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.