Skyfall and Bond’s psychotic misogyny

When the Queen met James Bond during the Olympics, it was broadcast live as a real world event. This suggests that the British believe that either Bond is real or that the Queen is imaginary.

The new Bond blockbuster Skyfall, is an extraordinary entry in the Bond canon, and in the portrayal of misogyny. Skyfall has been criticised for not being more up-to-date in its portrayal of women and also praised for being more respectful of women. As usual popular film critics potter about on the fringes of populist tropes, more voyeurs than anything else.

It seems to me that the misogyny in Skyfall is irrefutable. Perhaps the question is not whether or not the Bond films are sexist, but what kind of sexism are we looking at?

Slavoj Žižek, paraphrasing Lacan, points out somewhere that the solitary laconic male action heroes of cinema are always those whose solitude is predicated on the ability to remain unencumbered by women. We might think of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, John McClane, and James Bond. This is not, Žižek suggests, because these heroes are so self-contained that they don’t need relationships with women, but rather because they already have a relationship with a woman ­– their mother, from whom they cannot free themselves. In other words, they are in essence mummy’s boys, fused with an imago that they cannot escape from but also cannot recover.

For the action men like Bond there has never been any intervention of the paternal in infant life. The ‘paternal’ isn’t a father-person, it’s a symbolic function – any desire beyond the baby that the mother has that doesn’t include the baby. To get around this, the child tries to incarnate whatever it is it thinks the mother desires – the good child, the bad child, whatever. The paternal function says, ‘You can’t do that dude. You and Mum can’t desire each other forever and forever.’ But misogyny is a failed paternal function, whereas desire is always forever.

As Lacan pointed out, there are a number of problems with this incestuous dynamic. First, it results in a continual male pursuit of an idealised woman (and a discarding or punishing of the woman when she fails to meet those ideals, or to think of him as perfect). Second, there can be a falling into psychosis when the gap into which the paternal is located is revealed.

Why the fuck are we talking about infant mental health, psychosis and misogyny? Because this is the terrain of Skyfall.

It’s also the terrain of romance, of sexuality, and of patriarchal demands on women and children. Misogyny is constructed in many ways, and while it has tentacles in all kind of weird places, it is a stamp on the identity of masculinity and femininity. We fall in love with characteristics, not people. Welcome to contemporary misogyny: the impossible and violent idealisation of women, and the borderline and psychotic identities of men.

The women of Daniel Craig’s three Bond films are divided into two categories – those he sleeps with and those he doesn’t. Those he sleeps with die, sadistically. Vesper Lynd graphically drowns. Solange Dimitrios is tortured and then murdered. Strawberry Fields tortured, murdered and her body covered in oil. And, in the most disturbing scene from Skyfall, the former sex slave Severine is beaten, tied up and then casually shot by the Bond villain while Bond drinks scotch.

In Skyfall, it is implied that Bond may have slept with Eve Moneypenny, the hapless MI6 agent who accidentally shoots Bond and is ridiculed by him for both her shooting and her driving abilities. But I think it’s clear that Bond doesn’t sleep with her, for the simple reason that she is still alive at the end of the film.

The racism in Bond’s misogyny isn’t hard to find either. Severine ­– Chinese, chain-smoking, alluring, dragon-lady; Moneypenny ­– sexy but thick Black woman, suitable only for secretarial work; nameless Indian woman ­– servile and compliant, a woman Bond doesn’t even look at post-coitus.

Of course the most significant woman in the Bond films is M, the head of MI6, played by Judy Dench. The initial ‘M’, one imagines, could well stand for ‘mother’, and in Skyfall M’s fusion with Bond is striking. M is not M without her Bond, and Bond is lost and unanchored without M.

Before I go further with this, prior to Skyfall, I had positioned the two previous Craig-Bond films as extended advertisements, featuring blatant and repeated product placement. A quarter of the cash for the $200 million budget for Quantum of Solace was met through product placement – Ford, Heineken Pilsener, Smirnoff, Virgin Atlantic, Sony, Coke and so on. But Skyfall takes product placement to a whole new level.

The product most heavily promoted in Skyfall is Britain. It’s like the royal family got together with Saatchi and Saatchi and New Labour to write a Bond script. It’s a Churchillian Britain, not a Blair-ite or Cameron-ian Britain. It is also a Royal Britain. As if reminding us of Bond’s meeting with the Queen at the Olympics, Bond wears royal-blue tracksuits with the royal coat-of-arms badged prominently in silver, while rehabilitating himself at MI6. James Bond, Licensed to Kill. By Appointment.

So what we can expect from the quasi-Lacanian Bond is the pursuit and punishing of women, and periodic psychotic episodes. Actually, the psychotic breakdown doesn’t take place, not until Skyfall. Instead we get what Lacan called the ‘sinthome’ – the symptom that prevents the final psychosis. It is the massive act of ruthless logic that keeps the subject together. Just as the other James (Joyce) prevented his psychotic breakdown by hiding inside the armour of his literary name (and perhaps handing on the psychological violence of his interior state to his children), so Bond has become ‘Bond – James Bond’, outsourcing his interior violence onto others. Like Joyce, he has become the symptom of his madness.

The plot of Skyfall is uncanny in speaking to its own dynamics. I’d be fairly sure that Sam Mendes and Barbara Broccoli didn’t come up with a detailed storyboard that centred around the Name of the Father or a Žižekian commmentary on Lacan. But in trying to make Bond speak beyond his own image of the sexually magnetic, suave, hi-tech, self-contained superspy, they have unwittingly revealed something (something which has also been immensely profitable for them).

It’s Dark Knight territory – an attempt to give the comic book hero credible backstory. It doesn’t work for Batman, because there is never going to be a billionaire philanthropist who disguises himself as giant bat, wears superhero body-armour and chases mutated super-villains. It works for Bond because there are actually plenty of narcissistic murdering misogynist psychopaths around who think they are saving the western world from evil.

Anyway, here’s a mandatory Spoiler Alert. I’m going to tell you most everything that happens in Skyfall. So, if you want to see it, maybe go make a cup of tea and come back when the review is finished.

Bond is a burned-out case, getting old, drinking too much. Chasing a MacGuffin-stealing baddie (Ola Rapace, last seen killing himself in the Swedish TV cop show Wallander), Bond is accidentally shot by the hapless Moneypenny (Naomie Harris – can’t shoot, can’t drive) and believed to be dead.

Bond of course survives, and realising what has happened – that M would rather see him dead than see a mission fail – disappears and hangs out in India playing dangerous drinking games and seducing unnamed Indian women. In a bar watching CNN, he learns that M’s HQ has been blown up.

Back in London, someone is out to get M and probably kill her, after a long process of public humiliation. Bond has to re-submit to his secret agent tests to get his job back (lots of push-ups, shooting, and a psych evaluation that confines itself to word-association). M herself is also under threat professionally. MI6, she is told, is considered an organisation past its use-by-date in this era of democratic transparency (seriously). Of course M knows that ‘out in the shadows’ lurk many enemies of the democratic project who hate our freedoms.

One of the pivotal images in the film is of a China bulldog, pugnaciously Churchillian in expression and wearing a Union Jack, that lives on M’s desk. When M’s offices are obliterated, the bulldog amazingly survives and accompanies M into MI6’s new headquarters in a wartime bunker once used by Churchill.

Dragged before some kind of parliamentary select committee fronted by a government minister, M quotes the end of Tennyson’s poem Ulysses in reponse to the grilling she receives. It is her equivalent of Churchill’s ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech. It’s an extraordinary moment, pitching Britain’s security services as Churchill’s heirs, as reincarnations of the Few – yeoman protectors of the innocent public, and poetry the expression of their courage and resolution. The carping pollies ridicule her ideas, of course. Then the terrorists walk in and shoot everyone.

The Bond villain is revealed to be Raoul Silva, slaveringly played by Javier Bardem. Believe it or not, Silva is a white-haired whiz computer hacker. Whatever happens to Julian Assange now, he has been inscribed forever in popular culture as a creepy sexualised Bond villain.

Silva is also a former MI6 agent and previously M’s favourite before she abandoned him and replaced him with Bond. In other words, Silva is Bond’s older brother or forgotten twin, as devoted to mother M as Bond is. Silva addresses Bond as ‘James’, unusual for Bond villains. When Silva asks Bond if he has any hobbies, Bond answers sardonically, ‘Resurrection’. It’s the first appearance of the religious in Skyfall and a harbinger of things to come.

It is Silva who directly names M as the symbolic mother of himself and Bond. Silva might be nuts but he at least knows a traumatic mental illness when he has one. Bond allows himself to be captured by Silva, who points out to Bond that M lied to him when Bond was deemed to have passed MI6’s secret agent tests. ‘She wouldn’t lie to me,’ says Bond earnestly. But she did, says Silva: ‘Mommy was very bad.’

