An old Bond

Posted Nov 27, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Jason Byassee


(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Skyfall and think that you might be surprised by the latest Bond plot, then read this only after viewing the film.)

You don’t normally expect to go to Bond movies for profundity. You watch Bond for a few familiar things: buxom babes (now brainier and badder); luxuries, like 50-year old Macallan; gravity-defying chases, like this one’s motorcycle one across rooftops in Istanbul. But the most recent Bond installment offers some reflection on technology that can be of use to people of faith. And I don’t just mean the fact that Daniel Craig, Bond’s current actor, is step-brother to the theologian Philip Blond. This one wrestles with the heritage of the past, getting old, and whether technology or know-how is the better way to keep people safe.

Skyfall opens with a not-uncommon Bond trope: the death of 007. The head of MI-6, “M,” played by the exquisite Judi Dench, has to order an agent to take a not-altogether-clean shot at a baddie whom Bond is fighting on a moving train. She does, hits Bond, and he cascades hundreds of feet into a Turkish river. He’s presumed dead, and the baddie escapes with identities of undercover British agents whose executions are played on the Internet. This is the fearful new world of social media. Inside information is different than in the days when we feared lost Russian launch codes. True, those could destroy the world. But now malcontents with spyfare can post execution videos for their bad-guy friends to “like.”

Of course Bond turns back up. But he’s not himself, having taken a bullet and spent a little too long underwater. He can’t pass the psych or physical tests necessary to be returned to service. For the first time, the eternally youthful Bond, refreshed by younger actors every few movies, is accused of being too old, washed up, past his prime. M puts him back out there anyway to trace the lost identity info. First he’s equipped by Q, played with droll humor by Ben Whishaw. “What’s this?” Bond asks. “A radio,” Q says wryly. “What did you want, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore, you know.” Such dated technology as a location-finder comes in handy later. Bond wields it against arch-baddie Silva, a former MI-6er turned over by M and really angry about it, delightfully played by Javier Bardem. The arch-enemy mocks the tiny technology, asking what it is. “Radio,” Bond answers, as they both hear the helicopters, alerted by Bond’s signal, swoop in to save the day.

Eventually the technology is useless. In a new trope for Bond, the action finds its way to his childhood home—a Scottish mansion called “Skyfall.” It looks grimly medieval, and of course is far enough out of the way that cellphones don’t work. Bond escorts M there in a vintage Aston Martin of the sort Bond has driven for decades, replete with machine guns under the hood—the best of imaginative Bond technology in the 60s. The Skyfall manor features the best of 16th century technology—a “priest’s door,” designed to help Roman Catholic priests avoid Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant henchmen half a millennium ago. The baddies are felled by Goonies-like booby traps, only slightly deadlier—bombs under floorboards, rifles tripped by wires. Bond and M fight off the hordes with elbow grease and cleverness. Technologies literally collide as the bad guys’ helicopter gunship crashes into the manor (don’t ask how they got that into British airspace). Bond and M use the ensuing conflagration to escape to, you guessed it, a church. The bad guy gets taken down not by some advanced gizmo but by a dagger sent into his back. It’s not high tech, but it is effective.

Here’s the thing. The older ways might be better. Bond might be cleverer and awesomer than the baddies who would wage cyber warfare on the world by sheer chutzpah and elbow grease. Skyfall would leave us waxing oddly nostalgic for manors and technology-free fighting. But the old ways are still technological. Somebody made that dagger in Bardem’s back. Medieval chapels and manors were among some of that age’s greatest architectural achievements. That priest’s door with its tunnel underground to the chapel took impressive 16th century digging chops. Older ways might be better. But they’re not necessarily non-technological.

Jason Byassee, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Senior Pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, NC and a Fellow in Theology and Leadership at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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