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Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers! Plot and/or ending details follow.



"James Bond. A history of violence. Licence to kill. Vendetta with Ernst Blofeld. In love with Madeleine Swann. I could be speaking to my own reflection."
― Lyutsifer Safin confronting James Bond.[src]

Lyutsifer Safin (Russian: Люцифер Сафин) was a fictional terrorist leader and scientist motivated to take down the criminal organisation SPECTRE for the deaths of his family at the hands of assassin Mr. White. Portrayed by American actor Rami Malek, he served as the main antagonist of the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die. He was also mentioned briefly in the previous installment, Spectre (2015).

Biography

Background

Lyutsifer Safin was born to a family of chemists who supplied poisons to SPECTRE, which in turn sought to procure and operate their island manufacturing facility - The Poison Garden. When he was a young boy, SPECTRE sent Mr. White to kill the entire family with their own dioxin chemicals during a banquet in their supposed honor. The sole survivor of the poisoning, Lyutsifer was left facially disfigured, traumatised, and filled with an insatiable thirst for vengeance against the organisation and its members. In the late 1990s, Safin, wearing a traditional Japanese Noh mask to cover his scarred face, attempted to murder Mr. White at his home in Norway. Finding only his daughter Madeleine and her mother, he killed the latter and was shot and injured by the young girl. He recuperated and pursued her across a frozen lake; into which she fell and began to drown. Instead of killing her, Safin saved and spared her life before leaving.

Vengeance against SPECTRE

Years later, Safin sought to acquire a highly-classified British nanoweapon named "Heracles" and successfully bought the services of its lead scientist Dr. Valdo Obruchev. SPECTRE also wanted the technology and the opportunistic Safin took full advantage of their raid on its London laboratory; instructing Obruchev to not resist his captors, and secretly reprogram the stolen weapon to exact revenge on his family's killers. Shortly afterwards, at a Cuban meeting of SPECTRE, they unleashed Heracles in an attempted assassination on former British agent James Bond. However, the DNA-targeting weapon instead singled out the observing board members and massacred them. With SPECTRE fatally crippled and the weapon firmly in his hands thanks to CIA turncoat, Logan Ash, Safin assimilated their assets and manpower; notably reacquiring the Poison Garden and turning his attention to mass production of Heracles.

Safin meets Swann in her office, as seen in No Time to Die (2021).

For the first time in many years he approached Madeleine Swann, now a psychiatrist attending the imprisoned leader of SPECTREErnst Stavro Blofeld. Using her young daughter Mathilde as leverage, Safin blackmailed her into smuggling Heracles into Belmarsh prison by infecting herself. Although Swann would renege on her agreement with Safin, Blofeld was ultimately infected and killed by the unwitting James Bond; completely destroying SPECTRE and inadvertently completing Safin's revenge. Pursued by Safin and a strike team led by Ash, Madeleine fled with Mathilde to her childhood home in Norway. Despite Bond's intervention, both were abducted and subsequently held captive at the Poison Garden.

Final confrontation and Death

Bond and Safin negotiate at gunpoint, as seen in No Time to Die (2021).

Shortly afterwards Bond and another Double-O operative, Nomi, infiltrated the island to rescue them and destroy its Heracles production facilities. Realising that Bond had rigged the laboratories with explosives, and holding the Swanns hostage, Safin invited Bond to an audience and bartered with him – offering to spare Mathilde (the spy's biological daughter) in exchange for sparing his own "baby". Like the weapon's original commissioner, M, Safin sought to use it to prevent terrorism and organizations like Spectre from popping up again. However, he believed the only way to be assured of this was to maintain control of the world through deciding who lives and who dies with Heracles, a result of him being unable to control whether or not his own family died. Negotiations rapidly broke down and Safin threatened to murder the child. Feigning penitence, Bond drew his sidearm and shot Safin's bodyguards; but was too late to stop Safin from descending through a hidden trapdoor with the girl. The villain subsequently let her leave his company after she bit him, clearly spurning his "protection".

