Seeing Isn’t Believing: The Fallacy of Vision in The Ipcress File and Skyfall

Authors: Crossley, L.

Pages: 11-18

DOI: 10.1163/9781848884106_003


Built into the very word ‘spy’ is the notion of viewing – albeit covertly. This reinforces the idea that the secret agent’s primary method of information gathering is surveillance; and being able to control methods of surveillance gives the most power to the person with the most control. Throughout spy texts, the theme of surveillance runs parallel to themes of manipulation and, ultimately, betrayal. The systems of power are used against the very people who have built them as a means of defending the nation state against attack. These systems of power are also largely invisible: the ubiquity of CCTV cameras across Britain renders them virtually unnoticed. In his work on the Panopticon, Michel Foucault addresses the idea of the invisibility of disciplinary power. Discipline, power and control are maintained through the ability to see – and to see more than anyone else. The premium placed on sight is emphasized in The Ipcress File (1965) through its stylized aesthetics that frequently present the viewer with impeded views of the unfolding action. Impeded vision is made even more apparent through the myopia of protagonist Harry Palmer. Skyfall (2012) engages with surveillance in the digital world and the ability to have access to, and therefore control, visual networks of power is central to the operations of the villain Da Silva and the heroes’ efforts to reassert their power. In both films the narratives deal with the inherent deceptiveness of sight in the world of espionage: disguises, false information, manipulated images are all used to create layers of uncertainty. Both films also address the greatest of betrayals in the espionage world: that the ultimate deception comes from within and not from an external enemy. This chapter examines how spying – in all senses – and deception are articulated in these two film texts. Pseudo-events, Daniel J. Boorstin, clothes, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, rapture bomb, hoax, fake.

Source: Scopus