I have a paternally inherited urge to see action movies.
It’s perhaps the same compeller that drove David Foster Wallace to read every sports person’s biography he could put his hands on, knowing beforehand of his inevitable disappointment at the silly, boring prose that comes out of the physically exciting but otherwise mentally mundane athlete.
I go to see action movies in the theatre, certain I’ll grow bored as we get closer to the unveiling of the plot’s secrets, uncomfortable with the volume of the explosions, irritated at the stale manner some of the exotic cities I visited are portrayed in glossy, epoxy grit.
Last Sunday it was Skyfall’s turn.
I had no special expectations from this trip to the cinema other than trying to, for a couple of hours, artificially extend the weekend, trying to postpone the thoughts about the cliff that is Monday.
As I remembered, James Bond movies are supposed to be like Thai food: varied ingredients, very similar taste.
Some noodle gadgets that come in the whole-wheat variety of guns or stringy rice flour type of GPS transponders with Spicy Red Curry girls or blond kaffir lime babes topped with fish sauce casinos and shitake mushroom tuxedos.
A pleasing, falsely exotic mixture to shake up your diet (one man’s rice and beans is the other man’s rice and beans).
This one from the start felt like heavier, simpler food.
It’s still a Bond flick, don’t get too excited, but I’ll try to explain what I felt was interesting and worthy of a post. Since I was seven years old and attempted a critique of “The Great Mouse Detective”, I have never again written about a film, so bear with me.
I think it is a film about place, and that is what intrigued me. Not real place, I guess, but more of a “meta-place”, a recognizable place of movie culture, not exactly its own.
The plot circles the globe, as it should, but two places stuck out for me: an office tower in Shanghai and the estate in Scotland.
The Shanghai tower is a reference to the Sci-Fi obsession with deadly reflection. In this night scene Bond grabs the edge of speeding elevator to chase a hit man around an empty office space. Every glass surface reflects the lights and signage of the surrounding buildings in an implied continuum between street and interior. It is nostalgic for a certain 80s “enhanced urban” à la “Blade Runner”. Nothing is really high technology; nothing is present that would be unexpected in the headquarters of Barclay’s Bank. Still there is a feeling of multiplication, of the optic qualities that can arise from normal materials that seems to say, that if not used carefully, contemporary standard office architecture can kill you.
Bond navigates this world without comfort but in the end gets to use the building’s height to make gravity act in a negative way towards his opponent’s vital organs (he throws the bad guy through the window). This scenario is all about vectors, kill shots, rays of green light, piercing looks across the glass. There is still time for a glance at the girl across the street with the intimacy only the highest floors of towers allow.
Jump to the final scenes of the movie, Bond is back to his ancestral home is Scotland. Finally, we understand where the generic flu pill name Skyfall comes from.
The house is great because it’s a prefab ruin. Just by looking at it in its splendid autumn isolation, one can figure out that this house was made to be destroyed.
Bond can expect this house to be an ally in the same proportion the office tower’s reflections almost killed him. His worn down manor collaborates by being a helpful albeit sacrificial ruin. Like an adult version of “Home Alone”, the defenders know there keep much better than the invaders and are able to turn space to their advantage. The cracking floorboards conceal homemade explosives, the seigniorial chandelier is a deadly fragment grenade.
In the end the house goes up in flames and we are left to imagine it settles into the moss covered artifact it was always meant to be.
Skyfall might not present any durable addition to the “film space” I was referring to, but it acknowledges its existence and pays homage, which for a Sunday night action flick, is more than I could ask.
P.S. – While I was writing this post I came a across this scholarly revue of the films scenography written in a very interesting blog that I’ll be following closely.