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Tennyson - the key to understanding Skyfall? (contains spoilers)

edited November 2012 in Skyfall Posts: 44
Regrettably, I can't take credit for this level of analysis, but I found these two reviews. They are quite deep, but i like the thrust of their analysis. Have the hit on something? or are talking pretentious bollocks?

David Thomson commented:

The film is hugely fun, but has a very serious theme: the place of tradition in the modern world. It really feels like a statement about modern Britain by Mendes, Deakins and Crag - three of our leading

Skyfall is by far the closest depiction of the Bond from the novels. The novels are in many ways are about the traditions of the British Empire colliding with post WW2 decline. Something that Skyfall almost stands as a response to. Skyfall itself is an answer the questions and insecurities Fleming exposed as the Empire rapidly declined in the 50s and 60s.

SPOILERS HERE:

The central Tennyson quote by M is the key to the whole film (incase you missed the relevance of the Fighting Temarare by Turner earlier on). Throughout the film tradition is constantly threatened by modernity - and each time a tempered version of tradition comes up trumps. There are countless examples... Bond is shot not by the mistake of someone on the ground, but because of the high tech communication. MI6 new building is destroyed and they're safer in ancient WW2 tunnels. Silva is a tech genius, but Bond (and M) is repeatedly called out of touch or old. And of course, the final sequence can be seen as one giant metaphor - the high tech invaders storming Bond's castle with all their equipment and Bond has ancient rifles and a knife. And how does he finally beat Silva - by the most simple weapon he has. There is so much of this throughout the film I can't remember it off the top of my head. The whole film is about the interaction of tradition and modernity.

The reading I take from the film is as Tennyson says: time will give you a beating, but hold onto your history and traditions and they will steel you against anything that comes at you. That's exactly what James Bond does.

SPOILERS END

I'd love to hear how Americans react to the themes of tradition in the film. Particularly around the relevance of the Tennyson quote from Ulysses spoken by M:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

If putting that Tennyson speech into the mouth of one of our greatest living actors in the middle of our biggest cultural exports isn't a statement about Britain, I don't know what is.

I can't see any of those sentiments or political position of Skyfall being made by many American filmmakers.



Chris Hunneysett commented:

Sir, the Tennyson is the essential to our understanding of the film but for these complementary reasons:
The film is absolutely about selling Britain and Mendes underlines how Bond is the best of Britain by drawing a parallel, or possibly an umbilical cord through time between this most modern hero and our most ancient, King Arthur.
It was Tennyson in his 'Idylls of the King' codified the Arthurian legend and Mendes is in effect continuing the tale of Arthur when he returns, when England needs him most.
The pre-title sequence is the Malory's (does that name ring a bell from the movie?) Le Morte d'Arthur, the story of how Arthur is betrayed by a woman, mortally wounded in action and disappears presumed dead in the lake.
During the titles Bond undergoes a symbolic Christian rebirth.
Time passes and when Britain needs Arthur/Bond again and so he returns as legend foretells.
The threat is once again Mordred (Silva) about whom legend is distinctly ambiguous of the familial relationship between he and Arthur.
Thus we have lots of references to M as their joint (metaphorical) mother, (both men are orphans, Arthur also had a fostered upbringing), Severine, the woman they share is also an orphan. Further, Bond is revealed to have a birth mother with a Spanish maiden name, suggesting a further ahem, bond with Silva.
The Merlin figure is of course Q.
I don't believe a director as erudite as Mendes would include these details/imagery/language by coincidence, it would almost impossible to do so by accident. The purpose is to anchor Bond firmly in the tradition of British heroic sacrifice (Tennyson also of course wrote The Charge Of The Light Brigade) and so elevate him from the mundane into the legendary.
These elements incorporated in the subtext will be registered in the audience's mind whether they realise it or not, they will be familiar with the basic elements of Arthurian legend but not necessarily identify them as such in Skyfall but the film will benefit from the cultural echoes regardless.
Yes this is what Joseph Campbell was writing about in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (and far better than I) but what Mendes does is employ the theory to wed Bond to Arthur for Bond's benefit, the movie's benefit and for the audience's benefit.
Thanks for listening.


Taken from Roger Ebert's Journal
http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2012/11/a_great_deal_of_solace.html#comments
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Comments

  • edited November 2012 Posts: 4,399
    Yes I believe all these references are almost certainly deliberate. Mendes studied English (I think) at Cambridge and no doubt he and Logan had long and fascinating discussions about all this stuff. The Turner and Tennyson is impossible to miss but had not registered the Arthurian references. Reading this though I have no doubt that it is intentional. This is exactly what I expected from Mendes and one of the reasons that I had such high expectations for the film. It is fascinating and gives me a greater appreciation for what they were trying to achieve. However, it is just unfortunate that (IMO) this erudition has not contributed towards a more entertaining film.
  • A better explanation. Even though the main villain is heading up Whitehall to take me and probably a bunch of other folk out, I'm gonna sit here and spout poetry in my RP accent...
  • Posts: 3,493

    A better explanation. Even though the main villain is heading up Whitehall to take me and probably a bunch of other folk out, I'm gonna sit here and spout poetry in my RP accent...

