Skyfall, Rosebud, and the Decline of the West

Source: Wikipedia

As far as the latest installment of the James Bond franchise is concerned, it seems what they say is true: twenty-third time’s a charm! The Orson Wellian-named Skyfall is a rollicking, raucous, romp of a roller-coaster ride. And other stuff lame movie reviewers get paid to say about every film ever made.

The important difference here is that I legitimately loved the new 007 flick and equally enjoyed Mark Judge’s Acculturated assessment of the “return to manliness mountain” theme that tracks throughout the film.  Daniel Craig and the Bond team have completely redeemed themselves after the mind-numbing Quantum of Solace that had something to do with–wait for it– evil corporations exploiting poorer, nobler countries.  I’ll give you second to collect yourselves from that shocking revelation.

The main reason Skyfall works is because it employs those oldest of movie-making tricks: character development, fun action sequences and an interesting plotline that is relatively easily to follow. My apologies to all you Tree of Life fans, but some of us go to movies because trying to figure things like the U.S. tax code system and our mother’s veiled insistence that “it’s fine you’re not coming home for Thanksgiving” out are challenging enough. 

Speaking of Thanksgiving, Skyfall opens with James Bond pursuing hired assassins through the streets of Istanbul, Turkey!

After this harrowing Turkish cat-and-mouse-and-train chase scene, Bond goes off the grid for a while to re-charge his batteries (and deteriorate his liver). But when he returns, when MI6 and his beloved M (played by the stately Dame Judi Dench) are threatened by an ex-British agent (played by the flamboyantly vicious Javier Bardem), 007 unleashes hell’s fury in a Scottish bog named after his favorite sled.  Or was that the twist in Citizen Kane?  Sorry, I’ve been huffing L.A. smog for almost six months now and the memory’s starting to slip.

The important thing to remember is this: Skyfall is absolutely worth your time and a lot of fun.

But–and you knew there’d be a “but”–I have a couple of points to nit-pick and ask you to indulge me for a few more sentences. First, there was the whole “Will we ever get a gay James Bond?” controversy that surrounded the production and release of the movie.  There were actual flames to this fire because of a particular scene in the film in which Bardem’s bad-guy character strokes a tied-up Bond’s legs in a suggestive manner.  Bond then makes a suggestive quip of his own–“Who’s to say this is my first time?” –and things mercifully go right back to the infinitely more interesting storyline.

Everything about the scene I just described reeked of “We’re trying to make a social statement, because if James Bond experimented in secret agent college, then anyone could be gay.”  There was no reason for any of this, and if I were a gay person, I’d be offended that the first villain in the Bond franchise to be an obvious homosexual is a deformed psychopath hell-bent on murdering his mother-figure.

Dear Hollywood, please just let us eat our Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwiches and watch James irresponsibly bed a gaggle of scantily-clad co-eds each time a new Bond film drops.  Save the social commentary for something Sean Penn is acting/brooding intensely in (see: afore mentioned Tree of Life).

Lastly, and this speaks somewhat to Mark Judge’s piece that I mentioned above, the whole “we old-timers and masculine holdovers from days of yore are better than you Instagraming whippersnappers” theme in Skyfall is definitely refreshing because it reminds us all that the world is filled with certain types of evil people who can only be confronted with actual force and real-world courage. But for as much as the film plays up this angle, and as much as conservatives like Mark and I might enjoy seeing it played out on the silver screen, I found myself leaving the theater with this somber realization hitting me as the credits rolled: “What in the world is going to happen when Bond’s generation is gone?”

Sure, the West still has a few movie characters (and, thankfully, hundreds of thousands of real-life heroes in uniform around the globe) that are willing to sacrifice everything for the love of their family and country, but what happens when they’ve retired or gone to that big Moonraker in the sky?

The young, hipster version of the Q character introduced in Skyfall is proud of the fact that he doesn’t deal with pedestrian, antiquated weapons like a gun.  He’s going to wish he did when the zombies eat through his iPad’s WiFi grid.

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3 responses to “Skyfall, Rosebud, and the Decline of the West

  1. I don’t know. I am not sure that popular culture is so easily divisible. I think that the same approach to life that gives us easy accessibility to multiple women and violence for the sake of entertainment is precisely the type of values-free thinking that tells us that there’s nothing wrong with homosexual dalliances in Bond movies. This is ultimately the same type of mindlessness that produces the political culture that we now find ourselves in: cool is king, and white and nerdy can’t get elected since it might impede our easy, thoughless, and entertaining slide into socialism. The popular music seems to me the same–simple and mindless at best and often downright hostile to the values that allowed Western Civilization to produce the enormous cultural capital whose rapidly dwindling reserves we still draw upon when we need an older value now and then to trot out and pay homage to. But at least we–like the Cool in Chief–all have Jay Z on our playlists.

    On the visceral level, I liked Skyfall, too, but I don’t think ultimately that it means very much or does very much good. And at the risk of sounding like an old bore, I don’t know whether mindless entertainment that is only mildly hostile to the old virtues and verities is really all that harmless. What is best in civilization asks us to make hard choices and to live virtuous lives. Surely it is no accident that in the end of the film, the old house in Scotland had to be destroyed. It isn’t after all flashy or sexy–and though it was destroyed by the villain, it burns without much protest: as Bond himself says of it, “I’ve always hated this place.” And yet it’s just the place in which Western culture was nourished for hundreds of years.

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