Later in the film, when Silva has allowed himself to be captured by Bond and taken to MI6 HQ, Silva confronts M with her ruthless betrayal of him years earlier, which left him with a partly disintegrated jaw. Removing what appear to be dentures, Silva hisses ‘Mother’ at M, but the word is almost inaudible and incoherent.

Pursued by Silva, Bond and M head to Scotland to take refuge in the Bond ancestral manor, Skyfall, situated in the bleak Scottish highlands and constructed of slate and lichen. They get there in Bond’s original Aston Martin, the one Connery used with the ejector seat and the machine-guns in the bumper bar. This is significant, as Bond has never been more Bond than when he is in a car full of gadgets, and the Aston Martin is more Bond than Bond himself. ‘Where are we going?’ asks M. ‘Back in time,’ replies Bond. And in fact the landscape around the Skyfall manor looks otherworldly, as if Bond and M have passed into another dimension. It also means that if Skyfall is trying to claim that Craig’s Bond is Connery’s Bond, well then Craig’s Bond is about eighty years old.

So we have returned to the site of the original trauma, the bleak site where Bond’s parents are buried lying beneath suitably spartan and spooky-looking headstones. Skyfall is of course the place where the sky fell for young James and launched the orphan on his career of murder and misogyny. ‘Orphans,’ says M sinisterly at one point, ‘make the best recruits.’

Skyfall is the paternal imago, so we know that weird shit is now about to happen. Given that the film situates word-association at a key point, and the only word that Bond refuses to associate to is ‘Skyfall’, it’s worth speculating on its associations. The first one that comes to mind is ‘sky-father’: father as God, as omnipotent, unreachable being, the archetype of the myth of misogyny.

Skyfall is dank, abandoned and mouldering and has, apparently, been sold. Still resident, however, is the crusty old paternal gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney), who ceremonially presents Bond with his father’s still-functioning hunting rifle.

With these reminders of the paternal (following Lacan again) we could at last expect a psychotic episode from Bond – a non-Bond moment – and that’s what we get. Bond now has his Mother (M) and his Father (‘Skyfall’) in one place, so shit is going to go down, and it is going to be spectacularly weird shit that hasn’t gone down before.

Kincade gives M a tour of Skyfall and shows her a priest-hole that leads out onto the moor, surfacing near the Bond family chapel. I guess this means that the Bonds were Catholics. ‘When James’ parents died,’ says Kincade solemnly, ‘he hid in here for two days. When he came out, he was no longer a boy.’ And while one might conclude that when Bond emerged from the priest-hole he was ‘a man’, one might also conclude that if he was no longer a boy, perhaps he was instead a girl. Either way, it is the Bond experience of a religious epiphany.

So now we have the religious again making its appearance, revealing Bond’s crushing of his vulnerable nature which he views as feminine, as all misogynists do. Then Silva arrives in a heavily armed chopper with twenty ninja commando thugs.

Like some malevolent monster house of horror, Skyfall is booby trapped with nail bombs and so on by Bond and co, who, with the aid of the house and the Aston Martin, proceed to shred the invading ninjas. Dad has become resurrected – resurrection being Bond’s hobby – and Bond pere is vengeful and cruel and unpredictable, as only the misogynist can be. In the course of the battle, M is wounded and she and Kincade escape via the priest-hole, the secret traumatic heart of Skyfall.

After grenading the house and machine-gunning it from end to end, Silva has his chopper shoot up Bond’s Aston Martin, which explodes. Cue Bond’s final meltdown.

The gutting of the Aston Martin is the destruction of the Bond image, of the official story, of the false self that Bond has carried round all these years. Bond goes nuts. He ties a couple of sticks of dynamite to some gas bottles, mutters, ‘I always hated this place anyway’, and dives down the priest-hole, presumably his first return since the death of his parents. The cylinders explode throwing flaming debris at the chopper – which spectacularly nosedives into Skyfall.

Emerging from the priest-hole, born of the Father as it were, Bond heads out to the chapel, dispatching the two remaining ninjas on the way, but is beaten to it by Silva. Silva sees M’s wounds and clasps her to him, crying, calling her ‘mother’ and attempts to get her to shoot them both with the one bullet. Before he can do this he suddenly straightens up with a large hunting knife planted in his back, courtesy of Bond. Bond cradles the dying M. The white-bearded Kincade stands with bowed head, like Joseph of Arimethea at Golgotha, and we are treated to a long shot, all chiaroscuro, of a Pieta. This time it’s the grieving child holding the dead mother. It looks like a scene by Géricault, and it is freaky and weird, and psychotically hallucinatory.

Returning to Britain, Bond fronts for work, refreshed, and dedicated to a new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). ‘M’ is now shorn of its emotional context. It is just an initial now, the initial of a paternal figure. Bond has returned to the paternal, a ruthless, pared down, cold-blooded paternal. Bond is robotic once more. This time, he is not the Bond who kills as part of a lifestyle of glamour. Now he knows exactly what he is doing. And he has M’s china bulldog in his pocket.

Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Fascinating analysis. I’ve been trying to come to terms with my feelings about Skyfall. I actually really enjoyed the film, way more than I expected to, and so some part of me was quickly (as I watched) dismissing any feminist/patriarchal/nationalist critiques which did arise as I watched. Problematic? Sure. I’ve always simultaneously enjoyed, and despaired at, Bond films. And this was in many ways the best and the worst. I’m grateful that you’re able to grasp what it is about Bond and Skyfall that truly needs mentioning, and critiquing (and articulating it so well). So thank you for that.

    1. I think the Craig Bond films are very interesting for all sorts of reasons, and of course as action films there are none better, especially Skyfall. It’s the attempt to make Bond speak to his own condition that is so intriguing and really let the cat out of the bag.

  2. A very interesting reading – in fact Javier Badem actually gives a nod, literally, to your theory, when he passes Bond’s mother’s gravestones and nods and chuckles at the inevitability of what is about to happen. (I confess, though, that I enjoyed the film, though was distressed by the treatment of Severine, which was beyond the bounds of what I’ve become thick skinned about when it comes to these films. Having to develop a thick skin is, of course, a whole other topic.

    1. Silva’s homo-erotic pursuit of Bond is another topic altogether – or perhaps more of the same. But I was clocking up a big enough word limit as it was.
      And I’d forgotten about Giovanni’s piece Jeff. Gives an excellent backdrop to the playing out of the Bond psychoses.

    1. I’m familiar with ‘Archer’ which like the Venture Brothers makes spy-adventure-spoofs so memorable that they immediately get inscribed onto the whole genre – so one watches Skyfall (and perhaps they made Skyfall) with programs like Archer in mind. ‘Archer’ writes another level of meaning into Bond, which Bond films can use very profitably.

  3. What do you think, that it is possible to make a Bond film without the hatred of women shining through, all the way from Fleming himself? Would it be a Bond film? The misogyny here as you have described it appears to be of a different order still, so there is no excuse, particularly as this Bond instalment is not based on a Fleming novel. Why make them still? Interesting too that Fleming wrote the children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; I must watch that film again with what you are saying here in mind.

    1. I’m not sure how far that will get you Dennis. From memory the cinematic CCBB was very different from the literary CCBB. Cinematic Bond keeps literary Bond’s sexism alive and well, but cinematic Bond outsources literary Bond’s sadism.
      They make Bond films because they make shitloads of money. My guess is that the rebranding of Bond with Craig came after the success of Damon as Bourne (same initials too) and it paid off. With the further success of Dark Knight they took the further step of using Bond’s traumatic childhood backstory (from Fleming). I imagine that Craig-Bond 4 will take this further, and we’ll get portrayals of boy Bond etc etc.

  4. This is something I am into and forgot to mention: word associations for ‘Skyfall’.

    ‘Sky pilot’ first sprang to mind, particularly its wobbly lingo going down: a member of the clergy who counsels passive acceptance of existing sociopolitical structures.

    1. And the novelty sky-falling news item of the day is that the US apparently considered nuking the moon at one time – how Bond is that?

      1. Very US Bonds! Why? Because they could of course. (I’m crap at links so I’ll spare you one of Gary’s Youtube clips.)

        1. I guess there is something of the grand tragedy in the sound of bagpipes … but the sprinkling of dying ‘Vikings’ throughout the filmclip is definitely suspicious.

          But, we digress … 🙂

  5. Is there some Tony Abbott joke you’re trying to get out with your misogyny thread? Because its not uniquely strong for ‘Skyfall’ as a distinct movie. Are you saying ‘Bond’ as a character is misogynist, or the movie ‘Skyfall’? I’ll pay the latter as a stronger argument. I’ll even pay British civil and military service as misogynist as far stronger.