    No, she stands her ground and finishes what she went there to do. That has a lot to do with the poem for those who kept their eyes and ears well open.

    That was one of my favourite parts of the film, very powerful. Very good analysis @Troy.
  • Fascinating approach.
  • edited November 2012 Posts: 4,399
    Sandy said:

    A better explanation. Even though the main villain is heading up Whitehall to take me and probably a bunch of other folk out, I'm gonna sit here and spout poetry in my RP accent...

    No, she stands her ground and finishes what she went there to do. That has a lot to do with the poem for those who kept their eyes and ears well open.

    That was one of my favourite parts of the film, very powerful. Very good analysis @Troy.
    The poem is great. The fact they have to read it aloud to get the point across is unfortunate - slightly clunky film-makimg IMO. But even worse, in the context of the film, it makes M look utterly out of touch and arrogant. She has completely and utterly ballsed up and caused the deaths of countless agents. And yet not only is she indignant at being called before a parliamentary committee (how dare they, these mere representatives of the people!) but she has the arrogance to lecture them on Tennyson. It is the actions of unaccountable fools like herself that has brought MI6 to the verge of disaster and this is her response - a glorious, unapologetic two fingers to the nation. Now may be some people like their M that way, but I don't. It did however contribute to my thoroughly enjoying her death at the end of the movie.
  • Agree, agree, agree. Not only that, but earlier on she says to Mallory, "I'm going to stick around and sort out the problems at MI6!' or words to that effect. This has a nasty kind of vibe to it, does it put me in mind of the sort of thing Tony Blair or Gordon Brown might say? Or Capello after the disastrous England World Cup? Or Rupert Murdoch 'I'm going to put my house in order!' regarding News International? It's the old 'you don't get rid of me!' trick, dressed up as being responsible. Very cool if deliberate writing, but instead it's as if we're meant to applaud her - good ol' M!

    In fact, frankly guys, even if you love the film, you might as well argue that the scene is deliberately done to show M as out of touch - a Colonel Blimp figure who waits around spouting verse while the enemy is at the gates, whereas at least Mallory gets stuck into the action. Have you ever thought of that (tbf only just occurred to me...)
  • Posts: 116
    That was one of my favorite moments. It was everything the canned, phony, shoe-horned Dickens quote wanted to be in TDKR.
  • I don't see this as a political statement at all, but a statement about M and Bond's character. We enter a time where the intelligence community and its HUMINT (human intelligence) can't compare to the effectiveness of SIGINT (signal intelligence). The film explores just how important having human agents is. Furthermore, the poem is the exact definition of M and Bond. They are old hardware yet are able to do what needs to be done and will always endure against all challenges, even if that means risking their lives. Aging is a tough subject for everyone, but Skyfall makes a great commentary on not only the characters, but the franchise beyond that which sparked in 1962. This franchise has some mileage on it, what with Bond in his 50th year on the big screen, but still today we can say that though he is aged, he has stood the test of time and is better than ever. That is what will always make this series of films in everyone's hearts and minds. It now means so much to generation after generation, and to be apart of that is spine tingling.
  • edited November 2012 Posts: 612
    I really enjoyed, in fact it's one of Skyfall's high points for me, Judy Dench's delivery of "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

    Remember that, exactly 100 years ago in 1912, Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Birdie Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Taffy Evans all died returning from the South Pole.

    "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" was what Apsley Cherry-Garrard had inscribed on the Polar Party final resting place.

    I'd love to think Judy Dench's words in Skyfall were not a coincidence.

  • I thought both the quote, and the way the movie was structured around it, was a very powerful, effective approach. I also think it carries an added meaning for the Americans right now as well as the British.

    What I don't know is if the Americans will actually execute the actions of the last line.
  • I never imagined that one movie could be so complex, amazing analysis.
  • An amazing analysis indeed. Also helps to make sense of the British bulldog mascot on M’s desk – you know, the one that survives the devastation of the MI6 explosion (when all around it is destroyed) and is passed down, after M’s death, to Bond himself. This quintessential emblem of all that is British is indestructible, and survives to be passed down to succeeding generations. It’s almost enough to make you stand to attention and salute!
  • Posts: 278
    what a superb analysis
  • Posts: 1,492

    An amazing analysis indeed. Also helps to make sense of the British bulldog mascot on M’s desk – you know, the one that survives the devastation of the MI6 explosion (when all around it is destroyed) and is passed down, after M’s death, to Bond himself. This quintessential emblem of all that is British is indestructible, and survives to be passed down to succeeding generations. It’s almost enough to make you stand to attention and salute!

