(Cross posted and adapted from my Around the Edges blog)
No better way to spend a Christmas evening than watching a re-run of Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes. For a futurist, it’s a Bond film that hits all the trends, especially workplace trends. Ageing? Check. The multi-generational workforce? Check. Virtualisation? Check. The quantified workplace? Check. Accountability of publicly-funded organisations? Check? Remote warfare? Check. Online data dumps? Merit-based organisations? Shanghai as a global city? Check, check, and check.
Released fifty years after the first Bond film, it also plays off the Bond history in a knowing way. The best example is probably the scene between Bond and Q in the National Gallery in front of Turner’s The fighting Temeraire.
It also captures well the sense that since the end of the Cold War security has become performance. When the Bond series started, the security services were in anonymous buildings dotted around central London (in places such as Curzon Street). The massive explosion in Skyfall that rips through the MI6 headquarters overlooking the Thames at Vauxhall is quickly being reported on international news.
But what I like most about Skyfall is that one of the reasons that the Bond franchise has been successful for so long is that the bad guys—and therefore the plot—tend to reflect the anxieties of the moment.
And the anxiety that Skyfall is about is that it’s no longer possible to tell the difference between the bad guys and the security services. Worse: what if the security services are creating the bad guy? This is caught well in the exchange between Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who is a politician of some kind, and M (Judi Dench) after the Prime Minister orders an inquiry into the latest data breach.
MALLORY: The Prime Minister’s ordered an inquiry. You’ll have to appear.
M: Oh, standing in the stocks at midday? Who’s antiquated now?
MALLORY: For Christ’s sake, listen to yourself. We’re a democracy, accountable to the people we’re trying to defend. We can’t keep working in the shadows. There are no more shadows.
M: You don’t get this, do you. Whoever’s behind this, whoever’s doing it, he knows us. He’s one of us. He comes from the same place as Bond.
And we find out who it is soon enough.
Javier Bardem plays the rogue former agent. (Spoiler alert) He’s gone rogue after MI6 (and M, specifically) used him as a pawn in an exchange with China before Hong Kong was handed back by the British. There but for the grace of God goes Bond himself. And this is coupled with the sense throughout the film that in a digital age the “field agent” has had their day, and that Bond, too, is therefore a thing of the past. All of this is caught best in the long scene where we first see Bardem close up.
Visual note: Bond in black, Bardem in white. I don’t think it is coincidence, given the underlying story, that Bardem is wearing a jacket that is forever associated with the Sean Connery Bond in Goldfinger. As the website The Suits of James Bond notes, “there’s no better choice of clothing for an evening in the tropics.”
It is as close as Bond has come to the darker world of LeCarre. (And yes, it’s not that close). Throughout, it feels like one of those archetypal stories about the old warhorse turning out for one last charge. In another universe, it is possible to imagine that this would have been the final Bond film. At the end (massive spoiler alert) M. is dead, and Bond is the last man standing, amid the ruins of his childhood home. Even the Aston Martin, cleverly worked into the story, has been destroyed. It would have been a tremendous way to sign off after 50 years. But the money in a wildly successful film franchise tells a different story.
Script taken from Springfield Springfield, and used with thanks.