The Schiensh of Bond: Skyfall

The end is nigh! And through the last 2 years I have learned one thing; I’m not that keen on Bond films. I am, however, a massive Bond nerd. Although I find Le Carre more thoughtful and the Bourne films more coherent, my favourites are Goldeneye, From Russia with LoveCasino Royale and Skyfall.


Also – SPOILERZ!!!


I have, however learned an awful lot of science. I can tell you where to get a jetpack, how to make an invisible car and that a Stradivarius cello sounds no better than a brand new one. I have found the major flaws in Bond villain plans, to the extent I could propose my own. One can only hope that I do not lay my grubby paws on a volcano, a submarine, nerve gas, sharks or DNA splicing technology.

As with Casino Royale, Skyfall loses the lameass gadgets, but it also brings in a geeky new Q.

Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more.

– Q, Skyfall

Q junior is more of a sitting in his pyjamas messing around on a computer genius than his aged predecessor (see also Spooks).

Looking for the Schiensh, I’m going to look past the inadequate security MI6 seem to have in place (after all, the Pentagon got hacked by someone looking for UFOs). Blood seems to be a major theme of Skyfall playing a pretty major role in the credit sequence and as with most Bond films, a lot of people get shot.

Of gunshot wounds and cyanide pills

Bond gets shot twice in the pre-credit sequence, once by Patrice (Ola Rapace) and once by Eve (Naomi Harris). The shot in the shoulder Bond receives from Patrice is indirect; it seems to have been deflected into his shoulder. And for some bizarre reason Patrice uses shells made from depleted uranium, making him VERY EASY TO IDENTIFY. Especially after Bond feels the need to extract the shrapnel from his own shoulder. Bond spends most of the film not being able to shoot straight because of the shoulder wound. Why does this happen? Aside from the blood loss – the wound appears to be fairly peripheral, thus blood loss from this injury doesn’t appear to be important here – the tissues of the shoulder are damaged by the shell. Judging by the location of the scar on Bond’s chest/shoulder area, the bullet hits the pectoralis major muscle. It doesn’t cause enough damage to prevent him fighting Patrice, so I am going to assume that there is no damage to the bones. Untreated damage to the bone may lead to infection, if the bone is improperly set it can heal in the wrong position – this will severely impair mobility of the complicated shoulder joint.


The shoulder consists of three bones, the scapula (shoulderblade), the clavicle (collar bone) and the humerus (top arm bone), and it is actually two joints – there’s the ball and socket joint (glenohumeral joint) that provides mobility and the sternoclavicular joint which provides stability.

When muscle is damaged, immune cells come in and clear up the damage, new cells migrate in and replace the damaged cells. Muscles get damaged all the time and are pretty good at repairing themselves, however, in some circumstances, the immune cells remain at the site of the injury, and the tissue doesn’t heal properly and scar tissue forms. Scar tissue doesn’t have the same characteristics as muscle cells – so the muscle loses some of its function. It is possible that the shrapnel left in the wound may result in a chronic inflammation – this means that immune cells remain in the shoulder and the damaged muscle cells aren’t properly replaced. Given that the shrapnel remained in the shoulder, Bond is lucky not to have had an infection in the tissue as well. According to wikipedia:

High grade partial or full thickness tears warrant surgery if function is to be preserved, particularly in the athletic population

The pectoralis major is responsible for movement of the shoulder, and movement of the arm across the body. When injured, it would affect swimming, lifting, push-ups, bench presses and hanging onto lifts. All in all, Bond is giving his somewhat injured shoulder something of a hammering.

Lets focus is given to the injury Eve gives him when she accidentally shoots him. He takes the shot in the right side of his thorax – this doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting harm. Bond quips to Eve that she caused no more damage that breaking four of his ribs and damaging “some of the less vital organs”. Judging by where the blood is coming from, it appears that Bond has been hit in the ribcage. Given that Bond survived with limited ill-effects, I’m going to assume Bond was hit around four of the lower ribs (this seems to correlate with what we see before the opening credits. It also looks like the bullet missed the right lung as well. What is of concern is that the gunshot wound is quite close to Bond’s liver. However, patients with liver injuries from things like gunshots do not often require surgical treatment; bleeding ceases on its own. And if the bullet doesn’t hit any blood vessels, Bond stands a decent chance of survival.


