Some thoughts while watching the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall:
- The director, Sam Mendes, drops you right into the action with no preamble and no explanation. He doesn’t even bother to tell you what country or city Bond is in, leaving it to you to fill it in. It’s somewhat refreshing not to be spoonfed.
- Mendes loves symmetry. Throughout the film, he consistently lines things up perfectly: the caskets with the Union Jack on them, the arches in the tunnel in which Bond is driven to Churchill’s bunker. He also loves stark set directing: Walls are often bare, there are few decorations in any of the London set scenes. Mendes also makes the lighting very cold with emphasis on blue and white. Contrast that with the vibrant colors of the locations in Turkey, Shanghai, the beach where Bond recovered. I believe we’re meant to see this through Bond’s eyes: It’s always better to be in the field than at HQ because he’s more alive in the field.
- You almost never see joy or happiness in Bond. At best you see a sardonic grin. Note we also don’t spend much time on his recovery from near-lethal wounds. Mendes spent no time on a montage of being nursed back to health. We just have a Bond “surviving” retirement, obviously hating it and looking for a way back, a reason to come in.
- Bond is nearly machine-like. The British reserve is part of it, but there’s more. It’s as if his humanity has been stripped to the bone and there’s barely any of it clinging on. He is a killer and he knows it. It bothers him deep down, but he’s resigned to it because he knows he’s the best at it, and there’s a need for it.
- To paraphrase Chekov, if you see a palm-print-locked gun in Act 2, a bad guy will try to fire it at the hero by Act 4.
- Mendes captures the various essences of a good Bond film, including the femme fatale who needs rescuing, exotic locales, our hero moving through the ranks of wealth and privilege, action punctuated by dry British humor.
- Every Bond movie should provide a nod to the classics that came before. The classic Aston Martin that drives off under the old Bond theme was that moment in Skyfall.
- Bond is unsentimental about possessions, cars, weapons, property, even people. He uses them up, and when they’re destroyed or dead, he moves on because the job needs to be done. Except for one person. I won’t spoil it, but that’s where the man comes through and the machine disappears.
- And at the end, we are back in a familiar place, where we’ve been before, someplace we didn’t know we’d missed until we saw it, right where we should have been all along. At the beginning of another Bond adventure.