We’ve always just known that Bond is Bond. James Bond.
Curious then, that Skyfall is not only being hailed by some as the best Bond film ever made, but it also makes us realize we’ve been watching a trilogy of prequels that set up 007 to become the man we’ve always known. Throughout the last half of the twentieth century, no matter who played him or what villain he faced, there were certain things you could always count on about him, from the resolute and relentless demeanor to the wry lines and unmatched swagger. However, what we come to realize now in the 21st century is that becoming Bond took a lot of loss, healing, and facing himself in the mirror.
In Casino Royale, James had only just obtained 007 status, and M refers to him as a “blunt instrument”. He shows obvious talent and thinks for himself, but also experiences the loss of someone he loves. Quantum of Solace defined whether Bond would be driven by his emotions and revenge, or whether he would truly pursue his job (and the villains inherent) out of a sense of justice and duty to a higher call. M’s words of caution makes her role like a surrogate parent, even down to the quaint English way James calls her “mum”. The Secret Service is his home, and Bond is ultimately their creation.
Skyfall tests if Bond will remain faithful and unswerving even when the road gets rough, punctuated when mom is forced to make a tough call in the field. Some time later, our prodigal British son returns just in time to face off against his opposite: a man named Silva who might be viewed as the “older son”, now out of favor. James Bond goes under a microscope as we see what he might have become, and ultimately what facing this possible future will make him determine what his own life will be about.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. – Proverbs 21:2-4
Both Bond and Silva were the favorite sons of their country, and their den mother M. Both were sent into harms way, both were cut off – but we see their responses are significantly different. Bond has clear purpose and focus in the beginning, relentlessly working to accomplish his mission, and faces what it’s like to be sacrificed by his own country for the greater good. Pronounced dead, he has the opportunity to be free, to live out a new identity (something that he tried to do in Casino Royal) but while he does rest, he finds no lasting joy in it.
When he realizes his country is in danger, he goes back to the ones who tried to kill him and instead of bringing revenge, he serves where he is needed. He gets beyond himself and back on mission. There are lots of seeming contradictions in his recovery: he fails all his tests to get back to active duty, can’t hit a target, and doesn’t meet any of the external measurements on him. Surprisingly, he is placed back on duty, as M sees something internal in him that is greater than the external. He has an uncompromising loyalty to the mission, and confident humility.
In contrast, Silva was also favored once, but exceeded the authority he was given. For the greater good he was given over to the enemy. Embittered, he even tried to end the suffering by attempting suicide. This failure leaves physical and emotional scars, pride burning in him with an intensity that will only be satisfied by bringing ruin on the country that abandoned him, punctuated by the death to the “mom” that turned away from him. He even tempts 007 like a 00Serpent, telling him to reject Queen and Country and be his own man, to stop following honor and duty and be his own “god”, as it were: living large, using others, and terrorizing and demanding from them when it suits him.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. – Proverbs 20:5
More in keeping with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Silva represents chaos. While Bond faced off against evil organizations in the first two Daniel Craig films, here he faces someone who just wants to watch the world burn. The British government wants to hang the fault on M; it becomes blame shifting which, interestingly enough, is precisely what Silva is doing, instead of taking responsibility for his own actions. M points out that our trust in technological observation is not going guarantee our protection. We won’t be saved by information or technology. Shifting blame and hanging certain leaders won’t fix anything either. Even trusting in one man may give us another day, but the battle continues to rage. The Silvas of the world are on their way, and calamity is imminent. M quotes Ulysses:
“Though much is taken, much abides, and though 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.”
The picture painted by the quote, and the film, is that we’re all like the toys in Toy Story 3, holding hands on a precipice slipping into an inferno. The sky is falling, and we have little hope but for the few to stand up against it. Ultimately, we need a hero to pull us out of this mess… someone whose word is bond.
Bond, back from the dead steps up for duty, to fight another day (or Die Another Day?). He comes to take responsibility and save M even though it really isn’t his problem. The battle takes him to an important place in his past, representing his humble beginnings and simplicity, and there he makes his stand. When the enemy comes to destroy, his roots are burned to the ground and yet he fights on.
“Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” – Proverbs 22:8
Skyfall wrestles with good questions, admitting that despite all the wonderful help our technology and sociological advances provide, offering comfort in the world today, we still need to look back to old answers (perhaps ancient answers) to face the ultimate, deep rooted problems that won’t go away. These symbolic images in the film move increasingly backward, from familiar Bond tropes like the old Aston Martin to an ancestral, castle-like home, until finally – in the end – it’s a church. Even Silva notes the poignance of it. Intentional or not, this casts a curious visual regression in search of what will ultimately save the day and defeat evil.
The story gives us a classic portrait of savior who gives himself up selflessly for his people, “dies”, and then returns to rescue them, scarred but still able to overcome. The film promises we will see more, and that this isn’t the end. In a strange way, everything comes full circle and the legend and world of 007 is restored, recreated in a way that makes perfect sense and satisfies in a way most won’t see coming.
Questions for Discussion:
Do you spend your life serving self, or seeking to honor our Creator and King by serving others?
Are you motivated by past bitterness, vengeance or revenge… or do you strive for justice and peace?
Do we reject and rebel against our leader or Lord in life when the road involves suffering and great sacrifice?
Have you ever felt called to a task like Bond: ill-equipped, unsteady and not ready in body and mind? How do you carry on?
Do you think more information and/or technology will really solve the world’s problems?
Who do we put our hope, faith and trust in when our sky is falling?
While it’s easy to point out Bond’s womanizing and other aspects that might not be worthy of emulation, it’s more interesting to look at the undeniable allure he represents, the relentless will he demonstrates, and the repeated world-saving he does for people who don’t respect him (or don’t even know he exists). What is it we truly root for in these films? It might be we simply want to vicariously live out a fantasy of being that hero, but even deeper is a gnawing reality that we have a bit of self-serving Silva in us, or the helplessness M feels in the story. Thank our God that He’s provided an ultimate story… where His sacrificial agent serves us, licensed to kill death itself, to liberate those who trust in the eternal bond of his covenant.
(post by James Harleman with thoughts and research by Jeff Anderson)