New James Bond and western decline

Western readers may not especially like the treatment the latest James Bodh smash hit Skyfall got in today’s edition of Al Jazeera. In a review-essay entitled “James Bond’s Skyfall, or the decadence of the West,” Patricia Viera writes that the film is just chock-full of references to the “post-American world,” not to mention the post-European world. Excrepted below are a few paragraphs paragraphs.

“It is difficult not to recognise in Skyfall‘s obsession with old age, decadence and ruin a not-so-veiled reference to the ongoing Euro-crisis and, more broadly, to the waning of the West’s preponderance in world affairs. This is perhaps the key to understanding the film’s success. Viewers instinctively identified with the movie’s plot of collapse and regeneration and secretly hoped that reality would imitate art.

“From the release of Dr No in 1962, the Bond series has always been Eurocentric. Non-Western countries appeared, at best, as exotic backdrops to 007’s adventures. At worst, they were the hiding place of bandits, often renegade Westerners themselves. Coinciding with the post-war optimism that accompanied European reconstruction and, later, with the Cold War fight against communism, Bond movies consistently emphasised the superiority of the West over the rest.

“In Skyfall, however, we quickly realise that something is wrong on the Western front. It is not just Bond and M’s physical and moral decay that mirror the decline of England. Much to the disappointment of technology buffs, we learn, for instance, that 007’s gadgets are out because of budget cuts, in an obvious stab at austerity measures throughout Europe. And when Bond is unable to fight back after a bomb strikes at the heart of MI6, the headquarters of the British foreign intelligence services, shortly followed by an attack on the offices of the British government, we cannot help but long for the good old days.

“More interesting still, is the film’s suggestion on how to overcome the crisis. Unable to defeat the more technologically savvy Silva on his own ground, Bond decides to return to his ancestral home Skyfall, an isolated estate in the Scottish highlands. It is here that the final showdown takes place. Armed with old-fashioned hunting rifles, knives and an artisanal gas bomb, and aided by the ageing overseer of the property, Bond predictably defeats the villain.

That 007, who used to carry the most high-tech equipment, is outdone by the Asian-made paraphernalia of Silva, speaks to Europe’s losing battle in today’s fast-paced technological race. It is telling that, in order to annihilate Silva, Bond requires a location and weapons that bring us back to the 19th century, the heyday of British dominance worldwide.

“This return to the roots at a time of crisis signals the need to rethink the West’s foundational fictions of permanent progress and increasing prosperity. The second, metaphorical rebirth of 007 only happens after Silva and his thugs destroy his ancestral home. Struggling to come to terms with the obliteration of his origins, Bond informs viewers, in a classical Freudian quip, that he really never liked the old mansion.

Is Skyfall telling us that, like Bond, Europe should to go back to its roots for regeneration? Or is the film’s subliminal message more progressive? Could Skyfall be intimating that, in order for renewal to occur, some of darkest European myths, including that of Western superiority upon which much of the Bond series is built, need to be demolished?

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