    Brand Britain – and this is some revelation? An idealised Britishness has been a constant meme throughout the 50 years of Bond movies and more so in the novels and short stories.
    Why somehow pick on New Labour when Skyfall is clearly a Tory LibDem paradigm of failing institutions (media NotW & BBC, Parliament, military, and intelligence agencies) and failing confidence in those self same institutions. No wonder this is a ‘backs to the wall’ reversion to WW2 and Churchill tunnels. ‘Backs to the wall’ also being a public school denigration of same sex attraction.

    Because the unnamed Indian woman didnt die (sadistically or any other way) after casual sex, this is also misogynist? Huh? Or are you trying to say only those women he loves die – that is a very strong theme in the Bond canon, despite the frottage with Moneypenny.

    Really you think Moneypenny is ‘thick’? Really? Her characters lines certainly didnt indicate that. Isnt that slightly woman hating itself to make the accusation without evidence?

    And being Captain Obvious:
    Bond – car with lots of guns – penis
    Bond – fathers rifle- penis
    Bond – coded Walther PPK – penis
    Bond – knife – penis

    I also think you got the M death scene wrong, I distinctly heard the Glock ‘click on empty chamber’ as Silva begs for mutually assured destruction, to die with his mother. Really we are being asked to view Silva as the binary opposition of Bond – flawed, aberrant, transgressive.

    Disappointed there is little back story on Bond’s birth mother, there are a few clues in the Fleming canon, few make to the cinema.

    1. Captain Obvious;
      Of course I’m saying Bond and Skyfall are misogynist. I’m also offering some ideas on what misogyny is, which you might want to think about. Whether Bond is unique or not, I think the structure of misogyny in Skyfall is interesting as I have explained.
      I’m not ‘picking’ on New Labour at all. I was offering a thumbnail of Skyfall, and had in mind Cool Brittania and Thatcher’s statement that one of her greatest achievements was New Labour. Use the Lib-Dems if you want. I can’t see it makes any difference to the argument.
      As far as the un-named Indian woman in Skyfall, perhaps we could say that those women with names who he sleeps with dies. Bond and love is a problematic concept, given that in my reading the only woman he ever loved was his mother and that within the misogynist framework that seeks to punish maternal failure even as it creates it.
      As far as Moneypenny, I’m not sure how you can ignore Bond’s repeated tedious comments on her shooting and driving. Just because she was given a few sassy lines doesn’t make her a feminist paragon.
      As far as the gun=penis argument goes, that’s not actually an equivalence I’m proposing. The phallus, the signifier of the mother’ desire, which is what the child Bond has tried to become is more of interest and a richer topic for exploration.
      Of course we are invited to see Silva as Bond’s aberrant twin. That would be the approved Mendes-Brocolli meaning. He isn’t though. He is Bond himself, he is what Bond will become when his psychotic breakdown becomes complete, in other words when he can no longer maintain his own sinthome

      1. And I personally think that unnamed lady is Turkish or Greek, because that’s where he falls into water and I dare to interpret that hand grabbing him during song sequence as her hand. I think she saved him.And he is too distraught
        Eve isn’t thick. She goes to office not because off being considered unfit for fieldwork. Yeah, he suggested it, but I wouldn’t think for moment, that it is reason she choose desk. Being Mallory’s assistant is actually higher position. Bond does not ridicule her. They playfully tease each other. She is not humiliated, she does not loose in their oral sparring and she is even of practical aid during Comodo-dragon-sequence. He does respect her. It is unfeministically oversensitive to treat their interactions as his attacks on her.
        Vesper Lynd he loved, he wanted to leave MI6 for her, he even went quite far in avenging her death. It is after her death he once again avoids relationship. Vesper coctail isn’t Vesper coctail for nothing. If you were alluding to movie’s, not Bond’s, attitude to her, well, here your point stands, though that is based on book, unlike Skyfall.
        Severine was treated poorly, but I am convinced, that his line about waste of scotch was more an attempt at keeping cool. Notice, how he masacres all henchman around just after that. Notice he shots quite sideways, as to make sure he avoids hurting her. I think he did not expect Silva to shoot right into poor girl. He waited tactically, because once he shot and Silva shot, henchmen were less on guard and there was one person (Silva) without bullet to use. Who was to know, beside Silva, that for Severine it will be too late? I think it plays less into misogyni and more into sacrificies required by job a heavilly used theme in Skyfall.
        Silva is perfect foil. Silva is what Bond could become, if he was not proffesional. While his experience is less harsh and thus easier to overcome a point is, that he forgives M’s “betrayal” because, as he said in his home, she was doing her job. Silva is taking it personally, Silva is too obssesed with her, Silva breaks down(I read brilliant analysis concluding he suffers from borderline personality disorder and thus is more vulnerable). Silva does not pass, Bond does and returns to his job “ressurected”. It is over. I really do not think Silva is Bond’s future.

  6. Since film theory is so strongly steeped in Lacanian logic, this reading is probably an appropriate exegesis of the plot, but combating misogyny from within the Oedipal framework would seem to be a fairly problematic pursuit. Why must the misogyny, nationalism, racism and “interior violence” of Bond be brought back to the Oedipal drama? In particular, I think Bond’s return to his aristocratic roots proffers some interesting material related to a reactionary group fantasy that is rife within contemporary conservatism.

    1. A Lacanian framework IS Oedipal. Using Lacan without his concept of the Oedipal is like using Marx without talking about class.
      Many things contribute to racism, nationalism and so on. But the Left can very often have powerful economic and political critiques that completely ignore the role of desire, as though interior states were some kind of epiphenomena. It’s our unacknowledged desires that are so politically problematic.

      1. ‘Everything’ doesn’t have to be. It’s just the first drama you ever had, so worth thinking about.

        1. the first drama I ever had according to you according to Lacan according to a man writing in fin de siecle Vienna drawing on a story from patriarchal 5th century Athens.

          1. I’m not sure the psychoanalysis-as-patriarchal-oppression argument has legs anymore Jane. Thanks to some very smart feminists. But if you can think of an earlier drama I should pay attention, I’d be happy to hear it.

  7. Why is it when a film comes out the first thing everyone jumps on is “misogyny and feminism?” I am female and this just pisses me off. It seems films, tv,books, anyone can’t say or do anything without people like you jumping up and down. All I want to say is get over it grow up and just enjoy a film! If you don’t like then just say so but quit with the bullshit.

    1. I’m really intrigued by your response, cos it seems to beg so many questions. I didn’t go to see Skyfall in order to make myself miserable, and had no intention of writing about it at Overland. I went because I was pretty certain I would enjoy it. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, because I already had my theory of Bond and Mummy M worked out, and was astounded to see it spoken to so clearly in the film.
      When I wrote the review I first sent it to a close friend of mine for his thoughts He wrote back: “Iris Marion Young is relevant. She uses Giddens to analyse how misogyny is nowdays sublimated by bourgeois respectability and professionalism….. Her prediction of your Skyfall review would be that politicizing agents who call attention to media stereotypes as evidence of deep harmful oppressions are often said to take too seriously harmless fantasies with no connection to reality. Young says such responses – to your review – are in denial of their bodies and desires.”
      Which begs the question as what you think ‘enjoying’ a film means, and what you might think ‘enjoyment’ is.

      1. You already had theory. Interesting… Are you sure you are not projecting anything onto film? Not bending evidence to fit theory instead of appropriate vice versa way?

  8. A great review of a rich and suggestive film, although I saw it slightly differently.

    This is a “new” Bond for me in that the misogyny is (I think) advertised as such, in all its ugliness, and then excused/explained through Bond’s mummy issues with M — which he never really resolves, because the correct attitude to take would’ve been Silva’s, of actually trying to destroy M rather than take it out on all those other poor women.

    Thus, Bond remains the cruel, vile victim of the real baddie (the deceased mummy) while simultaneously identifying with her aggression for our voyeuristic pleasure.

    Until Michael Haneke does a Bond film, I don’t think we’ll ever really get what we want from this franchise (but then we won’t really want it!).

    1. Hi Tad
      You’re right I think. And I think I can tack your reading on to mine without mine being disturbed too much in the process.
      I was wondering, apropos another comment, what a ‘real’ Bond film might look like. I hadn’t thought of Michael Haneke but that makes perfect sense. But it would be ‘Skyfall’ by Haneke – which then becomes rather unnecessary.

    2. It can work in some situations, but I do not think that overcoming problem is synonymous with destruction. Shouldn’t it be more about identifying it, breaking free from, forgiving then and moving on? To move on is to be no more haunted by it, be it alive or dead. To be driven to destroy means, it is still significant and said destruction, perhaps if done inproperly – without getting over the whole issue, is no insurence of stopped haunting.

