Is something rotten in the intelligence services?
There is something strange about Skyfall and that is, at the end of the film. Bond does not save the heroine in distress. Indeed, Skyfall is more than the typical, cartoon, boys’ own spy film. So, what’s going on?
Skyfall is actually about the relationship between the intelligence operative and the organization he or she works for. This has become more of an issue, perhaps, after the murder of ‘body in the bag’, Gareth Williams. The intelligence services have a cancer. The film chooses to hang the blame on an old-fashioned and misguided M.
The film works on three levels i. an action movie thriller, i.e. the story; ii. the real meaning and iii. the hidden meaning. The story meaning is aimed at the public. The real meaning is aimed at politicians, decision makers, the security apparatus, opinion formers, so long as they get it. While, the hidden meaning is aimed at intelligence operatives.
The story level has a lot of pro-MI6 propaganda: the need for brave, loyal foot soldiers who are willing to put their lives on the line for their country. The need to ‘work in the shadows’ to beat the terrorists who can come from anywhere. The need to be able to spy on everyone’s social media.
Opening credits betray a meaning
We know there are real and hidden meanings because of Skyfall’s lyrics and the opening credits. The credits and lyrics do reflect the story but they are really about the dilemma of the intelligence operative. In the credits, we see Bond go through a death experience. We see the camera zoom in on his left eye and then we see what’s going on in his head. He is shooting at his own shadow. He shoots at his image in the mirror, which is a metaphor for psychological trauma. It all says that he fears he may be the enemy. Many operatives joined because of patriotism but then they discover they have to do bad stuff. Moreso, they also discover they might be sacrificed.
So, at the beginning of the film, we see Bond get shot by an MI6 colleague. The film shows MI6 and London under threat from terrorism and from demands of public accountability. The terrorism we see is created by MI6, or rather a rogue MI6 officer. We also see that MI6 messed up by losing a list of undercover agents. Politicians want accountability and M’s future is in question. M has old-fashioned ideals: get the job done by whatever means, morality and emotional empathy are luxuries, sacrifice is necessary.
At the beginning of the film, Bond is told by M to ignore the dying MI6 agent and ‘get on with the job’. Bond is angry but does what he is told, only to be sacrificed himself by another MI6 agent. The mess-up results in M being challenged by Mallory, the politician, who was a soldier (i.e patriotic). He demands more accountability. Old-fashioned M is challenged by new expectations.
The old/new issue is mirrored by Bond. The film asks whether the old-fashioned Bond is up to dealing with today’s threats. This is exemplified in Bond’s encounter with the new Q. Bond is not himself at the beginning of the film. He wears a stubble. His real self is restored when he is in China working with Moneypenny. In fact, she shaves off his beard and has sex with him: sex magic perhaps. We later see him dealing with IT as well as Q. He is now up to the job.
Then there is Raoul Silva, (his birth name is James) who is really a bit like Bond. Both are magical in their talents but are foot soldiers. Both are traumatized by M’s apparent betrayal and had to go through a transformation, one good, the other bad. In the beginning of the film we see Bond hunting the bad guys but he ends up getting shot because of M. In the opening credits one of his shadows turns into the bad guy, Silva. We see a hole in Bond’s shadow and in Silva’s. Both have had a near-death trauma. (So, who exactly is the bad buy?)
So, Bond had to grapple with the same dilemma as Silva but Bond chooses country. M’s ‘get the job done through sacrifice’ value creates Silva’s trauma and in turn leads him to becoming selfish. He is M’s opposite: an avenging devil. His anti-thesis to her thesis. What this says is that M is ‘inadvertently’ creating terror and stopping accountability. We see accountability doesn’t work because Silva interrupts the hearings that has been going on and shoots up the room in which it’s taking place. Hidden message: try full accountability and you’ll get messed up something rotten.
A new MI6?
A real message is that Bond’s solution is to take M out of MI6 and London. Thus, he stops the terror in London by whisking M to the middle of nowhere. This enables the battle between the thesis and anti-thesis to take place and at the end both M and Silva die. But we find that Silva has done MI6 a favour. M, the cancer, is removed. That’s why she has to die. This enables Mallory to take over and change MI6’s values, but, presumably, only slightly. It becomes more accountable. This is the synthesis brought about by James Bond, the loyal, talented foot soldier and Mallory. A new synthesis is created out of a thesis and anti-thesis.
It should also be noted that the film director, Sam Mendes, was inspired by the film The Dark Knight. The film was very confusing but it’s basic message is that the hero has to become a villain to become a real hero. That is, Batman had to sacrifice his image and admit to crimes he did not commit in order to preserve the good public name of a good public prosecutor turned bad. He has to fight The Joker, who is not like any ordinary villain but rather he wants to see ‘the world burn’. But as stated, in Skyfall, the villain is a rogue MI6 agent. What’s being said here?
Well, we know that MI6 and CIA created Al Qaida to fight the Soviets. They ended up fighting us. We know that MI5 kept tabs on the London, 7/7 bombers but they did not prevent them from becoming London bombers. We heard the complaint that MI5 inadvertently turned their own agents into Islamic extremism killers who murder at Woolwich. Then there is the mystery of Gareth Williams, where MI6 probably know far more than they are willing to let on.
So, the intelligence services mess up. The film shows that the establishment is not happy with the intelligence services. The establishment cannot indefinitely cover up their obvious ‘mess ups’, The film’s real message MI6 saying: ‘We hear you. We’ll be different. Honest.’ But there is also a hidden message is aimed at intelligence operative. The Skyfall lyrics say:
You go where I go.
You see what I see.
You know, I’ll never be me without the security.
Are your loving arms keeping me from harm?
Put your hand in my hand and we’ll stand.
They are saying: You need us, you may not be safe with us, you may take the fall for the bad we do, but you’ve got to take it. Skyfall is about ridding MI6 of a cancer but it also tells its agents that whatever they do and whatever threats they face, they must stay loyal.
- Bond follows M’s orders and reluctantly leaves a dying fellow agent,
- M orders Moneypenny to shoot villain despite risking Bond,
- Bond’s mental trauma after his near death experience: Skyfall opening credits.