A Limited Storytelling Scope

I was talking to a new-ish writer recently, and I told him that I thought his difficulty lay in that he was trying to write too big of a story. Not everything has to be a SONG OF ICE AND FIRE style epic with a billion POV characters. You can have a really intense story with a limited scope.

The new-ish writer disagreed, but I think I can prove my case below.

I recently watched Skyfall, considered to be the best of the James Bond movies, and I agree with that assessment. Skyfall is indeed the best of the Bond movies, and an excellent movie in its own right.

Yet what makes it so?

I think that two things make Skyfall as effective as it is – first, the limited scope of the story, and second, the strength of the relationship between the characters, both the protagonists and the antagonists.

First, unlike previous Bond movies where a maniacal supervillain plots to destroy the world or incite war between the Americans and the Soviets, the stakes are much smaller in Skyfall, but nonetheless just as intense. The villain, Silva, desires revenge upon the British intelligence agency MI6 and its director M in particular. Bond’s stake in the conflict is threefold – 1.) he is loyal to MI6, 2.) he is loyal to M, his mentor figure, and 3.) he is loyal to England. By carrying out terrorist attacks against MI6 to discredit M, Silva is setting himself up in opposition to Bond. Therefore Bond is fighting not to save the lives of abstract millions he will never meet, but his comrades and his mentor. It’s a much more personal conflict than a fight against a supervillain with a grandiose scheme involving giant lasers or orbital nukes or an earthquake machine or whatever. That makes the stakes much smaller, but interestingly, far more intense than a movie where the villain wants to start World War III or collapse the economy.

Second, the main characters of the film have a close and often adversarial relationship. Silva desires straightforward revenge against M, even as he still craves her approval. Bond has sharp disagreements with M over her cavalier treatment of her agents (which comes back to bite her in the movie), but is nonetheless doggedly loyal to her, and risks a great deal to save her life.

These plot threads come together not in the exotic locations Bond movies are known for, but instead in the crumbling mansion of Skyfall on the gloomy Scottish moors. Here M, Bond, and Silva have their final confrontation, while Bond faces his traumatic past in his childhood home.

It is both the limited scope of the story and the high stakes, I think, that makes SKYFALL the best of the Bond films.

-JM