  9. I don’t get a lot of things, but I really don’t get this Bond thing. The films make buckets of money for corporate controllers and investors organising and running film as a profitable institution, so huge audiences for the films, but no longer moving as a monolithic block to wherever the films are publicly screened. Also, like the advertising industry, far more savvy audiences and producers at the critical and theoretical levels of production and consumption, where story and character types at the narrative level, as well as film techniques at the (extra-) diegetic level are inscribed through a knowledge of film theory (psychoanalytic included) taught at academic institutions for viewers to find, critique (and maybe defeat), I presume. So, vicarious and / or cognitive pleasure there for the taking, depending on your viewing shtick. All seems pretty cynical, game-like, incestuous and reprehensible, if my take holds – misogyny controlled and governed by an automatic Sky Pilot, if you like.

    1. Dennis, I am not really sure what it is you are not getting. maybe you are making things needlessly complicated. When you say:

      ” Also, like the advertising industry, far more savvy audiences and producers at the critical and theoretical levels of production and consumption, where story and character types at the narrative level, as well as film techniques at the (extra-) diegetic level are inscribed through a knowledge of film theory (psychoanalytic included) taught at academic institutions for viewers to find, critique (and maybe defeat), I presume”

      I think you are positing a level of critical sophistication that doesn’t exist and if it did doesn’t really apply to what i’m saying . I’m not even interested in Bond-as-cinema, but politically speaking Bond-as-vehicle-of-desire. That’s where the politics is really. Bond-as-cinema is probably a whole other story.

      1. My comment unnecessarily complicated and cynical it itself? I too thought along those lines, and didn’t expect you to go with the suggestion – hence the optative mood (“If my take holds…”) – that Bond’s psychotic desire is that of film and cinema itself as corporatised institution – a jouissance we automatically participate in by watching certain film genres. Still, I do wonder why we get the sorts of pleasure we do from such things as Bond films, given the repression they entail when misogyny is the issue.

        Perhaps a more fruitful line to explore is the word association you drew for “Sky Fall” – ‘sky-father’: father as God, as omnipotent, unreachable being, the archetype of the myth of misogyny. I’m sure more can be made of than from the point of view of a ‘sky-mother’.

        I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere at the moment and have been for a couple of days, with limited reception, so I’ll get back to you on that.

        Thanks Stephen, for another great post.

        1. Well, this is an excellent question: ” Still, I do wonder why we get the sorts of pleasure we do from such things as Bond films, given the repression they entail when misogyny is the issue.”

          It begs the question about the nature of our enjoyments and our desires. The structure of desire lies at the heart of the capitalist enterprise, and whether we hate Bond films but love iPads, the question remains the same. Your question could substitute ‘iPads’ for ‘Bond films’ or any object of enjoyment which trades on suffering and political oppression.
          As I say, a great question, but there’s not a lot of discussion around concerning what an answer might be. Which given the state of things is something of a worry.

          1. I know this is rehashing old ground. But yes, of course the psychotic desire attached to Bond films is attached too to any corporatised consumer commodities we desire, by default. The fault as I see it is in our own warped sense of pleasure, continuing to watch and review and discuss Bond films, and consume the whole assortment of corporatised consumer products, especially when (the main topic here: Bond films) misogyny is put on an automatic Sky Pilot that is accepted almost without question – especially at a critical level – and by educational institutions too.

            I realise that doesn’t explain why we get off on warped pleasures like we do, but “No, Mum! I don’t want any more Jello,” might be a good opening gambit.

          2. I think there is a question in here as to what pleasure is. There’s a very strong argument that the things that give us what we might call the deepest feelings of well-being are the things we needed as babies. It’s very difficult to state this politically in a way that is comprehensible to even the politically astute because misogyny has bitten very deep into our emotional lives.
            Bond doesnt get it at all, and the popularity of Bond and people’s conflicted feelings about enjoying Skyfall suggest that a lot of the rest of us don’t get it either. Politically, working out how to be cared for and how to care has a lot to do with reworking an understanding of pleasure and desire. And if we can rework our understandings of these we can go a ways to undercutting misogyny and won’t be so weirdly excited when someone gives us an iToy for Xmas.

  10. Some of the happiest moments of my life were spent watching Bond films while feeding my baby. I just find it terribly funny. (Bond, not baby.)

    Can’t read all of this long piece, as I am still hoping to see the film. But the plot is really quite irrelevant in Bond, anyway, so maybe I’ll take a peek.

  11. Yes, I go along with your astute reading of those pleasure gaps which we fill with I-toys, which in turn, construct our psychotic desires.

    As to the silences, and without wishing to apportion blame to women, this is where I think the question of ‘Sky Woman’, and where she resides (if she resides at all), needs addressing.

    More later, I hope.

  12. A neurotic James Bond, who would of thought.
    In the run up to the release of Skyfall, Bond has emerged at the forefront of a new form of marketing. From the short international beer advert set on a train,(drink Heineken, and you too can become a celebrated misogynist) to Bonds appearance with the Queen at the Olympics, Bond has been transported to a different realm. Will this type of advertising become the norm? Are we to expect more popular fictional film characters at well known events? Could we see The Avengers ringing the bell at the opening of trade at Wall St? Wouldn’t it have been more fitting, if the captain of Spain at the World Cup, had been presented with the trophy by a sombre Batman. I certainly think it would’ve be a coup for NASA, if at the touchdown of the Mars rover, they were seen high five-ing with Buzz lightyear.
    The new territory for Skyfall is the exploration of Bond’s psychic makeup. Stephen’s review has eloquently opened up some of the main themes played out through the film. It is interesting to note the idea of seeking to deconstruct the subjective formation of a fictional character. But, I suppose, in keeping with Lacan our subjective formations are largely fantasies anyway.
    There is a duality portrayed in the film. Bond is largely regarded as a phallus, the more obvious symbol of male libido. This is set alongside the psychoanalytic phallus of Lacan, where Bond seeks the signifier of the mothers desire. M realises this characteristic in Bond, and stresses that “orphans make the best recruits”. This reinforces the idea that Bond seeks his subjective self through the returned gaze of the mother. As an orphan his need to find an substitute maternal figure is perhaps stronger, and M was aware of this and used it to her advantage, keeping Bond at a distance enough to maintain and fuel his desire.
    Another duality within the film is with the character Silva. Hauntingly well played by Javier Bardem. I sensed that he enjoyed the freedom the character Silva had to offer against Craig’s stiff English repression. As Stephen and others have pointed out Silva and Bond respectively occupy both sides of the same coin. Whereas Bond steadfastly holds his Borromean knot together, Silva is aware that if his sinthome should slip and his Borromean knot unravel, so too does his subjective self.
    In the final scene Bond is presented with M’s bulldog. This symbol is adopted into Bonds chain of signifiers that represent his ongoing pursuit of the phallus, his unfulfilled desire.
    It is worth looking at the role of Eve Moneypenny in the film and how she is portrayed. Initially she is presented in chaos, she is an equal to Bond. Driving the car and displaying similar attributes to her fellow agent. As the film progresses so too does her standing in the order of things. Finally at the films conclusion, in a moment of resolved calm she has resigned herself to secretarial duties. And in the Bond world order has been restored.

    1. Moneypenny is a dead giveaway really. She goes toe to toe with Bond in the field, despite his hazing, but just seems to accept that she’ll be happier behind a keyboard beautifying M’s office. Shooting Bond was hardly an act if incompetence and was carried out on M’s orders anyway. Moneypenny’s capitulation is also an implicit acceptance that Bond was right about her. Either way, it gets Bond the universe he is most comfortable with.

  13. I think what Dennis Garvey was getting at by:

    ” Also, like the advertising industry, far more savvy audiences and producers at the critical and theoretical levels of production and consumption, where story and character types at the narrative level, as well as film techniques at the (extra-) diegetic level are inscribed through a knowledge of film theory (psychoanalytic included) taught at academic institutions for viewers to find, critique (and maybe defeat), I presume”

    Was that the film’s writers, directors, and possibly producers and advertises had put this misogyny in there for film critics to find. This is not the incidental misogyny of 60’s Bond films, but a deliberate game they are playing with post feminist film critcs. The question he asks is “Is it helpfull to be playing their game”.

    1. It may well be true – that the producers are doing that. What I was trying to say, perhaps not clearly enough, is that in doing so they released a whole lot of understandings and structures which I don’t think they knew were there. In trying to speak to Bond’s misogyny, in a kind of hipster manner, they have allowed it to speak itself in all its cruelty, which is probably not what they intended. They went for feminism-lite and got something much heavier.

