James Bond, as we once knew him, is dead.
I’d always had my issues with James Bond. Bond, the sum of men’s fantasies? How disturbing. The violence, gambling, arrogance and womanising were one thing, but the racist stereotypes, the imperial attitudes, the objectification of so many women made it too much. I could only enjoy Bond if I checked my brain at the door. It’s better not to think.
But Bond’s been resurrected, it seems.
The movie begins; a chase through an exotic marketplace, Bond has his beautiful female assistant by his side. Table tops overturning, non-Western dress, crowds screaming, motorbikes roaring through bazaars, stuff getting smashed up, world music playing. The whole thing. Romanticism, orientalism, sexism, imperialism. The old Bond.
Then he loses the chase and falls – presumed dead.
Skyfall’s Bond dies and is resurrected as a post-postmodern Bond attempting to re-establish himself in a new world.
This new Bond is painfully aware of the flaws of the old Bond. The movie exposes the his past arrogance and brings him down a peg. In the new world, things are not so certain, so clear-cut. The sky has fallen.
But the new Bond is not content to abandon everything from the past and settle for a world of relativity. He resists postmodernism. He wrestles to work out what might be worth redeeming and restoring from his old days, albeit without the misplaced confidence or naiveté of the past. He’s not postmodern, he’s post-postmodern.
At one stage they wander through an abandoned city. A giant statue has toppled. Rubbish flies around. The people had ‘left so quickly they didn’t know what to take with them and what to leave behind.’
Skyfall has left some things behind. Gone are some of the old racial and gender stereotypes. We go to Shanghai and instead of pointy hats, strange food and ‘chinese’ music, we see an ultra-modern city. There’s as many sexualised bondage scenes of Bond as there are of beautiful women (a kind of equal objectification?). While the old Bond was hyper-hetrosexual, the new Bond is comfortable with homosexuality. Gone are the sex scenes too. Instead we get the old-school suggestive ‘firework’ display (do kids these days even know that’s what those fireworks mean?).
But the new Bond is uncomfortable with the postmodern world. Q is now a nerdy computer hacker who doubts the need for agents in the field. Bond, instead, insists that the virtual world can’t replace the real world. Bond also wrestles with authority. At one stage the enemy hides among the police. M, Bond’s boss, lies to him. The film critiques our culture where everyone’s opinion is equally valid and everyone is answerable to everyone no matter their expertise. M is dragged before a parliamentary enquiry, answering to people who don’t understand what’s really going on. There’s a sense that we need authorities, but in our world of suspicion, we don’t know how do do authority anymore. Bond tries to believe in it again.
So there are some things the post postmodern Bond refuses to leave behind. Take the car. Bond drives the classic Aston Martin DB5. But M comments, ‘it’s not very comfortable is it?’ The sky has fallen a little bit, the glamour is faded. It’s not the perfect car. But this isn’t just pomo hipster ‘nostalgia’; the car is still actually useful for something. Bond’s special gadgets? This time he gets only a gun and a radio from Q. There’s a sense valuing the tried and true.
The final scene (the baddie did take too long to die, but we got there in the end) is in a church. The church is crumbling in disrepair. People stopped meeting there decades ago. But the characters still find some sort of meaning in the church, even if they can’t articulate it fully. ‘It had to be here,’ one says.
The villain, Silva, is a bit of a two dimensional character to me. The ex-agent who gets bitter and turns evil. We’ve seen that one before. But it didn’t bother me. Normally Bond is the two dimensional character paired with a (somewhat) complex villain. Here, for the first time, we see Bond as a real person.
Twice Bond plunges into deep water and left for dead. A baptism of sorts, where a new Bond emerges. We never actually see his coming up out of the water (his resurrection). We don’t exactly know how it happens. But it does.
In the same way there’s a sense that we’re not sure how the new Bond is going to work himself out. How can a character like Bond, such a product of its time, survive postmodernity? But post postmodern Bond seems to work. Of course there’s also the beautiful cinematography and the awesome gothic ending. This is a great film. I’ll see the next one.