Skyfall Plot Analysis

Ben Wilson shows how understanding story structure helps enjoy a movie like Skyfall that much more.

Category: writing

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I saw Skyfall not long after it opened. Then I read some reviews. One reviewer commented that the villain did not show up until the mid-point in the story, “which was a gutsy move.” Having studied a fair-amount of story plotting, I think the reviewer got it wrong because he wasn’t paying attention to the story. In fiction, the character who undergoes the most change is the hero, the one who causes the change is the antagonist. The plot is the main aspect of the work, the “story” is the emotional part of the work, which is the area where the change happens. (Warning, Plot Spoiler Below.)

M is Skyfall’s Protagonist

This movie completed a trilogy between the Judy Dench-“M” and Craig-Bond. Casino Royale started with a too trusting and too sentimental Bond, “M” plays the true antagonist. I agree with those who say that Bond was the Bond girl in Casino, with Vesper being the aloof character we expected Bond to be. In Quantum of Solace, Bond tries to throw away his sentiment, only to find he must retain it to temper his hard-won distrust, again “M” is the antagonist. In Skyfall, M is the protagonist with Bond the antagonist.

Four Plot Points Show M’s Growth

The question in Skyfall was whether pragmatic “M” was still able to make sound decisions given her age and sentimentality toward Bond. The question arose at the point where she had to decide between Bond or the list. She made the pragmatic choice, ignoring sentiment. This resulted in Bond being shot. He returns a man betrayed by her lack of sentiment.

At the first plot point, M returned Bond to duty, out of sentimentality more than pragmatism. It was a decision that was thrown in her face for the balance of the movie.

At the mid-point, the villain tells Bond that M left him (the villain) to die (pragmatism over sentimentality).The midpoint in the story is where the main plot and the emotional story cross. Here, we see her sentimental choice (Bond) at odds with her pragmatic choice (Villain). Bond doesn’t shoot at the girl because he’s sentimental…the villain does because he’s pragmatic. At this point, Bond himself is challenged by “M’s” pragmatism as he confronts her decision. Will he continue to back her knowing she made the same sort of pragmatic choice with him that he did with the villain?

The villain (pragmatism) confronts her in a major way, attacking Parliament. Bond (sentiment) saves her, and takes her to the source of his strength (his home, sentiment). Seeing his home, M waxes about the value of orphans (pragmatism) while at the same time acknowledging the sentimental aspect of their relationship.

At the climactic scene, M can kill the villain by pragmatically pulling the trigger. Instead, she holds to her sentimentalism…giving Bond the time he needed to save the day. At her death she says, “for once I got it right;” which is to say, “I was right to hold on to my sentimentality.”

For his part, Bond had to learn to let go his own sentiment, which starts in Casino. Destroying the house was his way of resolving his sentiment for his parents, which earlier in the movie the psychologist said was an issue. (In Casino he was too sentimental, which blinded him.) I’m thinking the trilogy was a cross-story where she becomes more sentimental over time and he becomes more pragmatic.

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Photo Credit: Skyfall Movie Poster (Sony Pictures, Inc. Rights Reserved.)