      1. In fact – just reflecting over breakfast – I think that Skyfall actually flirts with a feminist understanding; as though it’s kind of sexy to do so, but we didn’t really mean anything by it. And flirting with violence in this way is always creepy, sexualising it in ways that are not helpful and often sinister.

  14. Thanks for replying, and great article by the way.

    I agree that Skyfall flirts with a feminist understanding. The way Severine is treated, both by Bond and by the film goes way past anything that would normally be acceptable in a mainstream adventure film. Remember, Bond is aware she has been a sex slave since childhood, he’s aware she lives every moment in fear. He then makes an implied promise to protect her, uses her for sex (the way that scene happens is a whole other issue, especially considering the ambiguity
    of sex slaves and consent), and to get to Silva. And finally, not only does he not lift a finger to save her, he actually fires a bullet at her head.

    I don’t think there’s any way that Mendes and company put this in without being completely aware what they were depicting; something pretty close to the worst kind of human expliotation.

    To be honest I didn’t much like this film at first, felt it was badly written and not what i had expected. But then it started to occur to me that maybe Skyfall is designed to be taken as a kind of jouney into Bond’s subconscious, with Severine representing guilt, Silva a repressed sexuality, and M a myriad of mother issues.

    This next bit is going out on a pretty massive limb, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Is it possible that Bond didn’t survive Eve’s bullet, and by the end of the film, after confronting his self-delusions, he finds his nirvana?

    1. Whereas my worry is that of course Mendes and co DID put all that stuff in re: Severine without being aware of what t they were doing.
      As far as Bond’s nirvana goes … looks more like a purgatory; stuck receiving orders from Ralph Fiennes forever and ever.

      1. Fair enough. While I do find it unlikely that a director like Mendes (we’re not talking Michael Bay here) would be unaware of the sexism in Severine’s treatment, it’s perfectly possible that it was put in, as you suggest earlier, for no other reason than to give the film an ‘edge’.

        My generous interpretation may be poles apart from what the filmmakers were intending, but to me it’s a more interesting way to think about a movie I otherwise ddidn’t care for.

        And yeah, it sounds like purgatory to me too. I’m just saying that to James Bond, a character that arguably should stay in the early 60’s, being back in a world where his boss is male and his flirty secretary is female might seem like heaven.

        1. That’s the thing about the ending of Skyfall. Bond is back as the ruthless killer. In fact, it now seems obvious to me that the purpose of the film was to kill off M. She was getting a bit pesky. Dad is back on the scene now, but not in a functional Lacanian name-of-the-father way, but as someone who supplants the mother and in killing off her influence and power relegates her to the kitchen and the bedroom. Or in this case the typewriter and the bedroom.

    2. Very late to the party – as I was waiting to see the film. Great piece. Just one point: I may be quite wrong, but I actually don’t recall Bond promising he would protect Severine, or Severine asking for protection. What she asks Bond in the casino is: can you kill him? To which he replies: someone usually dies.

      Again, I may have missed the line in question, but I interpreted Severine’s decision to take Bond to the island as an implicit acceptance that she would die. The manner is extraordinarily sadistic, no question about it. It also puts Bond in front of the following choice: 1) try to shoot the glass (and risk becoming the killer) 2) miss on purpose (only to see her die seconds later) 3) shorten her agony. He chooses 1), I think, and misses, which is a repetition of the scene in which Eve misses her shot. Sadistic, yes, but I saw nothing particularly glib in the scene. “She is casually shot by the villain while Bond drinks scotch” seems to me to be a broad mischaracterisation of what happens.

      1. Bond promises Severine that he can kill Silva. This is why she agrees to help him.
        I understand your point on Severine’s shooting, but Silva’s killing of her IS casual, and his comment on doing so (I win!’) delivered as if he were saying ‘Whoopsie!’ Bond replies with ‘Waste of a good scotch’, which any way you read it, is, I think, incredibly glib.

        1. I think that line is Bond pretending not to be affected, which he visibly was when he hesitated gun in hand. The next thing he does is kill everyone.

          (Contrast the scene in Casino Royale where he is faced with the tortured corpse of the woman whose death he indirectly caused – that was him not caring, to different dramatic ends.)

          1. Sure. Except that I don’t think it works to that end, given the context of the film’s general treatment of Severine. When Bond causes the death of Strawberry Fields in QoS, he makes it clear to M that Fields showed courage and true grit etc. Not exactly an admission of responsibility.
            Bond’s quip about Severien and scotch looks perfectly in character, the character described in M’s obituary for him as being “an exemplar of British fortitude”, a description which Bond modestly agreed with.

          2. Stephen I have to agree that you’ve misinterpreted this scene.

            1) At the start of the scene when bond realises what’s about to go down he’s like a caged animal, looking around in vain for some way out.

            2) Then he is barely able to make a shot at all and is mocked for it.

            3) The waste of scotch quip is clearly intended to sound glib in order to lull the enemy for a moment as he finally makes his move.

            As depicted there’s no part of this that Bond is happy with or casual about.

          3. I’d have to watch it again to be sure, which is unlikely. Severine is clearly there to be disposable, and i think that at very least the manner of her death, or rather Bond’s response to it, is ambiguous. I don’t think that Bond was happy about her death, but I’d still go for him definitely being glib.
            Either way, if i’m wrong, it’s still a case of yet another sadistic death of a woman, an activity that the Craig-Bond series specialise in.

        2. Interesting article, a rather slow reply here but wanted to give my opinion.

          I too found Bond’s use of the “waste of scotch” line in this scene very uncomfortable at first but upon repeat-viewing all of the new Daniel Craig Bonds from Casino Royale to Skyfall I noticed that this is a repeated and consistent way that Bond deals with grief and stress in his job.

          He has a steely and heartless exterior to the point of appearing sociopathic at times, but a kind of surface level emotional pragmatism he adopts to remain efficient at his (rather brutal and morally grey) job.

          This emotional pattern is first seen with Vesper. After her death Bond is able to calmly refer to her as a “bitch” and claims multiple times to M that he is completely unaffected by her death. This is even though he earlier admitted to Vesper that he was in love with her and was having second thoughts about the safety and morality of his job. It’s clear through his behaviour in private that he is indeed in grief for her death, and a huge part of the plot revolves around his desire for personal vengeance.

          Next up we have the death of Mathis in QoS. Bond clearly considers him a good friend and is visibly upset in the moment when he dies, cradling him as he passes away. Moments later he callously dumps Mathis’ corpse in a dumpster and ignores his companion’s objections, instead appearing totally and unnaturally calm as he says “He wouldn’t have cared.” Yet it is clear that in reality Bond takes this death very personally, as he executes Mathis’ killer face-to-face and states that “we had a mutual friend”.

          Next we have the death of Strawberry Fields in QoS. While Bond’s relationship with her was casual and physical, he is clearly shocked by her death and states to M that “I want to see in the report that she demonstrated real bravery”. He not only feels guilt here for getting her involved but forces Dominic Greene to drink motor oil at the end of the movie. He could have just shot him, but this was a personal way of torturing him in a similar way to how Fields died. This shows he was still thinking of her and did not consider her in any way disposable – instead, the opposite; he was motivated to kill Dominic as cruelly as he could.

          Finally we have the death of Ronson, an agent in Skyfall. Bond wants to ignore the mission to provide first aid to his injured colleague, but is admonished and told to press on. He stares uncertainly at the injured Ronson for a moment as he abandons him, angrily berates the support team on the radio for making him leave him behind and then later snarls at M for letting Ronson die. In fact, he goes on a troubled alcohol binge during his disappearance in no small part because he struggles to deal with what happened.

          What I’m trying to say from all this is that Bond is clearly deeply conflicted and troubled beneath the surface despite his glib and flippant quips and external demeanour. He does his job and does it ruthlessly when needed, and is EXPERT at feigning an emotionless sociopathic exterior.

          But underneath, he’s hurting. A lot. The films heavily imply that he’s never going to get over the death of Vesper, remains sad about the passing of Mathis and even has a deep-rooted cynicism regarding his job (referring to murder as “employment”, again in Skyfall).

          1. Nice theory. Fwiw I suspect that’s the way Craig wants to play it, but the scripts and the Bond character work against that.It’s interesting that the producers have had so much trouble developing a script for the next Craig outing. They have dug themselves a big hole which Spectre enlarged a thousand fold. Bond as Bond isn’t viable anymore, and Craig”s Bond is effectively squashed I think.

      2. There is no line but my reading was the promise is implied. He convinces her he’ll be able to when he kills the casino guards. At one point she says something to him that roughly translates as ‘If you can get out of this then you’re worth taking a chance on’.

        What sets Severine apart from other female Bond victims is Severine was forced into the situation Bond finds her in. Typically, like Solange from CR, the victim has knowingly got mixed up with dangerous people and is therefore a victim of their own bad choices to some extent.