    This is a good point. The China nick nack bulldog did represent the indestructability of Britain and at the same time the lead character takes the pee out of it which is very British.

  • The more I watch this film, the more I see the wisdom in this analysis. It is a, I think, brilliant, as well as entertaining, construct indeed!
  • Superb analysis of the film, really enjoyed reading it.

    I was at Magdalen College School in Oxford at the same time as Sam Mendes although he would have been 5 years above me and I can't claim to have known him personally, but I can vouch for him most likely having had a very strong literary education.
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 699
    I've finally gotten to read some of the earlier threads, and wanted to thank Troy for posting the analysis above, a great find. I'll need to read again and think it through. I'm not familiar with Malory, the Gareth story/Sir Gareth and all that... need to do some reading... All very educational. :)

    One detail I couldn't agree with:


    "Further, Bond is revealed to have a birth mother with a Spanish maiden name, suggesting a further ahem, bond with Silva."


    Silva is supposed to be of Portuguese origin, tho, right? And besides, how is Delacroix a Spanish name, anyway?
  • Posts: 6,407
    Very good analysis. I am happy with the poem, the entire set up, how it was delivered, and the implied intention. I concur. And I think Skyfall is a very enjoyable film, with layers that we are just now beginning to more fully appreciate.
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 699

    Very good analysis. I am happy with the poem, the entire set up, how it was delivered, and the implied intention. I concur. And I think Skyfall is a very enjoyable film, with layers that we are just now beginning to more fully appreciate.

    Yes, I agree. I loved the Tennyson scene in the movie and how it was done, the cross-editing, the whole thing. At least on one viewing I was almost tearing up, the other times I got goosebumps (seen it 5 times so far). I've since read the whole poem, too, obviously, not being familiar with it before. :) And read art history analysis of the paintings. Literary history, actual history... stuff about names... It's like being back at university, just more fun. :D Skyfall is a true wonder, and I'm still thrilled and in awe. The more I read and think, and the more I see it, the more I love it.
  • Tuulia said:

    I've finally gotten to read some of the earlier threads, and wanted to thank Troy for posting the analysis above, a great find. I'll need to read again and think it through. I'm not familiar with Malory, the Gareth story/Sir Gareth and all that... need to do some reading... All very educational. :)

    One detail I couldn't agree with:


    "Further, Bond is revealed to have a birth mother with a Spanish maiden name, suggesting a further ahem, bond with Silva."


    Silva is supposed to be of Portuguese origin, tho, right? And besides, how is Delacroix a Spanish name, anyway?

    Well, cultural ignorance is very British as well.. ;)

    nah, kidding. Indeed, it was the only part of a further excellent review that put me to thinking, and probably go to the cinema again.
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 65
    Raoul (spanish) Silva (portuguese)
    Tiago (portuguese equivalent to James) Rodríguez (spanish equivalent to the portuguese surname Rodrigues)

    His name is a mess, actually...
  • Posts: 699
    Raoul isn't Spanish, Raúl is. :)
    I'm a bit confused why it's Rodriguez and not Rodrigues, but since Javier says the character is of Portuguese origin then he is. :P And it doesn't really matter to the story, anyway, it's just that emphasizing supposed Spanishness in some analysis (I've seen others, too) irritates me since it doesn't actually fit.
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 65
    You're right, Tuulia. Raúl is spanish and Raul portuguese.

    Of course it doesn't matter. Rodrigues/Rodriguez, spanish or portuguese... It's all the same, after all... Subalterns anyway... Skyfall is all about british imperialism.
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 699
    Yes, I meant it doesn't matter in the story of the movie, but when people analyze the movie based on wrong assumptions - in this case the "Spanishness" - that sorta matters. :)
    (Another example would be, for instance, accusations of demonization of sexual minorities - as if 8-| - again based on wrong assumptions... such as there being a character in the movie representing a sexual minority in the first place... ;) --- or accusations of sexism based on... well you get my meaning.)
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 65
    I don't think these are "wrong assumptions", by no means :) We can see a culture product by different lights. We can focus in story-plot viewpoints, or think about what the movie implies. Why is only the villain gay? Why not Mallory? Why only the operative and assistants of MI6 are black, but not a single leader role is? Why Bond fucks the ex-sex-slave soon after discovering her past? He just fuck her, as he has the right to do it. He come from nothing and make sex with her in the shower. And then let she die in the Island and no more word about her, as her life was not important. (Is this not sexism? In my eyes, it is. Just like the way he treats the greek girl while he's "dead").

