Why I Didn’t Love Skyfall

[N.B. This isn’t really a review so much as an analysis, so it’s chock full of spoilage. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to wait to read this. Or not! But just so you know what you’re in for –]

This is not timely: as much as I love Daniel Craig as Bond, I actually saw the last Twilight film before it because Bertie insisted we go (and it ended up being a lot of fun because there was big werewolf/vampire carnage with heads rolling). The day after I finally saw Skyfall I heard the news about the death of 832F, the alpha wolf of Yellowstone. Described by some as the “rock star” of wolves, this grey lady’s importance lay in her clear demonstration of the fact that the alpha female led the pack, not the alpha male as so many scientists had assumed. Apart from all the issues her shooting raises about the hunting program in place now that’s once more eroding the endangered wolf packs, it also marks the end of her providing information about the daily lives of these creatures from her electronic tag.

Her death also resonated because that’s what really irritated me about Skyfall: let’s kill off the alpha female. In fact, let’s kill off any chance of an alpha female. One of the delights of the most recent Bond films has been the tough leadership of M as embodied by Judy Dench. I don’t know if she wanted to leave the series, but her exit from it is so irritating I still scowl thinking of it. And it’s so unbelievably Freudian that I can’t help seeing it as the product of someone who’s had some therapy (but not enough). I don’t know which of the ‘&’ and ‘and’ screenwriters who might have had the greatest effect, but with those designations, it could be anyone or meddling from above — it’s difficult to know how the process works.

But the theme of belligerent masculinity seeking to destroy the feminine (especially mother) is pervasive: it’s not even subtext in parts. The oozing abjection of Bardem’s Silva! He spells it out: mother did this to us, so she must die. In the opening sequence, Bond has seen this is true, because the prize is more important than him, so M tells the dithering Moneypenny to shoot. Mommy doesn’t love me best! And of course it highlights the incompetence (and even more, the lack of confidence) of his female colleague who eventually and presumably rightly ends up behind a desk (and probably back to the fawning Moneypenny of old in future films) because ‘field work’ is for boys.

Silva seems to offer the example of what happens if you love Mommy too much; his feminised monstrosity is the real danger; Bardem’s over the top homoerotic shenanigans contrast with Craig’s confidence. He can play along without it affecting him, as in the nude torture scene in Casino Royale. It’s like the Pegg-Frost dynamic: we’re so cool and hip and masculine that ‘we can pretend to act gay because you will never believe that we’re gay’ ever.

But the message comes across: there’s been too many women around this place! This is why we need Daddy Fiennes to come in and set things right again. He’s suspect at first because they’ve been living in the feminised world too long. He ‘used to’ do field work, but is he up to it any more? Of course he proves himself sufficiently manly in action, although with a slight wounding to make sure he’s not really a threat to the son’s masculinity.

There’s an anxiety about field work that seems curious coming from the cosseted world of big budget Hollywood. These perpetual adolescents who imagine they’re doing hard work that’s somehow comparable to, you know, hard work have a skewed sense of their own importance. Just the same is their glamourising of a narrow sort of masculinity in the endless explosions of all the big budget thrillers; the trailers before the Bond film were an endless parade of brainless gun fests from yet another Die Hard (all about father-son bonding) to some Arnie film that seems to make  heroes of wacko trigger-happy gun nuts and like most films, seems completely devoid of women.

The most telling moment of gender politics: when M receives her dressing down in the Parliamentary hearings, they make sure to have an Iron Lady (Helen McCrory) attacking her. You can practically hear the meetings: “We have to have a woman attack her, because if a man does it, it will seem misogynistic.” Gaah! It’s the same reductionist thinking that goes into equating a “strong female character” with “give her a big gun”! It shows a complete inability to see women as people. Instead they’re all not-men.

This is the main issue: the Hollywood problem in a nutshell.

The film is also über-American: British gets reduced to the kitschy tat of the little bulldog statue and the ‘estate’ which has to be destroyed because, you know, it’s re-enacting the national teenage rebellion (I guess — whatever!). And the film is suffused with the same outraged alarm that also permeated the Republican elite this past and seemingly endless election cycle: Who are these people who question our privilege?! And how do we stop them?

“In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” Sayre’s Law

As the differences between the status of men and women narrow, Hollywood seems determined to make the most of exploiting the tiny gap. As Sayre observed, “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” The stakes are very high in Hollywood: the politics may not be the most bitter, but they have the most guns and explosions. It’s an awful lot of sound and fury — does it signify anything but a fading type of masculinity?

Judging by its astronomical success, it’s one a lot of people are clinging to —


  1. Tony Lane says:

    My wife and I went to see it and were both shocked that M went. She was by far the best character in the modern Bond films. From an IT geek point of view the film really sucked. From the GPS tracking underground to the silent server room that you can almost whisper in. I could go on.
    I think there was a general lack of thought about the meaning of what they were doing and the attention to detail seemed to be lacking too.
    All that said I still enjoyed it as a spectacle.

    1. katelaity says:

      Oh, it was a real mess for sure! I could go on and on, too. Wow, the plot was full of stupid and so little fun! I didn’t mind the grimness of Quantum unlike a lot of people just because I thought it kept things moving along well. This was just head-shaking bad.

  2. katelaity says:

    The level of stupid: why oh why did a caretaker who’d spent his life on the estate need a flashlight to find his way to the chapel on a relatively bright night with his eyes used to the dark already — plus waving it about like a lunatic to be sure they’d be found?!

  3. katelaity says:

    And the Downton Abbey factor: let’s make Bond part of the aristocracy because Americans yearn for that — but let’s destroy the ancestral home because we’re not supposed to want that…

  4. Crispinus says:

    I always watch a Bond film in anticipation of a certain level of misogyny, sublimated or no. If we’re tracking the elements that make up a Bond film, and whether this film has them, then Skyfall is a quintessential entry in the anti-women column.

    1. katelaity says:

      What struck me was its blatant level not just of misogyny, but its complete *removal* of women. As with MW1W and MWW, the complete erasure is even more irritating than the slanted characters.

  5. Steve O. says:

    It was my understanding that they removed M because Judi Dench retiring and they didn’t want to recast the role. She has health problems.
    The backstory on Bond has bothered a lot of people but if I remember it right it was in the novels.

    1. katelaity says:

      My problem isn’t with Dench leaving – I thought there was every chance she chose to do so. They’ve changed so much from the novels, I don’t buy any attempt to use them as cause now.

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