        Of course, an argument could probably be made that this makes CR more sexist than Skyfall, but personally I found Severine’s story arc particularly nasty for this kind of movie.

    3. Yop, Severine was treated extremely poorly. They avoided sex with Bond girl in previous film because they knew it would be inappropriate to do so with rape victim and here in this movie they make even worse transgression. That must have been intentional. As for not lifting finger, here I think he did not expect Silva would shoot her, so he was only late in saving her.
      I love this theory. The representations, the death, the nirvana… Just one funny thought, for o repressed sexuality Bond is curiously undisturbed and unimpressed by Silva.

  15. Dear Stephen,

    I skipped the spoiler bits as I haven’t seen the movie yet, so apologies if you have covered this.

    I was very interested in the connection you made at the very start between Bond and the Queen. I wonder if you had any thoughts on the dynamic between what could be thought of as the ultimate (but imaginary) social matriarch and the psychopathic Bond in her service; and how this dynamic is translated from/applies to the social structure of contemporary Britain.

    (Although I suppose you live in Australia, so perhaps you don’t have many thoughts on that. But Australia is still in the commonwealth, so perhaps you do.)

    The media seems to be force-feeding the British public a fascination with the royal family, which I am sure a lot of people agree is an excellent technique to distract us from the many and real issues at play. I was particularly thinking of the recent craze over the royal baby -I personally find it at once fascinating and revolting, this obsession with motherhood branded as royal (and the changes to royal succession that were conveniently agreed on cue), which somehow seems to cement rather than question ideas of political misogyny.

    Thank you for your intelligent, thought-through, and precisely articulated posts by the way, I am very happy to have come across your blog.

  16. That’s a lot of big questions.
    M could also stand for ‘majesty’ couldn’t it? After all, Bond does refer to her as ‘Ma’am’. Also the other word-association of ‘Skyfall’ (perhaps you haven’t got to that part of the post yet) is ‘Queen’ (parachuting into the Olympics).
    When Craig’s Bond walks into Buck Palace in Boyle’s Olympics film, he stands behind the Queen who we see from behind. Then she turns around and ‘OMG! It’s really her!’ And at that point of epiphany it’s suddenly not clear what is fantasy and what isn’t.
    It seems to me that the royals have done such a thorough job of rehabilitating themselves that they have become the fantasy royals. They don’t really exist. Even Harry’s racist or misogynist behaviours are written off as ‘laddish’ and make him even more ‘one of us.’
    Cameron and Osbourne and their repellent crew appear to be determined to reduce as much of the population of the UK as possible to penury, the UK police are becoming more and more repressive, corrupt and unaccountable, but the royals are untouchable. They exist in a bubble of fantasy-Britishness we haven’t seen since the 50’s.
    This kind of idealisation is like a strange psychotic delusion but it has enormous force and power and enormous powers sustaining it. To some extent it parallels a fantasy vision of themselves that Australians are increasingly generating too; rough and ready Anzacs, tough and independent and intensely loyal. The Royals are pretty popular here. Not long ago Australia becoming a Republic seemed really on the cards. Not much chance of that now.
    I could write an entire post on the royal embryo. A Royal Baby! At Christmas!

    1. What I find most disconcerting about the Bond franchise, especially the Craig films, is that they are trying really hard to promote the idea that the Ultimate British Subject is a smouldering stud who drives expensive cars, sleeps with glamorous women, and breaks things for the fun of it –and that somehow, by extremely tenuous association, this is what being British is about. The inclusion of the James Bond stunt in the opening ceremony was meant to be justified under the banner of promoting what is quintessentially British, and Bond ticking that box is at best a laughable, at worst a worrying idea. Considering that these films, as your interpretation shows, heavily rely on the replication of unresolved Oedipal syndromes, and their attending misogyny, fills me with dread. It is as though we are essentially being told that we will never be good enough to please the Mummy/M/M/the Queen, but we should keep trying because isn’t the effort really glamorous.

      Thinking of the royals as promoting themselves as ‘one of us’ while clearly trying not to inhale when they walk past a normal person, it appears there has been a very real gap in Buckingham Palace’s media strategy since Ms Spencer died; and now they have a new doe-eyed doll to play with in the guise of Ms Middleton. I can’t help but feel apprehensive at the fact that, while trying to appease our feminist sensibilities by changing the succession rules, the palace is still promoting the undercurrent misogyny by parading a lovely young paper doll around and acting as though the most natural thing to happen to a woman (pregnancy) is somehow special when it happens within the royal bubble. Or, even, by endorsing Bond films to the point where you can’t tell the real from the imaginary. So I wholeheartedly agree with your point about the royals becoming fantasy royals –it is, to a large extent, exactly this bubble that keeps this country’s idea of itself afloat a very dubious undercurrent of muck/penury/ill education. A shame to hear that there is an equivalent fantasy vision generated in Australia 🙁 So I am very much looking forward to a post about the royal embryo…

  17. It really looks as though there is a concerted effort in the UK to set the clock back definitively to an imagined Churchillian pre-industrial past, and the presentation of the Royals are a critical part of that. Having got their hands on Kate Middleton I don’t imagine they’ll make the same mistake they made with Diana.

  18. It felt like this article was going to be very insightful but then it just becomes a Skyfall summary. Feels like you are leading up to an in-depth analysis of the film but because it doesn’t go anywhere it almost just feels like you’re showing off: “Look at me, I’ve read Zizek and Lacan and I know how to apply their theories in analyzing a film, I’m so smart.”

  19. Sorry about that. I’d give you your money back, but it hasn’t cost you anything. Maybe if you tell me what an insightful review would have looked like then I can do it better next time.

  20. Seems I can’t reply directly underneath your comment about what you call and attribute to me ‘the psychoanalysis-as-patriarchal-oppression argument’, Stephen.
    But I am interested in an older story, which is much more fruitful for me. The story of a far richer trio, Zeus-Athena-Medusa.

    1. Ah, sorry Jane. My apologies, I misunderstood. Interesting trio you have there. Dramatically has everything.

  21. I thought this was a very insightful review, and you might share my bemusement about how well received this movie has been.

    In the interests of accuracy, I feel I should point out that this sentence is not correct: ‘Severine ­– Chinese, chain-smoking, alluring, dragon-lady’. The character is clearly European and played by a French actress. Just because someone’s eyes (accentuated by make-up or not) have a particular look, doesn’t make them ‘Chinese’! That’s not really appropriate.

    1. Perhaps I’m misreading but I thought the character was clearly intended to be Asian. It’s still not unusual for Hollywood to have white actors playing non-white characters. See the upcoming Lone Ranger where Johnny Depp plays Tonto.

        1. Mm. Curiouser and curiouser. I apparently have an Indian ancestor but wouldn’t consider playing an Indian.

  22. This is just a correction: the place Bond hides after having been shot is not India, it is Turkey, and they are speaking Turkish. It might be useful to avoid way too Western-minded generalizations. Although they are some terrible misrepresentations of cultures, coupled with an immense western-centric ideology in the movie as well.

    1. Ok thanks for that. I think I had it in my mind that it was India because of something I read just prior to the movie. And it also shows that I can’t tell the difference between Hindi and Turkish.

  23. My first time reading your blog. Some interesting – if rather obvious and over-played – points. But I’m assuming you’re Australian, yes? Because no contemporary urban Brit would see the portrayal of Eve as ‘black and thick’, and I imagine this particular observation says far more about your own attitudes towards black women than you might have intended.

    1. “Because no contemporary urban Brit would see the portrayal of Eve as ‘black and thick'”

      That’s a worry.

      1. Oh. Your perception must be right then.

        Still, I’m naturally curious as to the source of your expertise in reading the cultural status of black British women – is there an extensive West Indian migrant population in, um, ‘Nimbin’?

        1. I’m offering a reading of women in films about James Bond. That’s a very limited parameter. It seems clear that the portrayal of Eve Moneypenny is styled around certain tropes: she can’t shoot, can’t drive, (as Bond reminds her several times) and in Bond’s world these are activities that are critically important. The conclusion of the film has her accepting that her true role is as a secretary.

          1. I think, they just wanted good introduction for rebooked characters of Q and Monneypenny and arc of field agent with some interesting shared time with Bond ascending to M’s assistant was more rewarding in opportunities than her starting in bureaucratic department.

  24. I was intrigued by your article’s title, and, hey, I can totally get behind a Lacanian analysis, but I’m afraid you entirely lost me with your dig at “the other James.” It’s as harsh as the latest Bond film is misogynistic to shunt – even by way of suggestion (“perhaps”) – the tragedy of Joyce’s family life onto his “interior” psychology. (Or perhaps you meant “children” in something other than the biological sense? Hmmm… don’t think so, and I’m not sure that, even if you did, it would get you off the hook). And, frankly, you don’t need to dance with Lacan (or Sizek) to get at the misogyny of the film: it’s as plain as The Purloined Letter (“Waste of a good scotch”), and all the more disturbing for being so.

