Golden Globes, Oscar nominations — any Jewish thoughts on this year’s movies?
Having not yet seen “Guilt Trip,” the obvious Jewish choice for some good, healthy cinematic banter, let’s go out on a limb here and take a Jewish look at…Bond. James Bond.
Sure, I hear you: “Skyfall” — not so Jewish. Well, friends, think again: An orphan abandoned as per Psalm 27 by mother and father, two dramatic sinkings into the deep water depths only to be reborn? Don’t even try to tell me that you didn’t catch all those subtle Jewish nuances and very Jewish lessons. Spoiler alert: Get thee to a theater before reading further if such previewing revelations are not to your likening. Forewarned is fore armed.
First we hear of it, we are not sure of what we are speaking, but then, along with many of the most mystifying of mysteries of life, the meaning of the name “Skyfall” is unveiled. As filmic watchwords go, “skyfall” assumes its rightful place next to Rosebud, presenting us with another complicated childhood fulcrum of our larger-than-life figure.
Skyfall is the majestic, melancholy, long-past-its-prime ancestral estate. Our hero’s childhood home languishes all but neglected, deep in the misty Scottish moors. It is to be his sole option for refuge in his time of need.
Skyfall: Poetic, otherworldly, it evokes that Kabbalistic concept of heaven’s descent to Earth. Jewish mysticism has long captured our imaginations with lofty notions of drawing the holy down to earth, of a dynamic descent of the divine in each soul and a corresponding elevation of the mundane directed heavenward. This temple-like sanctuary and Bond’s desperate pilgrimage there evokes Jewish ideas of the earthly Temple stationed directly below that of heaven. Look for “Skyfall” to assume its place as the new bon mot to refer to this classic idea.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Cut to the opening sequence where we find Bond’s fellow agent and sharpshooter heroically attempting to keep up with Bond, who is hotly engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a mercenary, fighting for life atop a moving train. Very Bond. The fate of the world depends on the outcome of this contest, and no guaranteed win for Bond is clear. “M,” a.k.a. Dame Judi Dench, the tough matriarchal chief back in London, has been monitoring and directing the action via radio transmissions. She decisively commands, “Take the shot,” urging the sharpshooter to shoot no matter the lack of precision. Bond goes down.
What of this command, “Take the shot?” Was it rash? Was it taking a cavalier chance with Bond’s life? M’s order is in sync with Jewish values around those who serve as protectors of the state. No matter whether you serve as medic, soldier or spy, all are expected to be ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the security of the country.
Which brings us to the provoker of all this malevolence, none other than a former MI 6 operative! The birth of the bully. The rise of the rabid. The advance of the aggressor. How does it happen? From where do these evildoers spring? A theory: Perceived injustice and an exaggerated sense of hurt is most often the underlying commonality shared by those who torment. There you have it. Slide any specimen, from classroom bully to community instigator to the heinous mass murderer. Though the spectrum is broad, they all share this common attribute. MI 6’s nemesis, threatening complete destruction of British intelligence and security, has been hurt long ago by M, who had been forced for the good of the country to abandon him and allow him to languish in enemy prisons. He joins the rank and file of other spurned evildoers. Much as we might turn to the offended bully with a sympathetic twinge, reality check: Hurt does not necessarily lead to abusive behavior.
Jewish history is awash with this tragic syndrome, both from inside and from outside. Take Bar Kamtza, to whom the destruction of the Second Temple is attributed. Bar Kamtza’s hurt? A mis-delivered party invitation, leading to a mistaken attendance at a celebration, leading to a humiliating public removal, leading, ultimately, to revenge on the entire community for allowing such a trespass to occur. For this dastardly deed our people still suffers.
The choice is each of ours. Are we the Talmud’s Bar Kamtza or Skyfall’s Raoul Silva? When hurt, do we lash out, as if the pain foisted on others can in some way assuage our own pain? There seems to be no limit to the damage done by pained, unbalanced victims. This seems to the year of being forced to face this issue.
Our tradition urges delicacy around issues of social interactions. The goal of our hyper-attention to the feelings of others is the nurturing of fine character traits, while the side benefit might be the elimination of this seemingly inevitable diabolical incubation of evil ones in the warm inviting petri dish of hatred, hurt, and spite.
Finally, it cannot be that no one has yet to notice the obvious pointed initials of our hero, who is celebrating fifty years of suave spying, J. B. What Biblical figure do you associate with these initials? The very same initials are the title of a one-act play produced the very same year as the very first James Bond novel came out. “J. B.” by Archibald MacLeish a retelling of the story of Job — complete name J. B.
James Bond in this latest iteration is a Job-like figure. Enduring pain, going through trials and tribulations and even performing self-surgery to remove shrapnel, but all through it he continues to persevere, ostensibly alone and certainly selfless in the world. He embodies a superhumanly noble commitment to a greater good. As such, our Biblical Job never gives in to his friends’ urgings to disavow goodness and God — no matter to what degree the world seems to testify to the opposite. Steadfast, loyal and unwavering they both stand.
Bond. James Bond. Great movie, great Jewish lessons.