Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Skyfall: Bond's Body - Part II


Obviously we're about to talk about Skyfall in some detail - 
If you haven't seen the film by now it's probably a deliberate choice, so enjoy a rare congratulations for being so fabulously alternative and then read this post anyway :)

Oh, and if #urgentpenis means nothing to you, then peruse your way through Part I first.

back away from the vintage chunky knit NOW.

We're going to zoom out from a specific focus on Bond's body to take a look at the opening sequence of Skyfall, as it sets up the treatment of characters fairly well when it comes to the larger masculinity/femininity shebang.

The opening is what we might call CLASSIC BOND: action chase scene, exotic location, hapless locals.

must find fabulous local craft souvenir

NB. The imperialism / Orientalism / jingoism of the Bond franchise historically is a whole other fuck-storm, worthy of a whole post/blog/book/thesis in itself, though we will touch on this briefly at moments in this post.

When the bikes are abandoned for the train, the fighting which follows can be seen as an instance of the "Train-top Battle" trope (described here), lending a humorous familiarity to the scene, which verges on self-aware parody.

Bond at 50 knows itself, its history, and how to please an expectant audience, but Skyfall begins "classically" only to undercut convention and take things in a new direction. 

We might say (and obviously will because we're feeling warm and smug for thinking of it) that tradition is DERAILED.

But by who precisely?

some fine tailoring here too...

A few observations:

1. Bond is like, totally, in control of the situation with evil train guy, until foolish female agent Eve misfires and kills Bond, literally, symbolically, and ABSO-ball-battering-LUTELY.

yeah her name's EVE.              umm really?

Bravo script writers great subtlety there.

Conclusion: female rookie agent channeling original sin chic attempts to wield sniper rifle (long-range metal dick that kills people) to save day but inevitably fails. Definitely not a stereotypical bond girl then.

The Bond franchise doesn't have a great record when it comes to women, and Giles Coren comments excellently on this in Skyfall (even though The Times refused to publish his piece), but the sad state of affairs is that this film actually attempts to add some depth to it female characters: Eve isn't a femme fatale in the usual sense, nor is she ruthlessly seduced, but at the end she is symbolically relegated, becoming Miss Moneypenny.


Not cool, and accompanied by some totally cringe bollocks about "what it takes" to be an agent, but despite this, Eve's role remains interesting in the overall masculine/feminine politics of the opening scene:

2. Bond's fist-fighting solution is foiled, and overseeing it all is another woman: M.

Judi Dench's charcter is a powerful maternal figure, and villain Silva points to this explicitly later in the film (cue assorted mummy issues), but from the start, M and Eve present a combined feminine force which acts to stop classic Bond in his tracks, quite literally. (couldn't resist)

I won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love and was only on screen for 8 minutes.
Bow down fuckers.

The railway tracks at the beginning of this film form a potent symbol of the entrenched attributes which have contributed to the astonishing success and longevity of Bond - so director Sam Mendes faces the considerable task of balancing old heritage with a new perspective.

M's control in the opening scene via remote intervention by radio/satellite link-up is key in setting up the relationship between masculinity and femininity in Skyfall, and technology emerges as an important factor in this dynamic:

Despite Skyfall's self-styled aversion to high-tech gadgetry (usually provided by Q), the presence of technology as major theme - deployed by Bond's adversary as well as facilitating M's control of events - functions to illustrate the waning relevance of the lone agent in international espionage.

M's pivotal decision is sanctioned by the collective, protocol-driven bureaucracy of the state, in contrast to the individualist might of macho Bond, which symbolically falls at the first hurdle.

Cue Adele being fabulous.

LOL I'm so talented I literally struggle to hold all my awards.

The initial chase scene segues deliciously into a psychological dream sequence, where "skyfall" is conceived lyrically as an apocalyptic ending - very 2k12.

Bond's crisis as captured in this opening arguably reflects real insecurities within contemporary masculinity - such a destabilising mindfuck that the world might literally end. Patriarchy go figure...

The title sequence separates "classic" Bond from the "new" Bond that Skyfall goes on to reveal. We might say that the discursive strategy (ooh) of this film is to relocate a terminal event spatially; the vulnerable space of the childhood home becomes a battleground where fraught notions of masculinity are contested, but ultimately upheld, even as Bond-brand macho culture faces its greatest threats: women, geeks and homosexuals.

symbolic blood! sharks in the water...

But before we explore this deadly trinity further, Bond has to be re-born.

A few people have taken issue with Bond's miraculous recovery as "unrealistic" because we definitely "see" him plunge several hundred metres off a bridge, into a raging torrent, after being shot in the chest. This character does have a curious ability to avoid bullets (in the literal and figurative sense), but not in this instance.

Hollywood films so often operate in a realistic mode, where events may be unlikely but not impossible, the idea being that if someone (us if we had better abs?) found themselves in a train-top battle they could punch their way to victory, with a certain sartorial swagger of course.

Let's not forget that there's a great deal of wish-fulfilment in Bond.

Remember Limitless? Wish-fulfilment 101.

Or as T-Lo might put it, serving up some Bradley Cooper fuck-yeah realness.

But Skyfall sees Bond die in every sense, specifically so that he can be brought back in an overt display of authorial intervention. (deus ex machina if you want to sound especially fabulous or pretentious)

In the transition from underwater shot to dream sequence, we see a hand pull Bond into a black pit, which materialises conveniently in the river bed. Daniel Craig is dragged to hell and Bond must complete a purgatorial process to reassert his position in the world - masculinity will be reinvigorated in the course of events.

'Hold your breath and count to 10'
Once Adele has finished being fabulous, Bond regains his mojo in true Austin Powers style by having a quick wham-baam-thank-you-maam sesh with an exotic babe on an island somewhere, and then doing some impressive Indiana Jones macho stuff...

I'm a man again get me out of here...

Then, following STAGE 1 of masculinity recovery protocol (sex, alcohol, danger), the scene returns to London, and here Skyfall is definitely channeling some fuck-yeah-royal-Britania neo-imperialism (also in vogue for 2k12). At the same time though, the return to London sees Bond's vulnerability expressed as post-colonial insecurity.

Traditional power structures based on a limited model of Western masculinity are challenged, and battening down the hatches in a war bunker is a nostalgic attempt to recreate a Churchill-brand sense of control... bulldog on M's desk CHECK (see above if you missed it).

After his return, the viability of Bond's physical strength is repeatedly questioned, and he fails fitness tests, only to be endorsed by M and her lingering faith in his power. This highlights the feminine element that has always governed Bond masculinity to a certain extent, revealed in Skyfall as a weakness and ultimately exorcised, like a repressed demon.

Water is a recurring motif in Skyfall - here Bond is reinvigorated in Shanghai.
We've previously seen Daniel Craig's character move on impassively from paramours who have threatened and betrayed him, but for the first time in this film, maternal femininity is developed more fully.

Even to admit that Bond grew up with a family destabilises the all-powerful macho strength resident in this character: any childhood trauma rests in the knowledge that childhood happened at all.

Skyfall Lodge - replete with symbols of masculine strength and virility... 

But before we reach all this, a Terminator-esque return to Bond's body sees him casually dig some shrapnel out of his pecs to restart the narrative trail: the physical trial has begun. 

Mirror mirror on the wall, am I the toughest fuck of all?

Tune in next time for more macho funtimes...

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