Watched “Skyfall” tonight, finally. Besides being a tribute to Luddite ideology in general and a long and involved way of sending (Spoiler Alert) M off to a dramatic final retirement, I find that the series lacks the escapist spy vs spy entertainment value it once held for me. Bond girls are no longer thrilling and when Javier Bardem is the villain, well, they lose that cartoonish quality and take on a very dark and all-too-real feeling.
But one scene totally captured my attention. It was when Bond meets his new Quartermaster, or, as we have come to know him, Q.
Q, who is represented by thick-glasses-wearing, shaggy-haired geek, engages Bond in a museum while both are staring at a painting of The Fighting Temeraire.
The banter is traditional age versus youth, old versus new, it’s part of the film’s treatise on the methodology of fighting terrorism. It’s also interesting that one of the series’ youngest 007s gets one of the youngest Qs, and yet both are represented as at odds.
Yet when they part, Bond does so with a Walther PPK and a traditional radio that will allow his position to be tracked. You can’t get more simple than that. Now the Walther PPK does have a grip that recognizes only Bond’s thumb print, so as to leave a particularly lethal signature, if he so chooses, gone are the flashy cars, the cloaking devices and the exploding pens, as Q points out.
It’s funny, it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it’s actually kind of silly. But the scene stood out to me for the fact that it actually describes a position that journalism finds itself in today.
Technology has both helped an inhibited the grand old institution. And much like spies, the infrastructure is hopelessly technological and yet completely reliant on humans.
The attempts to have computers write journalistic stories, even with human help, have so far been colossal failures. And so yes, we get the message.
A human, and in particular, a human with deep and disturbing intuitions, is required to make the world continue to go round. Technology, for all its ability, cannot compete with a human with conviction or a human with purpose.
But then we’ve always known this. It’s not a mystery, which makes “Skyfall” a bit antiquated in its fight against technology. Tech, weapons, tools, exploding pens and invisible cars have always been part of the escapist fascination with these films.
Bond’s incorrigible behavior with the girls that bear his name and his penchant for martinis shaken, not stirred, Aston Martins and over-the-top bad guys are what keep me up all night during Bond week on the USA Network.
But here again we return to the geek and the spy. In the film, the geek is responsible for allowing technology to override the impenetrable system. And Bond, with nothing but brawn, brains and will, manages to pull the world right again.
“Age is no guarantee of efficiency,” Q tells Bond. “And youth is no guarantee of innovation.” Bond retorts.
Both are right, in this case. And in the end of the film, both are prophetic.
But in the world we live in today, it is best to remember the purposes for which we innovate, the reasons for technology and the truth that what we do matters.
There is no wall between technology and humans. Bond accepts his enhanced Walther PPK and uses his radio transmitter as efficiently as he would an invisible car. Neither youth nor age, technology nor human insight clearly wins out.