    1. It’s not just a question of whether Bond is misogynist, but what is the nature or structure of that misogyny. Lacan has something to offer be because he locates psychosis in a kind of absent paternal signifier, which for me raises all sorts of questions about men and our generally absent behaviour in regard to children.
      The experience of Joyce’s children is not just a ‘tragedy’. If Lacan is right on Joyce, then his 2 children and his wife were living with someone in a weird mental state, in a life dominated by his writing which was an attempt to be the greatest writer in the universe, keep the professors occupied for 300 years etc. Looking at a child’s mental distress in isolation from the general condition of the family and the parent’s relationship with each other and with the children.
      Children in distress, clinically speaking, are usually calling out on behalf of the family, trying to tell us something. A common response is to think the child as an isolated object and diagnose them or medicate them or ‘treat’ them or whatever.
      Joyce seemed quite fused with Lucia and thought only he could understand her etc. Traumatic interior states get passed on between people, and often inter-generationally, even when those states are kept hidden.

      1. Whoops, ” Looking at a child’s mental distress in isolation from the general condition of the family and the parent’s relationship with each other and with the children” should have had appended, “is a decontextualised and depoliticised way of looking at things.”

  25. 1. That’s quite a generalization – that “men are generally absent [in their] behaviour towards children.” What’s your evidence of that? I mean, empirical evidence?

    2. While I’m not necessarily at all a fan of reducing pathology sheerly to chemical states, there’s a lot – because there’s a lot of hard evidence to the effect (CT scanning, etc.) in question – to be said for the fact that schizophrenia is a biological condition – and Joyce’s daughter was almost certainly schizophrenic.

    3. It’s a rum thing to hear Lacan – if you’ve indeed got him right on the matter – laying the blame for Joyce’s daughter’s condition at the door of the “domination” of Joyce’s family life by his writing. Do you know anything about what Lacan was like as a person? He was brilliant, and important, etc. etc., but this really comes off as the pot calling the kettle, etc., and as such, is funny coming from such a noted, and notably brilliant, analyst.

    4. Absolutely, any kind of mental distress should be considered in (social, etc.) context. But are you aware of the extent to which, for instance, the work of R.D. Laing, on the responsibility of mothers for the schizophrenia of their children was savaged, back in the day, and rightly so, by feminists? Just an example; but I think any analyst worth their salt would beware of making observations about a situation of mental health wherein all the evidence which we have comes to us from (at least) second hand. (I write this realizing that I’ve above diagnosed Joyce’s daughter as “schizophrenic,” but my point is about relations and causes – and just about everyone, both then and now, agrees that she was).

    5. One doesn’t necessarily need to know “the structure” of something in order to deplore it – and act so as to work against it. The problem with *300* is (Sizek’s silly reading of it aside) that it’s fascist – and (almost) nobody batted an eyelid; the problem with *Skyfall* is that it’s misogynistic – on just about any definition of the term – and you actually have people (the Guardian review, for instance) stating that this is the “new, non-misogynist” Bond. It’s the blindness to the signifier that’s the problem, and which needs to be analyzed – not (necessarily) the extent of the signification within the text itself. Or: it’s not that Bond is misogynistic because he’s got mummy issues which is the problem (or, necessarily, that people with mummy issues are misogynistic. Are they *all* *necessarily* so?); it’s that people – movie going audiences generally – are generally blind to the fact
    *that* he’s misogynistic.

    1. I think it’s generally accepted that men spend much less time in child care duties than women in family life. I also worked for many years as a teacher of very young children and what was striking about many of the fathers I saw was their difficulty in understanding their young children, and connecting with them. I also run a service that works with abusive men, and its very clear to us that male relationships with children are at the heart of misogyny and the structures of masculinity that we inhabit.
      Joyce’s daughter Lucia had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. While there is plenty of evidence of schizophrenia as a kind of hard-wired condition, there are also many states that look like schizophrenia, and are undoubtedly diagnosed as such. Receiving a diagnosis of a condition doesn’t mean it is accurate. The pigeon-holing of interior states into diagnostic categories can be extremely problematic.
      I don’t think Lacan was laying the blame for Lucia’s state on Joyce’s writing at all. I’m speculating as to what the dynamics in the Joyce family were, based on pretty straightforward non-controversial ideas. If the Joyces turned up in my counselling practice, dad bringing in crazy Lucia, I’d be asking a lot of questions about dad and of dad and what his desires are what he thinks desire is. I’m aware of Lacan’s personal weird behaviours but as I say, Lacan was interested in the structure of psychoses not what happened to Lucia.
      The history of western psychology is full of all kinds of blaming, often of women. I’m curious about Joyce’s literary work because if Lacan is right it was in essence a psychotic act. This doesn’t lessen it, but make it more interesting in a way, especially given Joyce’s influence and forces us to look at literature differently.
      I think to deplore something and act against it we actually do need to know the structure of it. I can’t see an alternative. The signifier contains its own blindness if you like, that’s really the issue.
      To say that Bond has a ‘mummy issue’ is not the same as saying as he’s a mummy’s boy. It’s actually a daddy issue, that was Lacan’s point. If there’s no Name-of-the-father, if there’s no paternal signifier – or to put it another way, if a woman has no avenue to express her own desires being trapped in a window-less prison of misogyny – then we get a lot of woman blaming, paranoia when the paternal arises, or a rigid structure in which the psychotic becomes encapsulated – inside his novel, his uniform whatever. The lack of the paternal is really a harsh and punitive structuring of female desire by men.
      Does every child have psychoses? Of course not. Do we live in a society increasingly characterised by paranoia and psychotic episodes? You bet.

  26. This post has as much life as the Bond franchise. I finally got to see Skyfall and I must say you don’t need “3D” glasses to see the misogyny (its there in everything from the non-gay male gaze through to plot, characterisation and the recuperative ending). I guess people see and read what they want to, or are capable of seeing and reading. That’s why I find “spoilers” assist reading as they provide a dialectic to work through, with and against.

    If I’m reading it right the Skyfall plot is suggesting a new future direction for the Bond franchise, but clearly not so, given its resolution. Surely for there to be a new direction Eve needed become the new, non-castrating M.

    And relating the lack here of not making Eve the new M to your point about “the only word that Bond refuses to associate to is ‘Skyfall’, (so) it’s worth speculating on its associations. The first one that comes to mind is ‘sky-father’: father as God, as omnipotent, unreachable being, the archetype of the myth of misogyny,” I proffer a remembrance of Luce Irigaray arguing in a monograph called “Divine Women” (which I read in translation years ago in the now defunct Marxist bookshop in South Terrace, Fremantle) that women were stopped from becoming divine, and so don’t exist for and in themselves, as they don’t have their own genre, their own God, as a divine presence assists in defining genre. There is a male God, so men have their own genre (but not women). As it stands, a woman becomes divine through her son, so there is no woman god. Irigaray argues further how women have to construct their own aerian (‘sky’) terrestial space. Women need to fly, become birds, which can only be done by opening up the mobility of sky, is part of the argument, as I remember it.

    There is a lot more to Irigaray’s “Divine Women” argument than my impoverished reading allows. Anyway, I chuck this into the mix to see if there are any takers.

    1. But not nearly as much glamour as Bond.
      The Irigiray quote/argument fits pretty neatly into the argument doesn’t it? Thanks for digging it out, it really adds something.
      The other day, in circumstances too arcane to go into, I saw Skyfall again. On the basis of a 2nd viewing I retract nothing. A number of people have commented that I misread the death of Severine and Bond’s response. Actually, if anything, I understated it. After she is sadistically killed, it is then that Bond goes all ninja, as if her death was the spur. Actually he could just as well have gone ninja before she was shot. The circumstances were no different, except that she was alive. Ergo….a little sadistic woman-killing heightens everyone’s frisson of excitement.
      BTW, this evening I saw the 2011 remake of Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy, in which Gary Oldman creepily channels Alec Guiness. On the desk of Control, the Brit secret service boss, is……… the same china bulldog that M bequeaths to Bond.

      1. They were. Henchmen let down their guard a bit and Silva was bulletless.
        It was nasty and it was nasty on purpose and I think that that purpose was portrayal of what kind of sacrificies are being made in this line of work and how it is not pretty and easy. I see it more as nasty to shock and appall than shock, arouse and affirm. I agree violence on TV is meant to play on our shadow and primal instincts, but the scene holds a bit different meaning for me.

