Skyfall – all about my mother

It is baffling that one of the biggest entertainment products of late, the all-time box office topping film in Britain, the 23rd James Bond, takes as its theme a destructive mother figure, and the dependency of two boys on their mother. Baffling, because one would not immediately recognise the film’s traumatic and painful core as a commercial concept, because the depicted psychopathologies in the relationships relate to mass killings, and because we, the audience, find them and the characters so fascinating and recognisable.

The film is good, the best of the Bond franchise in my opinion. If interpreted from a psychological standpoint, its assertion about the main character and the world is radical, and its success testifies to its accuracy.

In the film’s first act, ”M” (Judi Dench) is repeatedly addressed as ma’am. The word is very close to mom, mother. M orders Bond (Daniel Craig) to abandon a wounded agent, and moments later she also sacrifices Bond for higher goals. This theme is repeated later, when it is revealed that M has also abandoned Silva (Javier Bardem), the antagonistic ”evil brother”, in order to save six other agents.

Bond’s patriotism is emphasized on several occasions. Nationalism is the ideology that transcends the individual as the highest goal – and fills an existential void. It is the reason for which a mother sacrifices her sons – Silva, Bond, and the other agents who are exposed as a result of Silva’s revenge. Nationalism is the medicine nursing the narcissistic wound – as in Anders Breivik’s case. The mother appeals to rationality in her decisionmaking, and we accept her rationale.

Silva recounts to Bond the story of rats that took over as small island. His grandmother (another mother figure) lured the rats into a barrel using a coconut as bait, but did not exterminate them. The starving rats started eating each other, until only two were left alive. They were released into the wild. They no longer wanted to eat coconuts, but preferred to prey on other rats. They were transformed. Silva sees himself and Bond as similar, transformed rats. And, after killing Silva, Bond concludes: ”Last rat standing”.

Bond’s mental landscape is desolate, depressive and self-destructive. It lacks nuance and true human relations. In a word association test, Bond replies to the word ”murder” with the word ”employment”. M states that orphans make the best agents. The only apparent source of pleasure is sex, creating the illusion of communion. In Bond’s file there is a mention of unresolved childhood trauma related to the death of his parents. M is Bond’s only attachment, his mother. The psychopathology of the hero resembles psychopathic narcissism. His defect demands constant stimulation with violence and the presence of death. He acts like a machine, in accordance to his training, devoid of subjective emotion. Interestingly, he is the object of our admiration. Both Bond’s psychopathic hero and the theme of the evil brother’s personal revenge are surprisingly closely related to the psychopathology of mass murderers.

Silva rebels against the destructive mother. His motive is personal, and the revenge is public and ostentatious. There are numerous victims. He acts disguised as a police (cf. Breivik). The criminal is no longer a madman pursuing world domination, but simply a boy betrayed by his mother.

Earlier in the backstory, M has betrayed Silva, who in the hands of his enemies has attempted to kill himself with cyanide, destroying his face and internal organs. A prosthetic chin hides the deformity that Silva finally reveals to M as he demands that she, the ”mother”, call him by his real name.  M refuses, countering that Silva will vanish into nothingness and oblivion. In her world view regret is unprofessional. In his messages Silva  on the other hand has insisted that his ”mother” reflect on her sins.

The third act takes place in Bond’s childhood home, Skyfall. We travel back in time, on one hand to the original stage, on the other hand into regression. The home is completely destroyed, and Bond confesses to always hating the place. It is where all the hate originates.

In the end, Silva wishes for the ”mother” to shoot them both with one bullet, resting his head against hers. Silva is, however, killed by a knife thrown by Bond, the good brother. Also M dies from her wounds. Bond cries, but is moved by self pity, as Breivik in court.

The death of the ”mother” does not cause Bond to become independent. The ”mother” is replaced by a ”father” (Ralph Fiennes), whom Bond immediately addresses as ”M” (mother), and is ready serve ”with pleasure”. There is no individuation, the dependency continues, in the service of the father and of the country.

The film also highlights the conflict between the old and the new world. There is no longer a shadow in which the agents operate, instead everything is transparent. In the opening shot, Bond himself is seen as a shadow. The film depicts generations and their differences. A pyjama-clad representative of the new generation causes more damage with his laptop in one morning than Bond could manage in a year. Bond ages, he no longer passes the physical or mental tests. When Silva asks if Bond has a hobby, he replies ”resurrection”. Resurrection is a chracteristic trait of the hero and associates Bond with Christ, the sacrifice.

The final scene of the film still ends up being a perverse, regressive reversal: the world returns to the old order, even more old-fashioned than the destroyed world of the ”mother” – the most positive female character is then dressed up as Moneypenny in a two-piece suit, a secretary. The ”father” – addressed as mother – seizes power, and the boy accepts this. The fight for England continues, in a world divided into good and evil. No new ”other” is born, there is no transformation after the resurrection, only regression.