status and achievement.  On the way back from this meeting, she is forced to witness as an unknown tormentor admonishes her to “Think On Your Sins” before very visibly and cruelly blowing her office up, killing several agents and sending several more to the hospital in the process.  Bond, who was enjoying his “retirement”, witnesses the aftermath on a television in a bar on a beach, and realizes that it is time to go back because his country and M both need him.

When he finally comes face-to-face with the villain, he sees what he could have become himself: a former operative, left for dead for the good of the service, who became stateless, and an agent of the chaos that he was employed to keep at bay.  Had the villain, superbly played by Javier Bardem, confined himself to chaos and not focused on revenge against M, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting, or as threatening, because despite his belief in his superiority to Bond, he never would have seen Bond coming.

I found the movie fascinating because of the truths it tells.  “Think On Your Sins” to an old spymaster isn’t much of an admonition.  Spymasters, and the spies they run, do not have the luxury of believing in sin.  For them there is only cold calculus, the trade in human lives that they and their pawns make in order to achieve their objectives, or those of their masters.  But some pawns understand better than others what rough men must do, and why they are expendable, and they are the same ones who will do it.  Not because they believe it glamorous.  Not because they have an ego to stroke.  Not for fortune or fame, but because they’ve walked too long in the alternative, and would willingly die to keep that from taking over everything.  And it is that alternative that M brings into sharp focus for her civilian overseers at a public hearing to which she had been summoned to take her lumps.

Today I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. “Why do we need agents, the Double-0 section? Isn’t it all antiquated?” Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They’re not nations, they’re individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No! Our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque! It’s in the shadows. That’s where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves, how safe do you feel? Just one more thing to say, my late husband was a great lover of poetry, and… I suppose some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions. And here today, I remember this, I believe, from Tennyson: “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.”

This movie is the best of the three Daniel Craig Bond movies because of the incredible insights it reveals plainly and starkly.  Bond will never love M, a fact made plain during a psych evaluation in the film, but he knows that she is a hard woman because she has had a hard task her entire career, and he is fiercely loyal to her because he know the things they do are worth doing, even if those they protect do not understand and question what they do, and the manner in which they do it.   It is why even though endings come, the institutions endure.  It is why Bond could grow up, and still tell a story worth seeing…a story that edifies while entertaining.

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