SKYFALL (James Bond) and the Hero’s Journey

SKYFALL, the latest installment in the James Bond series, is so ridiculously amazing I must henceforth add it to those movies I generally use in analyzing particular stages of the Hero’s Journey and Archetypes. If you haven’t seen the film, do so now! If you read any further, I will spoil the movie—and then I will have violated one of my biggest pet peeves! So go rent it before reading on!

Feel free to check my old posts on “Ordinary VS Sacred Worlds,” “The Call & Refusal,” and both my posts on “Transformation” to get caught up. Just click the CATAGORIES link for “Archetypes & the Hero’s Journey.”

I will cover the previously mentioned aspects of the hero’s journey as we see it in SKYFALL right here. The rest of my SKYFALL archetype analysis will unfold in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Side Note: I think it is saying something about our collective affection for the hero’s journey that Bond # 23 has more archetypal elements than any of the previous 22 films and it is widely regarded as the best in the entire series. If you still doubt the power of archetypes, this film’s success should give you something on which to chew.

ORDINARY VS SACRED WORLDS: The opening fight sequence establishes that Bond is already immersed in the sacred world of espionage (as all Bond openings do). He is a relentless secret agent whose courage and skill is obvious. However, the scene ends with Bond failing, which leads to the overall question about whether or not he’s lost his edge or if he still has a place in this sacred world. Indeed, the sacred world itself has changed. Bond is a physical kind of spy and according to the plot and villain, the espionage game has moved to a more technological kind of board. Therefore, Bond must prove that he is, in fact, still relevant in this new sacred world where technology is the weapon of choice and the villains remain in the shadows. By defeating the bad guy, Bond established his credentials in this new world (but does he really defeat the bad guy? Hmm.).
Interestingly, Skyfall also gives us more information about Bond’s early life than any of the other films. He returns to his family home (presumably) for the first time since his parents’ deaths. We therefore see what his ordinary world was before he ever became a member of MI 6. We also see how painful that place and those memories are for him and though few details are given, we can feel the weight of that place and that event on our hero’s psyche.

THE CALL & REFUSAL: Bond isn’t one to refuse a call, but after the opening fight sequence he is presumed dead and allows MI 6 to believe this for a spell. Of course, when he sees that England and his boss, M, are under attack, he returns home and accepts a new mission.

THE TRANSFORMATION: Where to begin? In these films, Bond rarely has a significant transformation—such is the nature of a serial: the hero has to be basically the same at the end as he was in the beginning so that the stories can be seen in just about any order and a viewer can even get by with missing several. SKYFALL does this, yet we learn far more about our hero than ever before. Not only do we get details about Bond’s childhood trauma, but we also gain a better understanding of who he is and why he is the distant womanizer we’ve all come to know. Most Bond films show us that he doesn’t generally love the women he seduces. CASINO ROYALE (Daniel Craig’s 1st outing as Bond) goes further by actually having Bond fall in love with a woman who later betrays him before she dies, hurting Bond and giving him major trust issues, therefore providing more reason for Bond to remain unattached. Although never stated, SKYFALL hints that he probably learned that detachment “defense” after his parents’ deaths. It was that harrowing ordeal that forged him into the man he is. We are told that after hearing the awful news, young James Bond hid for two days and when he emerged he wasn’t a boy any longer. This of course is why M means so much to him: she has become his surrogate parent. When she dies in the chapel beside his parents’ own graves, Bond shows true emotion, crying for another lost parent. This scene shows us that he does care, quite deeply, and that he tries to deny this part of himself for his own emotional protection. In this sense his transformation is really a revelation, but the end result is the same for the audience because we see him differently by the film’s conclusion.

DEATH & REBIRTH: The obvious death & rebirth is that Bond is declared dead and then returns having “enjoyed death.” After that, he has to be reborn as an agent, going through several trials until he is declared fit for duty (which is questionable). Bond even tells the villain that his (Bond’s) hobby is “resurrection.” Indeed, this is a wink at the audience who knows that the Bond series has been resurrected many times and that six different actors have played the role. SKYFALL is simultaneously an ending and, in its final scenes, a resurrection of the entire James Bond mythos as it sets up many adventures to come with a new supporting cast.

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