“Looking-Glass Self” in Skyfall: The Identity of James Bond”

[Spoiler heavy zone]

Two nights ago, I went to see the latest James Bond movie, “Skyfall.”  I’d just started my Thanksgiving break, and  I was hoping for a fast-paced action movie with good cinematography.  I felt even the introduction was worth the price of admission.  Although I enjoy watching Bond movies, I often feel uncomfortable with the overt (and covert) sexism.  Particularly, the aggrandizement of traditional masculine gender roles like violence to solve problems bothers me, as well as the objectification of women.  Despite all of this, I usually enjoy going to see Bond movies.  Today is not the day that I’m going to explore my hypocrisy on my blog.

“Skyfall” justifies the need for spies and the entire spy industry in today’s world, but the spy “industry” needs to adapt.  The parallel between Bond and the overall spy business is evident.  One of the major questions in the movie is despite psychological and physical limitations, can Bond continue to be efficient in a career field that needs to adapt to changes in globalization, technology, and warfare?  The “enemy” has drastically changed.  However, I like the fact that the villain of this movie was created by the British government itself, as opposed to an operative from another traditional, national enemy, or a terrorist, say, from the Middle East.  It makes sense people having to make monstrous decisions who are abandoned might eventually become villanous.

The movie had gorgeous psychological symbolism in it, which, as my spouse and I discussed may go back to “Casino Royale.”   When a character, Silva, asks Bond about his hobby, Bond quips, “resurrection.”  Yet, this is very accurate.  I can think of at least three cases of Bond being symbolically resurrected, and I’ll bet that there are more.  Bond gets shot by his partner and  falls into water.  He’s presumed dead, but I think that it is important that we never witness him emerge from the water.  However, he is alive and taking a break, reminding me of being in paradise or purgatory.  He returns to the UK when he sees the main plot of the movie shaping up on television.  After returning to the home he grew up in, Skyfall, he winds up destroying his home in flames and eventually falls through the ice.  (Before this, he runs through underground tunnels attached to his house.  This also seems very psychological in terms of the subconscious.)

Personally, when he emerges from the ice feels like his actual resurrection to me.  Another interesting symbolic motif in the film is the continual use of mirrors and reflections of Bond. This reminds me of Cooley’s idea of the looking-glass self.  Our self image comes from how we think that others see us (Conley).  This cute wikipedia image is an example of this.  This idea is important in this movie because Bond “dies”, and he has to determine who he is again.  He is “James Bond,” which apparently is truly his name.  It’s neat to see the interactions happen between Bond and the gamekeeper, Kincade, that knew him as a child.  This person would be one living person that shaped his identity before he was an agent. Kincade obviously had a relationship with young Bond, but he doesn’t fully know his adult identity.  M makes a comment about orphans making the best agents.  While one might assume this is due to their lack of social connections, I believe it’s because without parents and other caregivers, it’s easier to shape the identity of a person into an agent.  In this movie, it seems that the people helping Bond to solidify his identity are is “Mother”, M, his symbolic brother, Silva, and even other characters like the new “Q,” and his new partner.

MI-6 also goes through many of these same transformations.  It is blown up and damaged at the beginning so they change headquarters. (A similar chase seen occurs under the tunnels attached to the new location.)  Then, it is under assault from the government for being ineffective and useless due to globalization.  It is under the same threat and has to go through the same identity reconstruction process that Bond did.  At the end, there is a changing of the guard that make it evident that the institution is continuing, but their identity has been permanently changed.  I look forward to seeing where the franchise and the characters go from here.

What symbolism have I missed?  Do you think that I’m right about the imagery in the movie?




Filed under Movie Review, Sociology, Uncategorized

5 responses to ““Looking-Glass Self” in Skyfall: The Identity of James Bond”

  1. Andrew

    To avoid repeating myself I will say, check out my review here http://andrewsnewblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/skyfall/ 🙂 I think you have hit on a very cool part of the movie, in fact of all the Craig movies. We have seen Bond just get promoted to a 00, then he makes a huge mistake by letting Vesper get under his skin. It makes him weak. In the next one he finishes off that storyline by getting literally ice-cold revenge on a snowy day upon the agent that set Vesper up. And now having done all he could to protect his surrogate mother M, and failed, and yet having survived all the self-doubt he has struggled with (particularly when he flat out denies that he was thinking about becoming obselete when thinking about that picture of the old ship being towed away, read between the lines), he has finally been ‘resurrected’ from the trials of all his 3 films. And now at the end, when asked if he is ready to do his duty, instead of answering “With hesitation” or “with regret” or “with half-hearted resolve” as we have seen, finally he can answer simply “with pleasure”. Cheers for your post and check out mine 🙂 Andrew

    • Yes, I loved the fact that he says, “with pleasure” at the end, and I agree with you. He is ready to do his duty now, and it has been shown through the movie as to why it is important and necessary. I enjoyed your post, too!

  2. Good analysis of the character….I really did enjoy the tete-a-tete with the new Q at the art museum with the “age” jokes. It really spoke to the changes in the series. It is funny that a friend of mine, 15 years younger than me, is a huge Bond fan and he feels this is a “PC” version. That Bond is supposed to be the “man’s man” and the definition of “bad ass”, almost superhuman….but I like that this movie humanized him and you see the toll it takes.

    I didn’t know if you saw Cloud Atlas but I am curious as to your opinion on it. I was thinking about it several days after seeing it and whereas I like to read the book before seeing the movie in this case I still want to read the book. It is 3 hours long, and may benefit from watching at home with a pause button but very good.

    • I can see why your friend would feel that way, although I actually like the changes in the new Bond. I agree with you that it humanized him. There can also be more than one version of masculinity. He still seems very masculine in many ways to me.

      I haven’t seen “Cloud Atlas” yet, although I want to see it soon. I’ll let you know what I think.

      • I think the fact that Bond has changed with the times has been good – if he were the same character as he was when Connery played him it would seem out of place with the times.

        Quiana got me Cloud Atlas, as well as the new Dresden book (I completely forgot about it) so I am looking forward to reading them. I also have your Eli Monpress book to read as well. I think I may take a break from Dragonlance….

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