When the Sky Falls
Shedding Blood in the Dark: The Liturgical Shape of Skyfall
James Bond: Everybody needs a hobby.
Silva: So, what’s yours?
James Bond: Resurrection.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the structures of traditional Western storytelling were deliberately omitted from “thinking” films. Bleak narratives reflected the randomness of life without faith. Movies were becoming formless and void.
Of course, this is a generalization. It does not apply to James Bond films, which have always followed the same formula. But as audiences grow more and more plot-savvy, a lot more ground can be covered in a lot less time. Events can be merely hinted at rather than being shown step by step. By now, we all know the tropes. Perhaps this is why storytelling is returning to carefully deliberated structure, and, in many cases, is quite consciously symbolic in nature. Moreover, the use of symbolism includes chiastic patterning. Westerners may hate the Bible, but we can’t bring ourselves to abandon an Alpha and Omega in our entertainment.
My friend Steven Opp cleverly traced Skyfall along the lines of biblical narrative. I’ve expanded on it a bit with the Creation/Covenant matrix. The story of M’s atonement for her sins follows a liturgical pattern that runs throughout the Bible. The movie is a story of Covenant renewal.
Besides the structure, we can see the biblical roles of father, mother, sons (true and false), and bride (true and false) very clearly in the relationships of authority. All are warriors but what sets the good apart from the evil is not the willingness to use violence or deception (which is exactly as it is in, say, the story of Jacob and Esau). It is their faith in a grand metanarrative where good triumphs, one which is worth any sacrifice, and their loyalty to their “ministerial” vows.
Each cycle is symmetrical (chiastic), and each cycle is also a microcosm of the whole, which is also symmetrical.
GENESIS – The Fall (Creation – Sabbath – Day 1)
Bond on a mission for M1 (Transcendence)
…..Bond with Eve: Rooftop chase in the field (Delegation)
……….Bond wrestles with a mercenary “angel” (Ethics)
……….for the lives of all other agents
…..At M1′s command, Eve shoots at the tangled men
…..and Bond falls from the sky (Sanctions)
Bond “drowns” in the river (Succession)
I guess the names Bond (Covenant) and Eve (mother of all the living) are significant here. Also notice the two “goats” of Atonement, on the rooftop of the train, passing “through” the dark tunnels. The blood of the martyred innocent “brother” becomes a legal witness.
EXODUS – Mother and Son “passed over” (Division – Passover – Day 2)
M2 pressures M1 to retire from her commission (Light and Dark)
…..M2 refuses, leaves, is saved (“passed over”) on a bridge (Waters)
……….MI6 building is blown up (Land)
……………Holed up by the sea, Bond’s eyes are opened (Rulers)
……….He returns to a relocated MI6, “resurrected” (Swarms)
…..Bond fails tests but M1 “passes over” his failure (Mediators)
M1 recommissions Bond behind the back of M2 (Rest)
The rivalry between two agents has led to rivalry between two “orders,” the old and the new. Like Bond, MI6 itself passes through a death and resurrection. But this is early on, so for the time being, the “new temple” remains in the ground, in the dark. Bond’s “wilderness” experience includes a drinking game with a scorpion. The “satanic” metal in the chest of the hero leads him into the next cycle: ascension, promise and betrothal.
LEVITICUS – Commission / Covenant (Ascension – Firstfruits – Day 3)
Shrapnel from Bond’s chest identifies the “angel” (Initiation)
…..Bond tracks the mercenary (across water) to Shanghai (Delegation)
……….Following Patrice’s trail of blood, Bond “ascends” with his “twin”
……….The compromised “bride” appears, a victim is “enthroned,”
……….the bait is unveiled, and the sacrifice is made (Ethics 1 – Ascension)
……………In the darkness, in the sky, amongst the neon lights,
……………Bond and Patrice wrestle once again. This time it is not the
……………man (Bond) who falls from the sky, but the angel.
……………(Ethics 2 – Testing)
……….With the windows broken, the man and the woman (Sévérine)
……….are rendered “naked” to each other. (Ethics 3 – Maturity)
…..A gambling chip exposes the mercenary’s employer (Sanctions)
whom Bond tracks to a dragon-themed Casino in Macau (Succession)
The clue at Division was metal cutting meat, a token of death. The clue at Ascension is a gambling chip, the price for the highrise assassination of a high flyer, a token from the temple of the dragon. Bond’s “ascension” under the elevator is interesting. It is almost as though he is holding onto Patrice’s heel.
