Wednesday, November 14, 2012

M for Mummy

Now we know what M in the James Bond franchise stands for. Mummy, of course.

For those who have not yet seen the latest James Bond movie "Skyfall", it is highly recommended. It manages to be tongue-in-cheek without being cutesy; nostalgic without being soppy; and action-oriented without wasting an entire arsenal of ordnance. The visuals are great: Daniel Craig is good-looking in a craggy, unshaven sort of way; and the plot (almost) makes sense.

But the greatest achievement of the movie as far as I'm concerned is to rewrite the foundation of Western civilization: the Oedipal myth. Until now, the conflict between fathers and sons has been central to our most exalted narratives (see Hamlet and Star Wars). If you believe Harold Bloom (I don't), the father-son relationship underlies the dynamics of literary creativity (see The Anxiety of Influence). And yet James Bond has as little regard for Dr. Freud as he had for Dr. No.

The plot of the movie (spoilers alert!) hinges on the fact that Bond's boss, M (superbly played by Judy Dench,) has betrayed an agent named Silva to the nefarious Chinese.

(Incidentally, here is the link to a hilarious article on the Chinese reaction to this:

The agent comes to extract revenge and is defeated by Bond, who holds the mortally wounded M as she lies dying. No romance here: M is an old lady. But it is very clear that her relationship with Silva and Bond is the relationship between a stern mother and two sons who compete for her affection and approval. Silva is practically hysterical, begging M to kill both of them because, of course, matricide is the ultimate tabu. Bond is less emotional but more dutiful, which is why he becomes M's heir designate, continuing her work on behalf of Queen and country. There is no ghost of the father haunting this movie: authority and power are represented by a mother figure. It is as if Hamlet contested the crown with Gertrude or Luke Skywalker crossed swords with Mrs. Darth Vader.

What difference does it make? Very little, in my opinion. Power is power, whether wielded by a man or a woman. Family romance does not go very far in describing the dynamics of social hierarchies. But in the light of the latest soap opera unfolding in the CIA, with General David Petraeus brought down by a silly affair with his biographer, perhaps we could use some more of M's no-nonsense, I-told-you-to-clean-your-room maternal authority.   

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