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Dueling Skyfall Reviews: Feminist Mom Approved - Skyfall

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by Rachel Feldman
November 14, 2012 11:30 AM
5 Comments
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Skyfall, the newest 007 blockbuster, is a fabulous, almost win-win-win for women! The film has three significant female characters and Bond himself is portrayed as a humbled, post-modern anti-hero who treats them with respect – most of the time.

In mythic terms, the conflict is played out like a Cain and Abel story. Two sons, both “adopted” by the same “mother”, are betrayed by her - but only in order to protect her other “children”.  One of them understands the logic of her choice and even comes to love this powerful matriarch while the other is driven to madness and seeks to destroy her.  M, played incandescently by the supreme Dame Judi Dench, states that, “orphans make the best recruits”, referring to the personal tragedies that compelled both men to secret service and, no doubt, in need of her emotional connection.  The exploration of the “motherless child” who seeks comfort in the company of women, is fascinating psychological fodder for a character who throughout the decades has often used women as play toys.

M is a woman in conflict.  A powerful leader who makes life and death decisions every day, she works effectively and efficiently but not without emotional cost. How wonderful to see a leader, male or female, feel the consequences of their actions. Ms. Dench is elegant and powerful, in her short, uncolored hair - polished but real. Admittedly, her character does diminish throughout the film and need to be protected by men – but she starts out with a bang! Sad that in 2012 it seems positively groundbreaking to see a brilliant actor wear her age on screen. How great for our sons and daughters to see female characters over the age of 30 as multi-faceted and powerful.

Naomie Harris plays Eve, a confident agent with a cocky stride. She works hard and tries her best - and when she fails, and is even demoted for her actions, her attitude is positive and resourceful. She’s not looking for love or partnership, only getting on her in her career and enjoying what works for her. And how great to see a Bond “girl” with hair texture other than smooth and shiny. Although the final twist of her identity is a fun Bond wink, I doubt a desk job would be an acceptable job transfer for a male spy.

Berenice Marlohe as Severine breaks tradition in another way. Yes, she plays a gorgeous, voluptuous goddess who Bond eventually beds but their connection is based on a dance of vulnerability and trust. Admittedly, there is some default “Prince Charming” coming-to-her-rescue aspects to the story, but the scene in the casino where his empathy transforms her from a steely, Eurasian witch into a terrified victim, twists the conventional into the unusual. Later, costumed in bodice-plunging dresses reminiscent of those worn by Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren, her characterization reverted to some backwards thinking, but over all the casting and performances were delightful choices.

Perhaps the most backwards-thinking moment in the film is when Bond utters, “What a waste of perfectly good scotch.” after a William Tell moment involving the woman with whom he has just made love. I believe the writer’s had intended for this moment to be a distraction and an intentional perversion of the truth, but it was a weak beat at the expense of a female character. On the other hand, Helen McCrory as Parliament Member, Clair Dowar, the government antagonist trying to force M into retirement was an enlightened decision. It was fabulous to see two warrior women, facing off in the highest arena of politics!

James Bond himself, brilliantly played by Daniel Craig, brings a vulnerability to this Bond portrayal. The fascination over his sculpted body, costumed in slim-cut slacks coupled with the story we learn of how he coped with learning about the death of his parents, paints a Bond more fragile, boyish, and maybe more in touch with his feminine-side than his predecessors.  Bond even expresses doubts about his usefulness and ability and his sexual adventures with women appear far more about mutual connection than conquest.  There is even a flirtatious, provocative moment with a man for this Bond. How interesting that as the filmmakers soften Bond’s macho stance, they explore a whole other side of his sexuality.

Though the character Silva, played by Javier Bardem, contributes little to the overall female-friendly tone of Skyfall, it would be a gross omission not to mention this extraordinary performance. More often than not, movie “bad guys” succumb to cartoonish, over the top excess - but not this time.  Bardem’s Silva is an evil freak whose who delicately plays the line between being a monster and being human. Special effects perfectly illustrate the nightmarish torture that has inspired his special brand of evil.

