This article is part of our One Perfect Archive project, a series of deep dives that explore the filmmaking craft behind some of our favorite shots. In this installment, we explore the James Bond origin story in Skyfall.
Skyfall gives us something we had never seen previously in a James Bond movie: the character’s origin story. The movie revisits the childhood trauma that made Bond (Daniel Craig) the man he is, including his dedication to country and his relationship with M (Judi Dench). She is more than his superior in MI6, she is like a surrogate mother.
After 50 years, the Bond of the film franchise had certain trademarks that defined his character. He has a license to kill, which allows him to take down villains without prejudice. He is a man of fine taste, preferring his martini shaken not stirred. He has had various encounters with women, some of them foolish and others that have held greater importance such as his relationship with Eva Green‘s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. That relationship came to define Craig’s James Bond, and Skyfall builds on that framework, letting the audience in on the minutia of 007.
In addition to giving us the background of Bond, Skyfall does away with elements that would define a traditional James Bond film. Gone are the goofy gadgets, replaced with a simple gun tailored to his grip and a radio transmitter that signals his location. Another massive change is the absence of a typical “Bond Girl.” In older 007 movies, women would have ridiculous names and show a general disinterest in Bond before assisting him on his mission and sleeping with him in the end. Two characters are teased as playing that particular role in Skyfall, but neither of them fits that framework. Naomie Harris‘ Eve is a fellow MI6 agent who shares some sexual chemistry with Bond, but she plays off his advances and is more of a supporting character. The other woman, Berenice Marlohe‘s Severine, isn’t in the movie long enough to fill the role of Bond Girl.
There is another woman to consider as the true Bond Girl of Skyfall: M. Not only does she share the most screen time with Bond and go on his mission with him, but her involvement with the plot is vital. We’ve also seen her play a role in Bond’s development in previous films. In Casino Royale, M oversees his promotion to 00 status and molds him into the agent we have come to know. In Skyfall, she needs to depend on him to protect her. M is the difference-maker in Bond’s life.
Skyfall does follow the tradition of a spectacular pre-credits action sequence. During a fight on a moving train, M makes the determination that Bond will not complete his mission and orders Eve to take a shot at Bond and the villain he’s fighting. Bond gets shot and presumably falls off the train to his death, while the villain gets away. Bond becomes a broken man, not fit for service and a failure to his country. He languishes in retirement, dropping out of contact with his superiors and washing away his troubles with liquor. There aren’t many times in the James Bond franchise that we’ve seen Bond broken. Notably, 2002’s Die Another Day sees Pierce Brosnan’s Bond captured, tortured, and imprisoned for an extended period of time. Here, Skyfall presents a Bond that is well past his prime and considered damaged goods.
Skyfall‘s main villain, Javier Bardem‘s Raoul Silva, knows how to manipulate Bond. During their first meeting, he emphasizes what it was like working with M. The lies and broken promises that she made in order to keep her agents in line. He reveals that M also lied to Bond, sending him out on this dangerous mission when he wasn’t fit for duty. “Mommy was very bad,” Silva says deliberately laying into that relationship Bond shares with M. Silva also shares a close relationship with M, and that’s what he blames his madness on. He believed she would always protect him, but when he was captured by the Chinese, she left him for dead. When the cyanide tablet that Silva had hidden in his teeth failed, he was left disfigured and filled with rage. Both men put their lives in M’s hands and have been cast aside in the past. Bond having been shot and Silva abandoned.
Bond decides that the only way he can defeat Silva is to go back to where his trauma originates, Skyfall, where his parents died. Skyfall is the estate where Bond grew up. M attempts to comfort Bond about the decision to retreat to Skyfall. “How old were you when they died,” she asks of his parents. “You know the answer to that, you know the whole story,” Bond replies, showing that he doesn’t care for the small talk. This acts as another instance of M putting herself into the position of a mother figure for Bond.
As Silva tracks down M at Skyfall, he sees a grave with an inscription that reads “In memory of Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond.” We can assume that Bond became an orphan following their death. He would listen to his superiors, complete missions for his country, and become a soulless killing machine because of the death of his parents. Skyfall held those painful memories for Bond. When he needs to create a diversion to escape from Silva, he happily rids himself of the building, leaving it to explode and fall into ruin.
Bond comes full circle during the finale. As he holds a dying M in his arms, at the same place his parents are buried, he is saying goodbye to the woman who has watched his back and taken care of him during his most desperate times. By stripping Bond of all the gadgets and his surrogate mother in M, giving him a new team of allies who will assist him in the future while forcing him to say goodbye to the woman who made him what he is, Skyfall sets a new origin point for the Bond franchise.