Latest Bond film transcends brand, franchise formula

BY RYAN THOMAS ’14
Staff Writer

About three-quarters of the way into Skyfall I realized I was watching a great film. When the movie quoted a poem by Tennyson I knew I was experiencing something of immense quality.

You see, normally, as I’m watching a film, I don’t really analyze it. I watch it, I let it affect me as it will, and then a few hours later I sit here at my computer and figure out how I feel about the experience. But when any work includes a quotation, it provokes an intellectual response. There are suddenly not one, but two objects acting upon my emotions, and by nature I cannot help but compare the results.

I come to one of two conclusions — either the quotation is of a better quality than the film, moving me more fully in ways I find more satisfying, or it is of equal quality. So, as Skyfall quoted Tennyson, I listened to the poem — one that expressed the valiance of human endeavor — and I realized the movie was just as great a portrait of heroism as Tennyson’s words.

I won’t reveal the plot of the movie, in the hopes you will experience it for yourself, unspoiled. But I will say this: the movie follows Bond as he does what he always does: he attempts to thwart the plot of a formidable villain. But what many entries in the series have done out of mere adherence to formula, Skyfall does in the full spirit of the archetypal struggle that formula arose from. Every character, friend or foe, interacts with Bond in a way further exposing his nature.

Our villain, played masterfully by Javier Bardem, is a character crafted to threaten Bond on every level possible. This leads to a full exploration of Bond’s character, and, more importantly, a plot which highlights the very reasons we value character exploration.

As a reviewer, I constantly read movie reviews, and though “fully fleshed out,” “three-dimensional” characters are highly praised in these reviews, never is it explained why this is a good thing. It is assumed that one knows, from experience, movies with well-examined characters are more desirable than movies without; but why this should be, I have never seen explained.

Skyfall explains it. Or rather, I should say Skyfall is so brilliantly crafted its art is illuminated and shines brightly in every facet of the film. As we watch the film and learn more and more about Bond we better understand his motivations.

As we come to understand his motivations, we come to know how he is being emotionally affected by every aspect of his struggle. As a result, we are able to see the movie not as a jumble of actions, but as a battle of wills.

Feeling these wills in action, we are moved. We are made to feel exhilarated when a will which we esteem is accomplished, and when a will which we abhor is thwarted. So, being made to believe these wills exist, even within a world so distant as to exist only behind a screen, and then being shown their struggle and its results, deeply moves our emotions. And, if we are lucky, we may be so moved by the will of a character we wish to emulate it.

Such is the nature of Skyfall. The portrayal of Bond is one of a hero I have seen rarely. The plot is constructed so as to force him to question, at every juncture, his dedication to the life he has chosen and the role he must play. Though the struggle harrows him, body, mind, and soul, finally he has risen so thoroughly to the challenge that I understood why Bond always wins.

By the end of the film, for the first time — after watching all twenty-three movies in this fifty-year-old saga — I felt the fullness of the unwavering force that is Bond’s dedication to his cause, and could have stood and cheered for a fictional character. And though the movie has flaws, I didn’t care. I was moved deeply and I do not exaggerate when I say that my faith in humanity was restored after watching this film. I fully recommend it to you, and I hope that you find it as inspiring as I did.

Questions? Email Ryan at rthomas@fandm.edu.

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