Bond approaches Sévérine for her employer’s identity
and fights dragons (human and reptilian) to escape the casino
…..With Sévérine, he travels by boat to Silva’s desolate island,
…..an abode stolen using a clever lie.
……….Bond is captured and tied to a chair (“enthroned” as a sacrifice).
……….Silva descends in an elevator to make an entrance. Here the brother/bride
……….theme is twisted into Silva’s taunts and sexual advance
……………The “Numbers” theme of the jealous inspection is played out in
……………the two men shooting a glass of liquor from Sévérine’s head.
……………Like the woman caught in adultery, she is a “guilty victim”
……………led the centre of the “legal” courtyard
……………Her true lover is the man who deliberately aimed to miss.
……….The troops show up just in time.
……….Now it is Silva who is incarcerated — underground at MI6.
……….He reveals his motives, his hatred for M (“mother”)
……….and escapes disguised as The Law.
…..Bond pursues Silva (Underground), while M, another woman,
…..is subjected to an enquiry. This time it is M who is “passed over”
…..as the serpent attacks
All eyes opened, Bond, M1 and M2 are now a united force.
The biblical themes and structures here are really extraordinary, and possibly quite deliberate. The name “Silva” comes from the Latin word “hiss,” and refers to a jungle or a forest of trees. And the cup of liquor on Sévérine’s head as she received two “shots” is beyond the pale (Numbers 5). Sévérine’s name possibly refers to her being “cut off” in the wilderness. Just as in the Garden of Eden, and the Book of Revelation, the dragon and the woman are right at the centre, stars in a dark sky (Day 4).
For those familiar with the pattern, we could expand the casino sequence into its own cycle as “Table.” It’s bloody, he seals the bond with Severine, there is a preliminary “filling” (lots of cash) and then he finishes it with “put everything on RED.” (See cycle 6 for the order of the Tabernacle furniture.)
With M at risk, Bond now calls the shots
…..He drives M to his icy home, Skyfall, leaving Silva a deceptive trail
……….They enlist the help of the wise old gamekeeper, Kincade
……….(“head of the pass”)
……………Only lightly armed, they work to booby trap the house
……………and plan their escape
……….Silva’s men arrive and are defeated, but M is wounded
…..Silva arrives from the sky, playing the Animals’ Boom Boom
…..from a loudspeaker
Bond sends M and Kincade through a tunnel at the back of a
priest’s hole to a chapel in the grounds
The themes at Maturity are mustering the troops, sharing of wisdom, and bridal music. It is also the establishment of a New Covenant. The old temples, the placed of childhood and training, vacated by the Spirit, are ready to come down to make way for a new order.
JOSHUA – The Walls Come Down (Conquest – Atonement – Day 6)
Silva sends fire from the sky and incendiary grenades into the
house (Ark of the Covenant)
…..Bond sets off gas canisters and escapes through the priest’s
…..hole into the tunnel, where he is passed over by the flames (Veil)
……….The resulting blast disables Silva’s helicopter which crashes into
……….the house, killing most of Silva’s men (Altar and Table)
……………Bond again wrestles with an angel, this time underwater
……………in an ice-covered lake (crystal sea/laver). He sets off a flare.
……………Silva sees Kincade’s torchlight in the chapel (Lampstand)
……….He forces his gun into M’s hand, and, eyes closed, begs her
……….to kill them both (Incense Altar)
…..Bond rescues M and “cuts” Silva with a knife (metal in the back)
…..(High Priest and sacrifices/Laver)
M’s continued bleeding causes her death. But her decision concerning
the recommissioning of Bond is vindicated. (Shekinah/Succession)
At Passover and Atonement (which match each other chiastically), the blood is presented in the dark. This is the sixth feast, the Day of Atonement, and Bond reminds Silva of his sick story of the two surviving rats. Here, they are the two sacrificial goats. One goes to heaven and the other to hell. Here, we also see M1 pass through the narrow gate and atone for her “sins.” The ascension of the bride from the old childhood house, over the crystal sea to the house of worship. Here, Bond is Joshua, crushing the serpent underfoot. In this film, he has lost everything (including his house — legally then physically), his car, and the one in his charge. All his past is gone in blood, fire and smoke. But as he says, “I never did like this place.”
