Study Guide

Skyfall Analysis

  • M's Ugly Dog Statue

    A Load of Bulldog

    For aspiring spymaster in your life, you can purchase a replica of M's grumpy bulldog draped in the Union Jack. It's cuter than a bust of Winston Churchill—who kind of looks like a bulldog—but not by much.

    This little statue might be the film's ultimate symbol. We see it three times—on M's desk when she writes Bond's obituary, on her new desk in the London Underground after MI6 blows up, and in a box delivered to Bond after M's death.

    After the explosion, Bond can't believe the thing survives. He quips to M, "The whole office goes up in smoke and that bloody thing survives."

    In case you can't tell, a bulldog that looks like Winston Churchill wrapped in the Union Jack is symbol that screams ENGLAND. MI6 blows up, but the dog—and by extension England itself—survives. M dies, but the dog survives. She gifts it to Bond because she knows that England's survival depends not on her, but on her agents, like Bond. The country, just like the little dog, is now and has always been his duty.

  • Bond's Physical Strength

    Do You Even Lift, Bro?

    Bond is known for gadgets, girls, and grip. Seriously, at the beginning of Skyfall, he jumps off a bridge and hangs onto the edge of a moving train. We can't even hold our coffee cup straight to keep it from spilling.

    But after Bond is shot, falls about a thousand feet into the water below, and almost dies, he loses some of that superhuman strength. That kind of damage would take anyone a while to recover from, but Bond isn't the young chicken he used to be. M must fudge the results of Bond's physical eval to get him back in the field, and the results show.

    Later, we see Bond barely hang on to a rising elevator. And then when he dangles Patrice off a building to scare him into saying who he works for, Bond is too weak to hang on to him. It's the movie's way of showing us that Bond isn't ready to be in the field yet, without needing to constantly remind us.

    Another thing the movie shows us is Bond's physical improvement. When chasing Silva, both Bond and the baddie slide down the banister of an escalator. Silva falls, but Bond gains ground after a better dismount. Also, we see Bond's marksmanship improve when practicing with his father's rifle at Skyfall.

    You'd think after so much exhausting work, Bond would get even worse as he gets tired. But the adrenaline of the pursuit appears to make him even stronger. Maybe he is superhuman, after all.

  • Scotch

    Whiskey Sour

    Bond loves to drink. He drinks four times the amount of the average person, so we hope his liver is as superhuman as his upper-body strength. While he often drinks martinis—you know how they're made—a bottle of Scotch makes an appearance in one significant scene.

    Silva balances a glass of fifty-year-old Macallan Scotch on Severine's head and taunts Bond to shoot it off. Bond fails, Silva kills Severine, and Bond quips, "It's a waste of good Scotch."

    Ouch. That's awfully callous. In the commentary, director Sam Mendes says Bond makes the remark to throw Silva off-balance. If Silva thinks Bond is a cold-hearted killer like himself, he'll let his guard down. But is there more going on here? The fifty-year-old Scotch is the same age as the Bond franchise, and Severine, like many Bond girls before her, has proven to be disposable.

    Is the movie saying This is it: we're moving from the disposable girls of the past? Or is it stubbornly staying with the same tropes? Or is it nothing more than a drink and a one-liner?

    Whatever it is, fifty-year-old spilled Scotch is something worth crying over. That stuff's expensive.

  • Technology

    Time to Upgrade

    Bond films have often featured futuristic technologies—jet packs, laser beams, teeny little hidden cameras. But now that a lot of Bond technology is a actually a reality, what's the franchise to do?

    They can't totally ignore technology. Instead, they separate tech from Bond himself, making him the brute force and Q the brains of the operation. It doesn't sit well with Bond at first, seeing a key component of his job outsourced to someone else. He has a tense conversation with Q about it:

    Q: I'll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.

    BOND: Oh, so why do you need me?

    Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.

    BOND: Or not pulled. It's hard to know which in your pajamas.

