I watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, recently with my cinebuddy, Connor (shout out to him!). I know the critics seem to have been lining up to praise it to the rafters, but it left me feeling a real sense of unease.
***From here on in there will be spoilers, because this is a critique***
Technically and cinematically, there's not much to criticise, but I don't want to do that thing of saying how well it was made and then raise a few queries about the content. Instead, I think that's part of the problem with films, people see the stunts, and the nicely framed, well-lit scenes and it stops them thinking about what they are really watching.
Bond has become an antihero. An alcoholic, remorseless killing machine, who describes his employment as murder. He is so emotionless in this film he may as well be a replicant. People criticise Daniel Craig's woodenness, but alternatively, he is playing a character who has gone so far through trauma he has emerged on the other side of insanity.
Bond has always been a rogue, but in this film his character is truly amoral. He promises to save a beautiful woman who has been used as a sex object since childhood, but then doesn't even flinch when she is brutally executed in front of him, mere seconds before the cavalry show up to rescue them.
Along the way Bond assumes she wants to have sex with him and joins her in a shower. It's not exactly non-consensual, but this scene turns Bond into another person to use her sexually. She obviously didn't mean anything to him, even if as the man who promised to save her, he meant something to her. Krish Kandiah has pointed out how uncomfortable this made him feel. And it should make us feel uncomfortable, otherwise we are ourselves halfway to reducing women to vessels for sex.
I found the relationship with 'M' as disturbing. After she admits that she handed over the one-time spy who is now the 'villain' of the piece to another country's secret police, who tortured him to the point where he tried to kill himself, Bond says nothing. There is no judgement made of M's actions. She shows no remorse for betraying someone else's trust.
What are we meant to make of that? The film doesn't ask whether M deserved to be targeted for revenge. It seems to imply that doing something wicked for the greater good is acceptable, but I don't buy that. Betrayal is always betrayal, just as murder is always murder. Killing in the name of the greater good is just as morally reprehensible as killing in the name of God, profits or 'the people'.
So, that underpinning ethic left me feeling very uneasy. And then, there's Bond himself. When he returns to London M asks him where he's been and he says 'Enjoying death'. But that seemed to ring hollow. We'd seen his preceding activities and he looked to not be enjoying himself at all.
For me, it would have been much more satisfying if he had been reintroduced playing football and bantering with some new found mates on a Brazilian beach rather than trying to outdrink a scorpion (or whatever that was). Then he would hear about the bombing in a copacabana sports bar surrounded by rejoicing team-mates who loved the fact he'd just scored the winning goal over their fierce rivals, and realising that he had to leave this new life behind to go back to save Blighty again. That would be a heroic giving up of an 'enjoyable afterlife'.
But, no. The real reason he went back was because he had nothing else to do in his life, but gun up and start killing again. He doesn't seem bothered that M lied to him about his fitness for duty - another betrayal in M's catalogue of crimes against her own agents. He doesn't care about his own safety because he doesn't care if he lives or dies.
And that. ultimately is what depressed me most, that we are supposed to root for a man who is despairing. There is nothing heroic about nihilistic self-destruction. It is the ultimate form of narcissism - to declaim that there is nothing worth loving in the world, including yourself. And I just couldn't bring myself to buy in to that bleak view of the universe.