With the first shipment of Heracles on the dock waiting for pickup, Safin made to meet the unidentified buyers. However, while they were still en route, Bond managed to expose the laboratory to an impending naval bombardment by opening the missile silo doors directly above. Whilst Bond was preoccupied elsewhere, Safin reversed the spy's meddling and intercepted him in his father's poisonous botanical garden; shooting and wounding him twice. The pair grappled in an ornamental pond, during which Safin smashed a phial of Heracles against Bond's face and the latter retaliated by snapping his right arm. The phial – insurance, coded to specifically infect and kill the Swanns – sealed Bond's fate and led him on a suicide mission to reopen the silo doors and completely destroy the facility. But not before shooting the gloating Safin through the head.

Personality

"We’ve thrown the book at him on this one. He is really the supervillain. He’s the one that really gets under Bond’s skin. He’s a nasty piece of work."
― Producer Barbara Broccoli describing Safin's personality
"What I really wanted from Safin was to make him unsettling. Thinking of himself as being heroic...Safin is a formidable adversary and James Bond has to adapt to it."
― Rami Malek describes Safin's portrayal in a featurette video.
"He's quite unique. Very complex. Daniel calls him misunderstood."
― Rami Malek describes Safin and shares Craig's words of describing Safin
"And now there's someone new out there. More dangerous than anyone he's ever encountered and whoever they are is smarter and stronger than SPECTRE."
― Director Cary Joji Fukunaga describing Safin
"What he wants and what he's willing to do makes him a very frightening character. Both personally to Bond, but also on a global level..."
― Cary Fukunaga on Safin

Safin's most defining trait was his desire for revenge against SPECTRE for ordering Mr. White to murder his family. However, despite his tragic backstory, it became less of a factor in his motivation. As he saw himself as a ruthless and nasty reflection to Bond (cruelly mocking the latter saying that his own skills would live on after death whereas Bond's skills would die along with him), it was this trait that differentiates him from Bond completely: whereas Bond used the loss of his loved ones to prevent further pain and suffering of innocents in the hands of SPECTRE, Safin blamed his loss not just on SPECTRE, but society as a whole, finding the very concept of innocence to be redundant. This was even apparent in the past when he murdered Mr. White's wife for the sole crime of having been married once to his family's killer, even though she had nothing to do with White's crimes. Even when after learning that White committed suicide out of remorse after quitting SPECTRE and that Blofeld was arrested afterwards, Safin refused to give up his desire for revenge as he managed to have Blofeld and all the SPECTRE members murdered through Obruchev with the usage of the nanobots. By the time SPECTRE was completely wiped out, Safin's tragedy no longer was holding up and was solely interested in to kill millions and change the course of world history, making him just as despicable as Blofeld; even Bond himself pointed out that Safin's backstory did not justify his plot in killing millions of innocents through the nanobots.

However, despite his ruthless nature, Safin was not without some redeeming qualities. Despite having murdered Swann's mother, he saved Swann from drowning in a frozen lake and spared her that moment. While holding Bond and Swann's daughter Mathilde hostage, Safin was bitten on the hand by the young child, but he willingly let her go rather than try to hurt or kill her. However, this was a pragmatic decision, as he only wanted Swann and Mathilde's genetic codes to be incorporated into several nanobots that would kill them both in a final act of revenge against Bond, thus losing almost all of the redeeming qualities he once had. But one could also say that he had qualms about not hurting or killing children because he decided not to kill Mathilde and saved a young Madeleine from drowning. Furthermore, although this does not excuse his actions, Safin genuinely cared about his dead family, as part of his motivation was to avenge them. However, it should be noted that his plan would not only have killed those connected to SPECTRE, but also many families, including children who had nothing to do with his tragedy, which calls into question his principles.

Being a man of pure mystery and a powerful terrorist mastermind, Safin was one of the most dangerous enemies that Bond ever faced, even much more cunning, intelligent and dangerous than the spy's archenemy, Blofeld. Due to his reputation as a powerful key figure in the world of terrorism, he was also known to be a nearly supervillain-esque individual, using his skills and his gifted talents and intelligence to outsmart others into driving away from core beliefs that they used to work or follow after. Safin was also shown to be extremely delusional, as he believed that his actions make him worthy to become a god creating chaos for the sake of shaping the world in his own image. During his interactions with other people, Safin was usually calm and never gets angry but this helps give him a sinister and threatening look. He was also resourceful, as he used his own intelligence and skills to outwit his enemies (especially Bond and Blofeld, two strategist men he outwit several times). He was also very evil by nature as evidenced by his plan to unleash the nanobots to kill millions. Finally, even before being defeated and shot by Bond, Safin took revenge by infecting Bond with the nanobots to permanently remove any chance of a peaceful life with Swann and Mathilde, forcing the spy to sacrifice himself to put a final end to Safin's scheme.