    Bond lets Q know that he isn't an all-brawn no-brains kind of guy; he just uses a different kind of smarts during his operation.

    Technology, then, is seen as something shadowy and sinister. Silva bends technology to his will to cause panic, playing on public fears of cyber warfare. Severine comments on how easy it is to do this in our modern age:

    SEVERINE: They abandoned it almost overnight. He made them think there was a leak at the chemical plant. It's amazing the panic you can cause with a single computer.

    But when Q tries to fight technology with technology, it backfires, letting Silva into the MI6 systems. It's like a game of rock-paper-scissors: if both parties throw scissors, they're at a stalemate. They need a rock, like Bond, to combat the high-tech criminal mastermind. Bond decides to take things back to their roots: "Back in time. Somewhere we'll have the advantage."

    Bond lures Silva far out into the Scottish wilderness, where technology will not help him, to fight him on even ground. On the way out, Bond even drives M in a classic Aston Martin, a callback to Bond's glory days.

    Of course Silva blows it up. He has no respect for the past. But that is what ultimately gets him killed: Bond kills him with a knife in the back, literally one of mankind's most primitive weapons. Even Silva's computer couldn't save him. Although if he'd had a backpack with an iPad in it, it might have shielded the blow…

  • The List

    Daniel Craig's List

    Skyfall begins with Bond in pursuit of a top-secret data program that might as well be called Red_Herring.exe. The list is merely a tool to get M out of hiding. But speaking of tool, we have to mention that Bond is able to use it as a weapon. The data chip—or whatever it is; what do we look like, Q?—is on a string, and Bond tries to strangle Patrice with it aboard the train.

    The gist? It's used to cause harm in more ways than one.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Does a top-secret spy have an ordinary world? The closest we see Bond getting to "ordinary" is after he is injured and starts hanging out on a tropical island. So, yeah, this is Bond's normal—almost killed, living in a secret paradise, doing shots with a scorpion perched on his hand. Sounds like a typical Tuesday to us.

    Call to Adventure

    Bond's call to adventure happens on a daily basis, but in Skyfall, his call is a big one—the explosion of MI6 headquarters in London. The bombing shakes Bond enough that he decides to stop playing dead and start being real.

    Refusal of the Call

    The closest Bond comes to refusing the call is a brief maybe-we're-too-old-for-this moment shared with M in her home. But after M tells Bond to "speak for yourself," he realizes he has no excuse not to stand up and fight.

    Meeting the Mentor

    Bond has already met M, of course, but she's the closest thing to a mentor he gets in this story, although, in a way, everyone he meets—Q, Eve, even Silva—serves as a mini-mentor of sorts for 007. He's learning to work with a team instead of being a lone wolf, and each person gives him examples on what to do and what not to do.

    Crossing the Threshold

    After M lies about Bond's physical and mental evaluations, Bond is cleared for service and is back in action. For Bond, the threshold always leads to globetrotting adventure. First stop: Shanghai.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    As Bond hops from Shanghai to Macau to Silva's deserted island compound, he meets a variety of people. Many of them want to kill him. Allies are few and far between for 007, and things don't normally work out for those who ally themselves with him. RIP Severine.

    Approach to the Inmost Cave

    Silva's speech draws Bond into the "inmost cave," forcing Bond to consider the question, am I actually like this guy? They have a lot of similarities, but Bond has to focus on the key differences.

    Ordeal

    Anything related to Silva is an ordeal. He has dozens of armed men surrounding him, he's a computer genius, and he's able to crash an entire subway train into James Bond. Fighting this guy is not easy.

    Reward (Seizing the Sword)

    It's a reward to find out what Silva wants—he wants M dead—and to capture M. Once they have Silva restrained, the whole thing feels easy. Too easy…

    The Road Back

    Silva breaks out, of course, and Bond and M go into hiding. They take a road back to the past—to Bond's childhood home, to be precise, to hide out and fight Silva's high-tech assault with some decidedly low-tech tricks.