The veil of flesh is torn, for Adam (true and false), for Eve (old and new), and for the serpent. The only one who is not bloodied is Abraham’s oldest servant, the one who took charge of the bride by the well, the Holy Spirit, Kincade.
JUDGES – Rule of the Champions (Glorification – Booths – Day 7)
Following M1′s funeral (Transcendence)
…..Eve introduced herself as Eve Moneypenny (Hierarchy)
……….She has retired from fieldwork (Ethics)
…..Bond enters the office of his new boss, M2 (Sanctions)
And when commissioned, says, “With pleasure.” (Succession)
We began with M, Bond and Eve, and we end with M, Bond and Eve, and Succession arrangements. The internal struggles of Israel are over, and she is now free again to minister to the nations (MI6 is the international security branch). Also, if you look carefully, you will see that every one of the seven structures is reflected in the whole.
If the movie resonates with us, and judging by the box office takings, it does, it is because it is a story we already know very well. The Bible does this all the time. Unfortunately, the current crop of scholars fails to study the Scriptures in this light and in this way, and consequently can’t make sense of a lot of things that would be plain to musicians, writers, artists—and filmmakers—who read the Bible.
M is for Martyrdom
Steven sent some other interesting observations:
Before seeing the new James Bond film Skyfall, I read a review by Zach Baron called “Cinematrics: Word is Bond”, which is quite interesting.
Baron suggests that the theme of the movie is the fall of imperialism (Skyfall). While I agree with his argument, I think the film can also be interpreted as being about the fall of Christendom in particular. Here’s why…
The central character in Skyfall is M, the older woman who runs the British secret service agency. Symbolically speaking, M is the mother figure of the organization and the agents are her children. Since, typologically the church is “mother” (Galatians 4:26, for example), M is therefore the Church in Skyfall. Let me suggest that her death in the little church building at the film’s climax symbolizes the end of Christendom.
The opening scene demonstrates Bond’s distaste for M’s seemingly callous disregard for an agent who is dying. Ten minutes later M orders Bond’s partner, Eve, to pull the trigger which ends up hitting Bond instead of the bad guy. Mother just “killed” her child, or, as the villain Raoul Silva later says, “Mommy was very bad.”
But why is Silva also angry at Mom? It turns out she had abandoned him to torture (or perhaps inquisition would be a better word) during a crusade for the release of other agents. Silva and Bond therefore have something in common: when the psychologist says “M” the first word coming to mind is “bitch.”
Meanwhile, M is being encouraged by the state to resign while the whole purpose of her organization is under scrutiny. The question at hand is this: In the new world of democracy, technology, and globalization in which everything is in the open, is her job really necessary? M finds her role as helper of the nation and mother of the secret agents being increasingly infringed upon by rigid bureaucracy, personified by the character Gareth Mallory who is closely observing her work.
M’s defence is that her organization’s job is still important in the “dark places,” the holes off the grid where terrorists can go undetected. After she is nearly killed by Silva, who has implored her to think on her sins, she finds she must also go into the darkness and out of sight as she goes with Bond to Skyfall in Scotland.
So far, M is a portrait of Christendom as she is brought into question in the modern world, is being usurped by statist bureaucracy, and is viciously attacked by her enemy who points out all her past mistakes. Like the church, she survives by escaping through a secret tunnel built during the Reformation, accompanied by a Scottish guide. Her final stand is in a little chapel building which Silva says is very fitting for the occasion of her demise.
After her death, M is replaced by Mallory; Mother Church is eclipsed by Father State; the spirit is replaced by bureaucracy.
In Skyfall, Bond finds himself in the same dilemma as the modern Christian: He’s been deeply wounded by “Mother Church” but still must be loyal to her and defend her from the apostates who want her to think on her sins and die. He finds his only other options are hedonism and despair and so the way for him to not be bored is to take up the hobby of resurrection. He must find a way to preserve his sense of purpose and importance under the impending bureaucratic system which is pushing out mother church’s protection of his unique style and abilities.
And he discovers he is most needed in the dark places.