Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skyfall: The Fighting Temeraire

So, I know- right now you are probably thinking, "Wow! I didn't know that there were so many thematically important paintings in motion pictures? (in that exact wording of course)" But of course, you are also thinking, "Well, all those movies are from way back when." So just to spice things up a little I'm taking inspiration from a new movie. Here's the painting...
James Bond "The Fighting Temeraire"
Well, I know this doesn't say much to you, but how about a little more. I'll show you a scene where the painting appears.
The Fighting Temeraire
Yes! That painting (titled, if you must know, The Fighting Temeraire) appears in the new hit James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig (see above) titled Skyfall. I know, my up-to-date nature is fairly impressive. But what's more impressive is that this painting contains the third, and perhaps last important theme that appears in movie artwork. Ready? Artwork, besides showing the presence of ghosts and obsession/love, also show, in a symbolic nature, repressed fears/emotions.

In this category, you'll notice something else that you may have noticed in this painting. Obviously, this painting was not created for the film. The Fighting Temeraire was an actual painting, even a famous painting, before this movie. This artwork requires a little analysis because its nature in the film is full of symbolism.

So, I'm going to cover the painting first. The painting is by the foremost of the Romantic British Painters, J.M.W. Turner. It was painted in 1838, as the rotting warship was taken off to be scrapped. The HMS Temeraire was a fairly notable ship that appeared in the Battle of Trafalgar (enjoy the painting by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield).
So what's symbolic about the painting is that in 1838 England was going through the beginning stages of the Industrial Revolution. So this old, beautiful warship was being drawn to its demise by none other than a member of the "new guard," a steamboat, spewing smoke. So in a sense, this painting represents Britain adapting a modern attitude, getting rid of tradition and moving on. It is fairly important, and also a fairly good Turner (I really don't care for Romantic painting, as a rule).

Now, how does it relate? In Skyfall, a major theme is Bond's fear that he is unneeded, that the MI6 is an old tradition that is on its way out. In the beginning of the film, these repressed fears plague Bond.
So, when Bond meets Q at the National Gallery in London, the director placed Bond in this specific spot for a few reasons. For one, it is in a gallery filled with very essentially British paintings. I believe that a Reynolds is behind him (so another British painter). And as Bond and Q have this discussion about modern espionage, and who is important, they are staring at this Turner piece, thinking of tradition, thinking of change, thinking of value. In his heart of hearts, Bond fears that he is like the warship- a grand reminder of Britain's past, but ready to be sent to scrap.

An important thing to remember in film is that everything is done for a reason. The scene is an enjoyable scene without knowing anything about the National Gallery, about Turner, about The Fighting Temerarie. But of all a sudden, when you realize what the painting portrays, what it represents the scene becomes powerful. Bond's fixation with the painting shows his fixation with his repressed emotion. He likens himself to the warship, he fears he has become a part of British tradition, gone to rot.
This is why understanding art is important and why merely just watching a film is not enough. If you want to appreciate a film, you need to understand the elements involved. Hopefully, I'm helping you get there.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh my God! I mixed up my Napoleonic battles! Obviously, the battle was Trafalgar. I was looking at this comment thinking, what did I do wrong? Did I spell it wrong or something? And then it just clicked. Thanks so much! I'm changing it pronto!
      On a secondary note- follow the blog and make other corrections!

  2. Your story is very interesting. But this is another one. It was one of the reason when I made the trip from Montréal to London: to go seeing that masterpeace that I was knowing... I was with my doughter of ten years old and I ask her to seat. I was impress to be on front of that painting that I was knowing for long time... I ask her what she was seeing in it... She answer: a big bloody ship... Let's go back to Monet... The rest of the stroy: We were in november 2012... I'm a big fan of Bond but I have see the movie somewhere in january 2013... Imagine when I was at home looking at the film and listening Q asking the same question as me to Bond and giving pratically the same answer then Rosalie to me... Very funny... This year in october I was 50 as Bond film... So I have for gift from my wife: «The Fighting Temeraire» in our dining room... very a good one! It was a magic moment for my doughter and I when the other part of our family said that we had seat on the James Bond seat on the National Gallery.. It's surely one of the reason that we'll be back somewhere in the next five years... «The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up" (to give it's full name) was in 2005 the painting voted "Britain's favourite painting" in a BBC poll. It was Turner's particular favourite; he only lent it once and refused to ever do so again. He also refused to sell it at any price, and on his death bequeathed it to the nation... Now the sunset breezes shiver

    Rock R. Beaudet rrb@videotron.qc.ca

    Temeraire! Temeraire!
    And she's fading down the river.
    Temeraire! Temeraire!
    Now the sunset Breezes shiver
    And she's fading down the river,
    But in England's song for ever
    She's the Fighting Temeraire.
    Henry Newbolt, 'The Fighting Temeraire', 1898

    1. What an incredible story! Isn't it fascinating how art (or in this case, film) imitates life? I think the fact that you had an identical experience as Bond in the film just shows the universal appeal of such a piece. I hope you continue reading the blog- maybe you'll find more personal connections!

  3. Apparently unnoticed here (as 10 Nov. 2016 by Melvyn Bragg and his Radio 4 guests) is that Turner here shows the sun setting in the east rather than the west. Viewed over the River Thames, the sun sets over the chimneys of London, not the open sea.


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