  27. altho i have to argue a little bit with you. (ha!)

    i like how you lead up to going to skyfall but i’m not sure what happens there is all that weird, as you put it.

    i tend to get absorbed into films like this so maybe i didn’t question it in the same way … is it about going home in the first place? or about using the tunnel?


    1. It’s weird in the reading I’m giving, because Bond, who is utterly fused with his mother-figure , encounters his father in the form of ‘Skyfall.’ This is interesting because in a Lacanian reading the pyschotic cannot tolerate an encounter with the paternal register. That might sound odd, but it’s a narrative of psychosis as a misogynist failure. It’s complicated , or seems that way, and too much to go in here.
      it’s also weird because of the religious overtones that suddenly appear in many forms.

      1. ah! (I have worked out how to reply!)


        i am not overly familiar with lacan. i keep reading darian leader who loves lacan very much and used his theory for ‘what is madness’. so it sort of makes sense.

        but if you have suggestions for reading that would be great.

        1. Stick with Darian Leader, He has also written a really good ‘Introduction to Lacan’ it’s cheap and a very thorough beginners guide.

  28. There’s as much truth to this review as there’s to the Oedipus complex. Not that they’re not true, but that they alone are not the cause for everything. It’s a far fetched idea and tinted view to think so. I’m sure one can find enough clues in the film against this idea if one would look for them, not because they’re there, but because you want them to be there. I think the movie is about a boss(same or opposite gender) at work that two sub-ordinates come to adore, respect and idolize and then comes a situation where professional objectives matter more than personal relations. A judgement then throws off the delicate balance leaving a bitter remorse. It is up to the maturity of one of them to think beyond accepting reason and getting back to the objective and the other who gets locked in as a selfish child. Btw, I believe the movie also shows Gareth Mallory winning bond’s admiration(paternal or maternal ?) as replacement to M.

    1. I think that Mallory did earn his admiration, but not the same kind as M. Not so intimate and thus dangerous. Otherwise, yes, that is pretty much what I think too.

    1. But your redescription is actually an Oedipal one. Also it leaves out the gender of the participants, which is crucial.
      I’m not proposing Oedipal solutions to everything, just giving a certain reading, and politicising Oedipality’s breakdown as a misogynist failure. Desire after all, is largely constructed in childhood, and genders shaped there too.

      1. Does it have to be crucial? Couldn’t closeness to fatherly figure do the same job?
        His both parrents died. If it wasn’t female M, it would be male M and story and its meaning would stay the same. IMHO.

  29. I got to see Skyfall again in a roundabout sort of way, as happens, so where to next for Bond? A thought: as we’re dealing with literature in Skyfall – the phantasm – in filmic form – so anything is possible and can happen – it’s fascinating to speculate (for me at least) what the Bond franchise (or “James Bond” himself) may actually desire:

    * achieve the impossible and return to the maternal (imagined wholeness)?

    * see the end of masculine mastery (misogyny) should the lost mother’s return become an actuality?

    The failed project will continue botching up the first option in a roundabout sort of way is my guess.

    1. I think what’s interesting is how limited the producers of Skyfall have made any Bond future. As far as Bond’s own desires are concerned they were expressed in his word associations: murder=employment etc, with a successful repression of ‘Skyfall.’
      The producers let Bond speak to his own condition, which is a bit dangerous for the franchise future I think, but closed it down at the end turning him into the good compliant soldier of the empire.
      I suppose there’s a possibility of following his dead parents (in Fleming’s Bond killed in a mountaineering accident) or re-booting. Craig apparently wants out of his Bond contract. The easiest thing to do would be to pretend Skyfall never happened, psychologically speaking. Otherwise Bond’s in deep shit.

  30. As far as I’m concerned, “SKYFALL” was basically a sexist movie.

    And by the way, Indiana Jones ended the series married to his lady love, Marion Ravenwood. As for Bourne, he fell in love with in the first movie, lost her in the second, and continued to mourn her in the third. In the fourth movie, his CIA colleague Aaron Cross started out saving the leading lady and ended up being rescued by her and falling in love.

  31. Well, yes, Skyfall is sexist. But sexist in a particular way. And however Bond or Bourne or Jones find romance, the women they are with have limited life expectancy, because they are in fact an impossibility and really exist only in fantasy.

  32. Nice article, but it doesn’t save the movie for me. I still think it’s misogynist crap. It’s not simply the misogyny I found repulsive, I was also annoyed by the plot holes.

    Sorry. Nice try.

  33. Yes, it was misogynist crap. I thought that was what I was saying.
    There probably hasn’t been a Hollywood blockbuster in my lifetime that didn’t have massive plot holes in it.

  34. It’s easy as a woman to feel alienated and depressed by a lot of popular media, especially when others don’t see the problematic bits (or worse, laud them). While I enjoyed Skyfall, I was dismayed at the misogyny (especially the way Severine’s death was handled–the Scotch line, UGH.)

    I stumbled across this article by accident and was surprised and delighted not only to see all these things called out, but by a man no less! Thank you Mr. Wright, you’ve restored a little faith in humanity (and in men in particular) for me. …It is good to feel less alone.

  35. Thanks for this Antigone. It’s clear that Bond is supposed to be misogynist, as Vesper points out in Casino Royale. The problem is that the script handles his misogyny misogynistically. Craig is fantastic as Bond, and manages to deliver the most absurd Han Solo-ish lines with great panache, so that Bond’s essential creepiness gets charmed over and not in a useful way.
    However, I think if I were writing this again I’d emphasise the ways in which Bond’s masculinity doesn’t really differ from contemporary mundane masculinity. Maybe ‘Spectre’will give me the chance!
    Either way, the film will no doubt involve dead and-or traumatised women.

    1. Yeah, there is that trademark charm, but I think that Craig movies also do good job at showing he is messed up a lot and price for being the kind of person, he is, is awful. This depiction is less glamorous. And Skyfall oozes with hope for ressurection and at least partial overcoming of issues.
      Now, that Spectre is out, what do you think about it and developement of Bond?

  36. Alright, Bond pretty much destroys his home, but to me it definitelly did not look like breakdown, nor like action aimed on destroying paternal imago. I see it as him coming to terms with this place – a sore spot and making it no more sore. It is destroyed, even destroyed by him and in rather unemotional way. It is not so much destroyed, as utilized. He always hated this place and now he is over with it. It felt like purging – fire’s cleansing power at work and he arrived composed and succesful at chapel and stopped the enemy, the only person realy breaking down, and got to say farewell to M and disentangled from her ready to move on. He dealt with the very first trauma and then also with reactionary bonding to M stemming from it and return to London as healed and ressurected man, ready for action. Action, that will be done in better way, because he is in better condition. I think that M needed to die just like Dumbledore in HP needed to die.
    Feel free to point faults in my impression.

    1. I haven’t got time to respond your numerous comments, so will confine myself to this one.
      The Craig/Bond reboot initially started out trying to come to grips with Bond’s misogyny. That’s the main theme of Casino Royale. Given that, it’s reasonable to try and see how that plays out in the subsequent films. Bond the misogynist works well for one film, but once the producers/writers start to follow that path they will pretty much destroy their own franchise; so the next 3 films are ways in which Bond has to avoid the consequences of any potential acknowledgment of misogyny. I’m not going to reiterate my arguments. Yours don’t address mine in the slightest, so there’s not a lot I can say about them.
      The next Craig/Bond film is shaping up as a clusterfuck already. Having got himself into an Oedipal nightmare – marrying his mother (in the shape of Madeline Swann)and killing his father (Skyfall) and having had a psychotic episode (all of Spectre) in order to explain away the damage he causes to women, the producers of Bond have dug themselves a very big hole. How do you write a drama about Oedipus marrying his mother etc, when he’s not allowed to find that out?

  37. Liberally sprinkling the words psychotic and misogynistic throughout the review does not prove a point. There are some logical leaps that I can’t grant you – Skyfall represents sky-father, the misogynistic God? James crushing his vulnerable feminine nature as part of his own misogyny? You’ve done nothing to support your view about psychosis.

    Yes, the plot is certainly sexist. Moneypenny is incompetent and becomes a secretary. M falls from grace, dies, and is replaced by a man. It’s hard to say if these seemingly misogynistic arcs were intentional or just a misguided effort to tie the plot back into the original Bond films, making the Craig films a spiritual prequel to the Connery films.

    As far as Bond’s lovers all dying – I think this is driven more out of lazy writers falling back on the “lose everyone he loves” trope over and over. Since he’s a straight man, his lovers are women.

    As far as Severine’s final scene – Bond is visibly shaken when he sees her tied up and struggles to maintain his composure. He misses his shot because he’s shaking. I think the “waste of good Scotch” line was tasteless but it’s also clearly a ploy to lower their guard. Immediately afterward he avenges her by killing the henchmen and capturing Silva.

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