I thought Skyfall was a great film for my teenage son to see. Full of the action-adventure set pieces he loves, with enough fights, chase scenes and dreamy cars to swoon over, he also was influenced by a universe filled with amazing female characters who were portrayed as near equals to James Bond.

Thank you to writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan for writing some terrific female characters and to director Sam Mendes who did a splendid job directing; infusing the film with many enlightened choices. Thank you to producer by Barbara Broccoli for defending our gender and making such a great piece of entertainment. Perhaps when you hire women to write and direct the next installment, things will get even better!

________________________________________

Rachel Feldman, is a filmmaker and mother who uses pop culture to generate discussion of women’s issues with her teenage son.  Ms. Feldman is a film & television director/writer, a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Co-Chair of the Directors Guild of America Women’s Steering Committee.

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5 Comments

  • Steve Holden | September 24, 2013 6:30 PMReply

    I find your feminism extremely lacking and questionable. As a male feminist I find this movie very messed up in its handling of women. Bond sneaks up on a woman in a shower that has been raped her entire life as a sex slave. They never expressed sexual interest earlier. It was creepy and rape'y as hell and I was angered to see this modern rebooted bond doing this after ditching all that crap with Casino Royale.

    The competent Eve, tasked with taking an impossible shot, is made fun of for the entire film as having a bad field skills and is thus given a role a woman should have... as an assistant. Eyeroll.

    M is treated as a failure the entire film, is questioned by her male superior at every step, and is publicly destroyed. She never redeems herself or comes out on top. She is nothing but a failure in the final action scene, not even getting off a good shot, and commenting on it. The most she does is flick a light switch with the 'light bomb's she made. She then dies and is replaced by the competent male.

    Every woman in the movie has a downhill arc. All end up with less power and subservient to men. Pretty damn gross and a huge backtrack from the modern and fantastic take Casino Royale took.

    Did we see the same movie, Don?
    " Bond sneaks up on a woman in a shower that has been raped her entire life as a sex slave. They never expressed sexual interest earlier. It was creepy and rape'y as hell and I was angered to see this modern rebooted bond doing this after ditching all that crap with Casino Royale."
    - Bond sneaks up on a woman. Didn't she invite him to her boat and make a pact to kill Silva?
    - Raped entire life as sex slave. Guess what? This woman was no innocent. She watched a man get
    murdered and didn't blink an eye. She walks around packing a gun. From what I've learned, much of
    her backstory was edited out...apparently she got in with Silva not just for a relationship but also
    because she was a criminal herself. She may have even murdered (by poison, or having it done for
    her). Bond knew this and dealt with her on that level. The editing obscured her true nature and made
    her come across as high class imprisoned prostitute instead of the real evil queen that she was. The
    writers were giving us just another archtype Bond villainess - but with more complexity.

    The competent Eve, tasked with taking an impossible shot, is made fun of for the entire film as having a bad field skills and is thus given a role a woman should have... as an assistant. Eyeroll.

    - Really? Bad field skills? She didn't want to take that shot, because she knew even the best shooter
    would have probably missed. Bond didn't make fun of her skills (she was a hell of a driver!) - he
    flat out told her hitting a moving target was difficult for anyone (and as we saw, his skills fell off
    quite a lot). He was only trading witting banter because he respected her and liked her.
    as well). So she ended up as the new M's assistant...because she's a woman? That's stupid. No,
    because she decided to work out of the field for a while to get a different perspective on the whole
    spying business. It didn't mean she wouldn't jump back into the field in the future.

