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...
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).
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.