    Resurrection

    Bond says his specialty is resurrection, and like a phoenix, he burns his childhood home to the ground and rises from the ashes as a brand-new agent. Pity M doesn't make it, though.

    Return With the Elixir

    Bond returns to London. Although M is dead, she tells him with her last words that she is proud of him, so at least he has that. It gives him the strength he needs to keep moving forward.

  • Setting

    Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Macau, Scotland, 2012

    Around the World in 80 Minutes

    The Bond franchise has always been about seeing glamorous parts of the world, and Skyfall is no different in this respect. We see the crowded city streets of Istanbul, the towering neon skyscrapers of Shanghai, and a gorgeous casino in Macau for high rollers only. The only way most of us would see many of these places is through the eyes of James Bond.

    But Skyfall does one thing a little differently—it brings the action and danger into the heart of London. MI6 is bombed. The Tube is terrorized. And gunfire erupts inside Parliament. Silva has it out for England just as much as he does for M. 

    SILVA: England. The Empire! MI6! You're living in a ruin as well, you just don't know it yet. At least here there are no old ladies giving orders and no little...Bip! Gadgets from those fools in Q-Branch.

    The dark side to the globetrotting aspect of the Bond franchise is that Bond has always been a bit of an imperialist. He travels to these other countries and does whatever he wants, all in the name of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Silva taunts Bond with the reality that England isn't the empire it used to be. Silva also turns England's technology against England itself, showing the English that even with their high-tech tools, they can still be threatened.

    Of course, Bond saves the day—but he also realizes that the fight is never over. Without constant vigilance, tea and crumpets will never be safe.

  • Point of View

    Bond is known for duels, not for dual narratives, yet the opening of Skyfall gives us both. This movie is a gift that keeps on giving.

    We have two parallel storylines at the beginning—Bond's and M's. Bond is chasing Patrice to get that list, while M is back at MI6 yelling at him about said list. When Bond "dies," M's storyline takes over briefly.

    The storylines converge when Bond returns from the dead and begins working with M again. After that, everything shifts primarily to Bond—it is his movie, after all—but we do get glimpses into M's frustrated dealings with bureaucracy, like during her dramatic national security hearing.

    M often talks about Bond working in the shadows, and there is a third storyline in the shadows—Silva's storyline. He's the puppet master who has been manipulating the strings from the beginning. Severine is a part of his storyline, and when she debuts, she comments on it to Bond.

    SEVERINE: You made such a bold entrance into our little drama.

    BOND: Did I over-complicate the plot?

    SEVERINE: Who doesn't appreciate the occasional twist, Mr…?

    BOND: Bond. James Bond.

    From here, all three storylines converge—Bond's, M's, and Silva's—leading up to the dramatic shootout at M's hearing. At the end of the film, of course, both M and Silva are dead, leaving only one thread to continue forward—Bond's. The film may giveth, but it also taketh away.

  • Genre

    Action, Spy, Drama

    Secret Agent Man (and Woman)

    The James Bond franchise is the ultimate spy movie franchise, going back to Dr. No in 1962. In fact, it's the longest-running film franchise next to Godzilla (source).

    But hey, after half a century, it's necessary to shake things up, right?

    Skyfall changes the formula in an attempt to keep the franchise moving forward, but it also pays homage to the past. This push-pull dynamic shows in both Bond's and M's inner conflicts, as they wonder what's the best way to fight their enemies—with tried-and-true old ways, or with new technology?

    Shout-outs to past Bond films include the classic Bond Aston Martin, the classic Bond music, and multiple references to past Bond films, like For Your Eyes Only. However, the plot itself is a modern one. Bond isn't fighting a vague Soviet threat; he's fighting a threat of his own. And Bond isn't alone: M is practically a co-star. The movie is as much about her as it is about Bond—maybe even more so.

