WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE JAMES BOND MOVIES: SKYFALL & SPECTRE
You probably remember the notorious pre-credit sequence to “Skyfall”, the 23rd Bond movie and the most successful of the franchise to date.
Just in case you don’t here’s a quick recap.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond is shot by a bumbling Moneypenny; the bullet punches him off the roof of a speeding train and he plunges some fifty feet into a fast flowing river below.
In most other films that would have been it, kaput, protagonist dead, movie over, exit cinema, but this is James Bond, and we all know that James Bond can’t be killed.
But what if we’re wrong?
What if James Bond actually did die in that scene and everything afterwards has been nothing more than a paranoid journey through his afterlife?
In other words, what if James Bond has been dead for two entire movies?
LET’S CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE.
Adele’s haunting song, “Skyfall” begins moments after James Bond hits the water, we hear the chilling opening words, “this is the end”, and suddenly a giant female hand yanks a bleeding and drowning Bond down into the underworld where he faces possibly the most chilling title sequence of any Bond movie to date.
In this sequence James Bond seems to be passing through the Tibetan chikhai bardo, a transitional journey of the soul that commences moments after death, complete with hallucinations that reflect the life of extreme violence he’s led; graveyards filled with combat knifes, and revolvers in lieu of headstones, blood-red lighting, dissolving skulls, and in one instance Bond is actually engaged in a firefight with his own shadows, a motif that is repeated later on in the sequence when he fires at his mirror reflections, suggesting that the only enemy he ever faced was himself.
DEAD SPY WALKING
The movie that follows never explains how Bond survived his apparent death-plunge into the river; or the bullet wound to the chest, instead he merely appears, wraith-like, in M’s apartment, after indulging in a massive drinking binge somewhere in the Far East. Everything is unspecified. Nothing is certain. At one point he is seen standing half naked as he glares into a mirror, there are scars aplenty decorating his torso but no wound to indicate the bullet that knocked him off the train. At another indefinite point he is seated in a bar downing shots of tequila with a scorpion balanced on his hand, Scorpio being a zodiac sign often associated with death and the powers of regeneration.
Later in the movie we are introduced to Raoul Silva, a villain who resembles a rotting corpse when he removes his false dentures, suggesting he might be a fellow wraith, a dead man who blames M for his earthly demise years earlier, although Raoul, like Bond, believes he is still alive.
THE DEAD ARE ALIVE
The follow-up to Skyfall is actually called Spectre, an allusion to the villainous organization that has dogged the franchise since the days of Sean Connery, but it can also be seen as another hint that our indestructible hero is, in fact, dead. If you want further proof consider the weird epigraph: “The Dead Are Alive.” hammered onto the screen moments before the title sequence. Or Sam Smith’s song, “The Writing on the Wall;” a possible allusion to the scene in which Bond’s name has been added to a memorial stone.
The opening scenes in “Spectre” are set in Mexico City on Dia de Muertos, “the day of the dead”, with armies of skull headed celebrants filing through the streets, James Bond is, appropriately enough, dressed as a skeleton, his mission prompted by a message from the dead mother-figure (M), the first of many “spectres” who will appear in this film.
This time around time-and-space seem to function along the lines of dream logic. One moment Bond is in one location, the next he is in an entirely different place, sometimes even a different country.
There are barely any transitional scenes in Spectre, very few shots showing us how Bond gets from one location to the next, or even one moment to the next, it’s a peculiarly disorientating omission, as though time itself is becoming less reliable, less relevant, as we proceed.
And yet everything has an eerie ring of familiarity about it, almost every scene in “Spectre” harkens back to earlier movies, earlier incarnations of Bond, the fight on the train (From Russia with Love), silent, physically imposing henchman (Jaws), skull-face with top hat (Live and Let Die), villain’s layer located in a crater (You Only Live Twice), the references are numerous to the point of distraction, all of which lends support to the idea that “Spectre” is simply the confused recollections of a dead man.
How confused? Bond even re-imagines Ernst Blofeld as his stepbrother, the same way we freely re-imagine people in different roles when we’re dreaming. Blofeld is another spectre, previously thought dead, now resurrected to battle Bond over the love of the father they were forced to share. If Skyfall is about mother, then Spectre is most assuredly about father. Gone are the feminine undertones of the previous outing, this is an all-male affair, Ralph Fiennes is the new M; Christoph Waltz has replaced Javier Bardes’ effete and highly emotional portrayal of Raoul Silva, with the cerebral and calculated ruthlessness of Ernst Blofeld.
But it all ends in destruction nonetheless, the dissolution of Bond’s past, begun with the death of mother and the firebombing of his ancestral home in “Skyfall”, continues in “Spectre” with the destruction of the only other home he’s ever known, the MI6 headquarters, an event that undoubtedly signals the end of an era.
R.I.P. JAMES BOND
“Spectre” concludes not with the traditional death of the villain, but with an uncharacteristic moment of redemption, James Bond, cold, dispassionate killer of twenty-four movies, suddenly finds it in his heart to spare Blofeld’s life, the sky has fallen, his world has been obliterated, only now is he free to make different choices, and those choices include the ability to renounce his past, to walk away with a woman he’s finally able to settle down with – the kind of fairy tale ending that had eluded him whilst he was alive.
James Bond is dead, at least Daniel Craig’s incarnation is, but remember, the dead are alive, and none of this will matter when the next actor takes the helm, even if that actor is, once again, Daniel Craig. For now let us imagine the tormented soul has found peace at last and is ready to move on.
James Bond is dead.
Long live James Bond.