James Bond’s gospel of resurrection
The Bond films are wonderful escapist fare, but they do shine a light into our cultural hopes and fears.
By Darrell Gwaltney
The latest James Bond movie, “Skyfall,” delivers the anticipated Bondsian formula of chase scenes, exotic scenery, beautiful women and villains. It also delivers resurrection and a little classic poetry along the way.
Bond, James Bond, is making a statement.
“Skyfall” is the 23rd film in 50 years of the James Bond franchise, and it obediently rolls out the familiar plot devices with reverent glee. Gone, however, are the clearly drawn villains of the Cold War era; now shadowy characters wreak havoc with fingers on keyboards, not wrapped around triggers.
Every middle-ager knows the fear of being overtaken by a younger colleague, and the “blunt weapon” that is James Bond must now parry silent cyber attacks from servers and keystrokes entered a half a world away.
Like all Bond films, this is a story about immortality, but this time it also becomes about resurrection. In this world, even heroes die.
Not surprisingly the body count is high, but now some of the fallen are key players to the storyline. Bond falls early in the film, and while the viewer quickly learns he has been brought back from the dead, the remainder of the film plays out in the shadow of his long, slow recovery to mental and physical health.
At the film’s heart is a persistent attack upon the British intelligence agency, MI6, and its leader, M. M endures withering criticism by politicians and public opinion over questionable decisions. A shadow hangs over the entire film. Someone will fall. Who? Who or what will remain standing?
In one key exchange, Bond is asked if he has a hobby. He replies, “Resurrection.”
Bond has always cheated death. For 50 years he has survived every imaginable way increasingly creative villains have attempted to kill him. His death and rebirth in this film introduces a whole new twist on his immortality.
What does it look like to be resurrected in a post-religious world? He re-emerges battered and bruised and not fully himself.
As he appears outdated and when the MI6 appears antiquated, M defiantly justifies her agency’s purpose by quoting Tennyson’s "Ulysses."
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.
Bond’s resurrection epitomizes his refusal to yield to his enemies. “Made weak by time and fate” he is still strong in will and determined not yield.
The Bond films are wonderful escapist fare, but they do shine a light into our cultural hopes and fears. M speaks time and time again in the film of “the shadows” that lurk around them to bring evil.
In the post 9/11 world we forever live in fear of those shadows who might strike in the most unexpected moments and in the most surprising places. James Bond’s gospel of resurrection would have us believe that our sheer will and determination will allow us to cheat death. It is a good and healthy stance in the face of unrelenting terrorism and shadowy evil.
It is comforting to know we have men and women on guard to protect us against the shadowy evils around the world. It is their determination that keeps us safe. Bond’s gospel feels a bit unsatisfying, though, as one walks from the theater.
The resurrection I seek is not one to continue fighting the forces of evil, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” The gospel of resurrection I seek suggests that sting of death will no longer remain and all things will be made new. There is hope in the gospel of resurrection I seek, but in Bond’s gospel of resurrection, there is only more fighting and striving.
The resurrection I seek also imagines a time when the shadows have been overcome by the light and when death will be no more. I think I will pass on Bond’s gospel of resurrection.
I am glad real life is not like the movies.
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