If you really want to depress yourself, read the wikipedia article on cyanide. Anyhow, cyanide stops cells being able to use oxygen. Given that scientists know what a fatal dose of cyanide is, if it were being issued as a suicide pill by MI6, one would probably make a cyanide pill with a much higher dose than would be required to kill someone. The signs of cyanide poisoning take effect within minutes of ingestion. Because the brain is so dependent on oxygen – a large proportion of the blood pumped out by the heart goes to the brain – the first symptoms include confusion, dizziness, blurred vision. At the same time, the drug is going to severely affect breathing and the heart. The heart will stop beating and blood flow stops. Cyanide poisoning can be treated. My thinking with regards to Silva is either that the cyanide pill contained insufficient cyanide to cause death, or that his captors had him treated for cyanide poinsoning.

Silva, in his conversation with M claims that his hydrogen cyanide pill did not kill him (I’d argue that there has been some minor brain damage as a result of the temporary hypoxia to his brain though), but it seems to have done some serious damage to his internal organs – the MSDS (materials safety data sheet) for hydrogen cyanide does list nausea as an effect of cyanide.

…burned all my insides

– Silva, Skyfall

Although burns aren’t generally noted as effects resulting from cyanide poisoning, what I have been able to dig up are a few cases gastrointestinal effects, including one case of necrosis of the gut – but these seem to be related to solutions of sodium and potassium cyanide. Potassium cyanide solution is also a skin irritant. However, given Silva’s cyanide appears to be in pill form, it seems that a cyanide pill is unlikely to be the cause of Silva’s disfigurement. I can’t see why it would destroy his teeth or cause his cheek to collapse.

Thanks Sam Mendes for making Skyfall worthwhile, I look forward to seeing which way Bond will go. Do we get another Quantum of Solace or will we get another decent film.

Thanks for reading, Schiensh will return.

Follow the Lemur wishes to thank Dr Maskell for his helpful discussions on cyanide.

  1. #1 by Lisa on December 21, 2012 - 04:09

    I had a problem with the burns from the cyanide as well. I think they pretty much just made that up for effect. Enjoyable movie though. Thanks for your detailed scientific analysis!

  2. #2 by Chris on December 29, 2012 - 12:16

    I heard that they used to implant the pills into agents’ teeth, so they could choose to suicide whenever they are being interrogated; that might be the cause of the deterioration inside the oral cavity. I really like your article! I’m a big fan of Bond’s, as well as this kind of truth-digging.

  3. #3 by Geroge from Poland on January 25, 2013 - 19:08

    Thanks for your interogation. I really wondered why Silva suffered such a damage from cyanide and your investigation has given me some answers. As Lisa is concluding probably they made it up for an effect.

  4. #4 by violetyoshi on February 12, 2013 - 07:08

    Thanks for your insight on what the Cyanide scene was about. I’m someone with a morbid curiosity about things like that, so I looked it up after I heard about it in the film. I guess theoretically the guy may have puked to a point that the stomach acids ate away at his teeth, which is common with people who have Bulimia. That would have to be some major nausea for it to have that much of an effect though. Didn’t he mention something about torture? Maybe they tortured him with small doses of the Cyanide just enough to make him sick. That would explain it.

  5. #5 by moraleo on March 2, 2013 - 05:28

    Really awesome information on the real life aspect of the bond movie. I was just watching it and was curious about the reality of the cyanide scene as well. This was the only place that gave some really pertinent info!! So thank you! Plus it was a really entertaining read!

  6. #6 by cplmarr on April 8, 2013 - 19:50

    To add to comment 4, stomach acid really messes up your teeth. I suffer from acid reflux/GERD for the last 5 years and the acid has damaged some of my rear molars. So it’s edging into plausible that the Silva character lost his teeth that way if he suffered seriously repeated vomiting on a heavy basis but I am sceptical about the cheek damage he has unless of course that was the result of another injury (beatings/torture). It’s a grim scene, though, and you have to feel for Silva, even if he is a murderous wackadoo.

  7. #7 by Scotty on May 8, 2013 - 20:37

    He was shooting inaccurately on purpose. Watch it again and it becomes more apparent.

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