    We think Skyfall does a great job of modernizing the Bond formula, while not leaving fifty years of history in the dust. Though if the franchise needs to go further to shake things up, we do suggest putting Godzilla in a tux.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling

    The word "Skyfall" is a mystery. It's first crooned by Adele in the opening song, making it into a Chicken Little-like portent of foreboding disaster. Later, the word is dropped in Bond's psych eval word association game.

    EVALUATOR: Murder.

    BOND: Employment.

    EVALUATOR: Country.

    BOND: England.

    EVALUATOR: Skyfall. [pause] Skyfall.

    BOND: Done.

    Bond doesn't want to hear about Skyfall, but what is it? A secret nuclear missile program? A failed mission? His secret screen name? It's a touchy subject, whatever it is.

    It's only toward the end of the movie that we learn that Skyfall is Bond's childhood home. The front is guarded by a stag, like Harry Potter's patronus cast in bronze. But the whole place is grim and gloomy, prompting M to comment, "No wonder you never came back."

    If Skyfall were ours, we'd spruce it up into a nice B&B, but Bond has no desire to make the estate cozy: it's a place of grim childhood memories. We're led to believe that Bond's parents were killed there, while young Bond hid underground. That's more than enough to make a person turn away and never come back.

    But Bond is forced to return, luring Silva to Skyfall for the final showdown. The standoff wipes out memories of the past for both M and for Bond. For M, Silva is a person she may feel guilt or remorse about, and he is eliminated. For Bond, those complicated feelings toward his childhood home go up in smoke when the place literally blows up.

    While M might be conflicted about past decisions, Bond displays no such inner turmoil about rigging his family estate with explosives: "I always hated this place," he says.

    Bond deals with the past the best way he knows how—by sending it up in flames and starting over. He is ready to put the past behind him, and it's easier to do that when the past is a literal pile of ashes. Maybe Bond isn't actually crying at the end—it's just soot in his eyes.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal

    The ending to Skyfall is basically Home Alone but with more deaths and explosions. Bond is Macaulay Culkin and Silva is Joe Pesci, except instead of trying to rob the house of valuables, Silva is trying to rob M of her life.

    So, yeah, the stakes are a smidge higher.

    Luring Silva to Skyfall puts Bond on his home turf. Literally. Skyfall is Bond's family estate, so he knows it like the back of his hand. Plus, way out in the boonies of Scotland, Silva's technological prowess can't help him. Having to match Bond in wits and strength, Silva finds himself at a disadvantage.

    Bond's only ally is Kincaid, an elderly gameskeeper, who explains it best, "But if all else fails, sometimes the old ways are the best."

    And the old ways work. In the most intense game of Survivor ever, Bond is able to outwit, outplay, and outlast Silva. Unfortunately, M dies from a gunshot wound—not even from Silva. Quite an ignominious way to go after such a dramatic struggle.

    But M gives Bond a quantum of solace, if you will, with her final words. She looks at him and says, "I did get one thing right."

    When Bond blows up Skyfall, we get the impression that he never cared about his parents, even in death; perhaps he also feels that his own parents never cared about him. But M was always a mother figure to him, and in this moment, he knows he made her proud.

    Yet the world—and the Bond franchise—moves on without her. M is replaced, and Bond vows to keep fighting…at least until Daniel Craig is replaced as Bond, too.

  • Shock Rating

    PG-13

    Ever since Daniel Craig took over Bond's tuxedo, the series has been grittier and rawer than in previous installments—which sometimes featured hovercrafts, chicken farmers, and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones.

    Skyfall instead features violent shootouts, brutal fistfights, and frightening scenes of suspense—like the entire showdown against Silva at Skyfall. However, as this movie is an attempt to bridge the Bond of the past with a Bond of the future, it doesn't shy from its own goofy moments. One notable moment involves Bond bouncing off a Komodo dragon in a Macau casino. At least Daniel Craig can feel confident knowing that when he is replaced as Bond, he can still have a role as Pitfall Harry.