Steven’s Science in Cinema: Skyfall (2012)

skyfall poster

Skyfall (2012), directed by Sam Mendes, didn’t only feature the popular Adele song, Skyfall, but it also contained a controversial amount of scientific inaccuracies. The James Bond series has had its fair share of memorable scientific inaccuracies, but Skyfall is the twenty-third film in the series, and you would assume that maybe they have learned from their past flaws. However, this film likes to prove otherwise. As I will discuss later, the whole plot of this film is largely built on an inaccuracy. However, the science portrayed in this film mainly revolves around computer science.

The computer science depicted in Skyfall has been controversial as it contains a good mix of accuracies and inaccuracies. The first hacking scene in the film, when Silva, the villainous ex MI6 agent, hacks into M’s laptop (M is Bond’s superior and the head of MI6) and displays “THINK ON YOUR SINS”. This hacking event is very plausible. The second hacking event is when Silva hacks into the  computer-controlled gas lines of the MI6 headquarters and causes an explosion. In theory, this is possible as hacking and disrupting infrastructure is practiced by the US army, but there are so many plausible safety features on the gas infrastructures that would likely prevent this whole event from occurring. The third event was Q, the MI6 quartermaster,  attempting to hack Silva. This whole scene was… interesting.  Visually, it is pretty inaccurate. The actual hacking process would take place in a command line and not on some fancy high-tech screen. The dialog that Q  is blurting out is nonsensical comp-Sci jargon. One extremely applaudable moment in this scene occurs when Q states that the malware was “mutating”, which means that the malware was changing its memory to prevent any damage from occurring. This is realistic and is an issue that some hackers would have to worry about.

Also, Silva’s hacking room would be immensely ineffective at its task as it was extremely dusty, had no AC, and the servers are just flat out fake. In a room filled with servers, the amount of heat generated would be blazing. It would almost be unworkable, not to mention that everything would probably be overheating

skyfall computer room

My favorite scene from this movie was the scene when Silva reunites with M. In this scene, he describes the horrific torture that he endured while captured and interrogated.  He couldn’t bare this torture anymore, so he crushed a cyanide capsule in his mouth. After sharing this gruesome story, he shows the severe damage that the cyanide capsule did to him. Obviously, the acid fails in the purpose of killing him, and instead the acid melts his jaw.

melted jaw

Historically, cyanide was used as a fast-acting lethal poison. The cyanide poison that Silva specifically refers to was hydrogen cyanide (aka HCN). This poison was used by the Nazis as a gaseous chemical weapon. This rather constantly lethal acid inhibits an essential enzyme that is used in aerobic respiration (a cellular process that uses oxygen to produce energy for a cell), called cytochrome c oxidase. Specifically, the inhibition of this enzyme prevents the utilization of oxygen (O2), and this utilization is the main reason why humans breathe. In this case, the inhibition of this enzyme will lead to chemical asphyxiation.

Hydrogen cyanide has a boiling point of 78.1°F, so if this acid were found in his tooth it would have vaporized into a gas. Given the size constraint of a tooth, there would not have been enough HCN gas to kill someone. However, as a liquid, the common aqueous form of a cyanide poison would be potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide. In either case, both aqueous cyanide poisons would kill using the same mechanism as described before.

With both descriptions above, Silva specifically stated he had a capsule of HCN, which as a gas would not have killed him in the amount that would have been found in a hollowed-out tooth. Lets just assume that this was a liquid though. The acid is lethal and not corrosive. Therefore, it would not melt away Silva’s jaw, and if it was swallowed, it would certainly be lethal. Thus, this character’s motive of being evil, with the failure of the cyanide pill, is all inaccurate.

Although the plot was soiled with a large scientific inaccuracy, this film was not riddled with major inaccuracies and instead contained some applaudable computer science accuracies. I still will claim that the scene just previously described, although completely fake, is one of the most memorable and immaculate moments in the James Bond series.

osmosis jones

My next blog post will be covering the film Osmosis Jones (2001), directed by;  Bobby FarrellyPeter Farrelly, and Tom Sito. This film is a unique one as it is commonly used in high school biology classrooms to serve as an educational film, but the whole film is mainly scientifically inaccurate. Some AP or college classes will even show this film just to see if the student can point out these flaws. Personally, I remember growing up watching this movie in my science classes.


– Steven Zeko, Film blogger.

Steven’s Bio:

Steven Zeko
Steven Zeko

Steven Zeko is a senior at Lewis University, working towards a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education. Currently, he is involved in immunology research and Chem-ED research. Following his education, Steven wants to teach Biology, Chemistry, and Physics at a high school level. In his free time, Steven enjoys playing video games, reading, playing golf, and watching movies. He is typically reading two books at any given time, with one book being a science book and the other being any good book that he can find. Currently, Steven is reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Educated by Tara Westover. His fascination with science began when he was a kid by watching the works of Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both being wonderful STEM educators, he hopes to invoke their ability to energize a crowd just by educating people about science.


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