    By the way, sexual minority is a controversial term. I don't want to sound rude, ok?
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 699
    Rossi - Going off topic here, but to reply...

    For one thing I see no reason to assume Silva is gay. Or that nobody else isn't. ;) As for Mallory, we have no reason, surely, to assume he isn't gay - nor that he is, obviously... the subject doesn't come up in any way. I must have missed what was supposedly wrong with how Bond treated his woman while "dead". He was probably only "alive" while having sex and it seemed fine what little we saw of it. Beyond that he was sorta "dead" that's all, no mistreatment. As for Severine, she was hardly a victim when sex with Bond was concerned, not the way I saw it - she wanted it and invited him, so...? I'm against women being thought of as victims even when they make their own decisions (compare also to Eve choosing to get off field work). Bond didn't just "let" Severine die, it was a bit more complicated than that - he had a gun pointed at his head after all. Why there should have been discussion about her later I don't know. That was no different from how most dead people - male or female - are treated after their demise in botrh Bond movies and most other action or adventure movies. (And btw, I'm a woman myself.)

    A controversial term? It is? In the US n or elsewhere in English-speaking world? I didn't even know, sorry about that then. Is there an alternative term in use now? I certainly didn't mean to be rude, and communicating in a foreign language is complicated enough as it is. I probably screw up all the bloody time, apologies to all native speakers.
  • Posts: 6,407
    Tuulia, for writing in a second language your English is excellent. No worries there.

    We can all read a lot of sexual things into Bardem's character. I have never thought the two words "sexual minority" is controversial, but that is just my perspective.
  • This has surpassed CR's Montenegro scene to become my single favorite Bond moment ever. Every time I see it I can't help but get emotional. After seeing Bond progress in and change over his history of decades in the films, it truly feels like a journey, seeing Bond continuing to race into the fray to save those he cares for. The excerpt of Tennyson is brilliant, and now one of my favorite pieces. It is eloquently composed, and a perfect fit for the tales of Bond and M, the central characters, both out of place in a modern world of technology. Their efforts to prove that humans are still needed in the field instead of employing signal intelligence is compelling, as is M's reason for why agents are still needed. They may indeed have to do questionably moral things, and lead missions that may indeed be hidden from the public, but they truly are our defense against the evils that find us from ever crevice. As M puts it, our enemies can basically be anyone, even anonymously. Gone are the days of the Cold War, where our enemies could be pointed to on a map. Now, hackers or men just wanting to sell intel to the highest bidder to cripple a nation are just a few who can provide danger to our lives. Some hide in secret, making it all the more important to locate and stop them. Silva is the perfect villain for this film in that regard. He is the technological wizard, the opposite of Bond in many respects, yet still the same in more ways. His advantage in technology changes beautifully from a strength to a weakness as Bond takes the fight on his terms at Skyfall. Here, there is no technology for him to hack, leaving him to face Bond head on. And of course, the lines speaking of not being what you once were, but continuing on regardless are touching, and symbolic of both M and Bond. As for M, she is told to prepare for retirement, and though she is cooked, she says she's leaving when the job is done. Granted, there have been more slips up now than in the past for her, but she isn't going to leave her post in a mess. And Bond, who has "retired" returns when his boss and country seem to be under attack. His constant loyalty is courageous and admirable, and though he isn't at the top of his game by any standard, he goes once more unto the breach, beating the odds set against him. Again, the poem and its connection to Bond and M as well as their fight for survival in an increasingly dangerous and technological world is brilliant. This scene combined with Bond running to save her to the tune of Newman's emotive score come together to form a Bond masterpiece.
  • Posts: 6,407
    I just read your lovely post and I agree wholeheartedly, 0Brady. It is one of my favorite scenes, too, and so eloquently filmed. A flawless piece, for me. I appreciate the layers of meaning, too. I will enjoy this film for years. I think adding the poem was brilliant (and edited in perfectly).
  • edited December 2012 Posts: 699

    Tuulia, for writing in a second language your English is excellent. No worries there.

    We can all read a lot of sexual things into Bardem's character. I have never thought the two words "sexual minority" is controversial, but that is just my perspective.

    Thanks. :)
    And a lot of sexual things, yes, but "gay" is, IMO, far too limiting, that's all.

    OBrady, thanks from me, too, for the beautiful post. It is, indeed, a fabulous scene, the part of that poem fits perfectly and it's all so well done cinematically - the words of the poem, the music, the editing... I love it. It still moves me deeply after several times of seeing it. In fact, I think I love it even more now - like the whole movie. If I ever was lycky enough to have 30 seconds of Mr. Mendes' time I'd like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for making this movie - and making it so special. And thank goodness for Dan for asking... :P Obviously Mendes brought not only his own skills, knowledge and passion, but other important people.
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