    "M is treated as a failure the entire film, is questioned by her male superior at every step, and is publicly destroyed. She never redeems herself or comes out on top. She is nothing but a failure in the final action scene, not even getting off a good shot, and commenting on it. The most she does is flick a light switch with the 'light bomb's she made. She then dies and is replaced by the competent male."
    - ????. So if this were a man, it would be different? They are not allowed to portray women with
    authority screwing up? She's publicly destroyed? Did you not see the female politician who was berating her get her ego slapped? Did you not hear M's great Tennyson quote? She is a failure in
    the final scenes because...she can't shoot as well as a field agent (which she never was)??? The most she does is MAKE HOMEMADE BOMBS that she uses to take out some of the goons??? What??
    She dies and is replaced by a competent male? Competent? Did Bond save her? That's a competent male? You think she was a failure? Didn't she successfully run MI6 all these years? Wouldn't any man
    in that position also screw up sometimes? Didn't she send Bond out to get the hard drive back, knowing he failed his tests, but still trusted in his abilities? Didn't she succeed in getting the drive back, preventing the further killing of the other imbedded agents? Did you see the same movie??


    "Every woman in the movie has a downhill arc. All end up with less power and subservient to men."
    - What a bitter viewpoint. Okay, every woman should have had an upward arc and ended up alive
    and with the power over all the men. Please, spare me. This was a Bond film, yes, but it was also
    a story about the real consequences of inhabiting such a lethal world as espionage really is, not the
    ideal world you would like it to be. The villainess ( no she was no innocent) was certainly no
    role model - anymore than Bond really is. Hate to say it, but Bond isn't some smirking playboy spy.
    He's a trained government killing agent... some role model. His most admirable qualities are that he's
    a loyal servant trying to protect his country from outside evils. They could have written it so Eve
    stayed in the field - yes, but then, who was supposed to be Moneypenny? Then there's M. A successful leader who sacrifices her life by helping Bond lead the villain away from an innocent population that already suffered from the assassination attempt on her, in order to prevent further wanton carnage on the public and kill the villain...and she and Bond succeed. That's failure?

    Glad I saw a different movie than you did.

  • Mysstree | November 16, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    I wholly agree with Donald. The writer has a very skewed perception. Personally I find the 60's and 70's era Bond films less offensive as a feminist than this one. In a time when women are killed more frequently at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands, than in any of our wars combined - the flippancy with which Severine's death is treated is absolutely appalling. I was deeply disappointed, because I'm a life long Bond fan, and that moment destroyed the entire film for me.

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | November 16, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    Eek, Rachel: I totally agree with Donald! By the end of this film, two women are dead & one has been reduced from field operations to clerical support. How well I remember the days when "the Bond Girl" was not only beautiful but also part of the action. But in this film, the drivers are Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, & Ralph Fiennes, with all the women are totally sidelined. Once James Bond was "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," but now he's yet another "Mr. Quip Quip Bang Bang." What a waste :-(

  • Maria Giese | November 15, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    This is a fantastic review. No wonder this film is already over the half-a-billion-dollar box office mark-- it celebrates women rather than debase them. There are big bucks in currying favor with women these days. Women buy most of the theater tickets!

  • Donald | November 15, 2012 12:47 PMReply

    SPOILER ALERT - Don't read if you haven't watched this to the end. But this film is misogynist.

    I find your feminism extremely lacking and questionable. As a male feminist I find this movie very messed up in its handling of women. Bond sneaks up on a woman in a shower that has been raped her entire life as a sex slave. They never expressed sexual interest earlier. It was creepy and rape'y as hell and I was angered to see this modern rebooted bond doing this after ditching all that crap with Casino Royale.

    The competent Eve, tasked with taking an impossible shot, is made fun of for the entire film as having a bad field skills and is thus given a role a woman should have... as an assistant. Eyeroll.

    M is treated as a failure the entire film, is questioned by her male superior at every step, and is publicly destroyed. She never redeems herself or comes out on top. She is nothing but a failure in the final action scene, not even getting off a good shot, and commenting on it. The most she does is flick a light switch with the 'light bomb's she made. She then dies and is replaced by the competent male.

    Every woman in the movie has a downhill arc. All end up with less power and subservient to men. Pretty damn gross and a huge backtrack from the modern and fantastic take Casino Royale took.

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