Physical Appearance

Safin is a slim man of average height with short black hair, dark brown eyes and heavily disfigured face, making his age difficult to determine.

Safin, in addition, is wearing a long dark blue coat and a black long sweater, and, often wears a white snow coat with a golden-brown fur in its hood. Noticeably, he also seems to frequent wearing a Noh mask, a mask typically used in Japanese theater.

Quotes

"I am a man willing to kill the person you love most..."
― Safin blackmailing Madeleine Swann.[src]
Safin: "James Bond. A history of violence. Licence to kill. Vendetta with Ernst Blofeld. In love with Madeleine Swann. I could be speaking to my own reflection."
James Bond: "We've made slightly different choices."
Safin: "No, we've just developed different methods for the same goal. Only your skills die with your body, mine will survive long after I'm gone... and life is all about leaving something behind, isn't it?"
―Safin compares himself with Bond.[src]
James Bond: "I think.. you're right. I think we are the same. We both know what it feels like to have everything taken from us, before we're even in the fight. It would have been nice to have a.. a chance? Hm? Don't you think? We all should get a chance. But this thing that you're building, it puts everyone, the whole world, on a battlefield. Nobody gets a chance."
Safin: "The thing that no one wants to admit is that most people want things to happen to them. We tell each other lies about the fight for free will and independence, but we don't really want that. We want to be told how to live. And then when we're not looking... People want oblivion. And a few of us are born to build it for them. So here I am, their invisible god. Sneaking under their skin."
James Bond: "You know that history isn't very kind to those who play god?"
Safin: "And you don't? We both eradicate people to make the world a better place. I just want to be a little... tidier. Without collateral. I want the world to evolve, yet you want it to stay the same. Let's face it... I've made you redundant."
James Bond: "No, not as long as there are people like you in the world."
―Bond attempts to reason with Safin.[src]

Gallery

Trivia

  • Safin is considered to be one of the most cruel, sadistic and coldest villain in the entire Bond franchise, described as "a nasty piece of work" and as "the one who really gets under Bond's skin" by producer Barbara Broccoli.[1]
  • A leaked call sheet described a scene in which Safin chased a young Madeline Swann over a lake in Norway (which has been seen in several trailers). Many fans online noticed Safin's unusual lack of aging between Madeline being a young girl and a grown woman. This led to speculation that Safin may have been involved in cloning or gene therapy to prevent his aging. However, when the film came out, there was no signs of cloning or gene therapy in Safin's schemes
  • Safin seems to take a lot of inspiration from many classic Bond villains, including Dr. Julius No, with his dress sense as well as his pink-suited hazmat workers calling back to Joseph Wiseman's portrayal of the character. Beyond No, shades of Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself are present as well, with Safin's Poison Garden being lifted directly from the novel You Only Live Twice while his plot to release Heracles upon the world holding some similarity to Blofeld's plot in both the film and novel versions of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
  • The similarities to Dr. No inspired online debate for the longest time, with many theorizing that Safin would be revealed to be a reimagined version of No (much in the same way Franz Oberhauser was revealed to be a reimagined version of Blofeld in Spectre). Fukunaga later came out and denied that this was the case however.
  • Safin is the only villain so far in the series who manages to accomplish what all the villains from the past to the present in the entire franchise have been unable to do: killing James Bond, albeit posthumously.
  • His first name means “Lucifer” in Russian.
  • Lyutsifer Safin serves as a foil to James Bond; both lost their parents in a very short age (In James’ case, his parents died tragically in a climbing accident while Safin’s family died murdered by Mr. White by a dioxin attack, via Blofeld’s orders, which also scarred him in the process.) and they are both professional killers. As a result of their respective tragedies, both had a loss of innocence in their own respective. However, they differ in their ways of dealing with loss. Bond has accepted and let go of his losses in life, either it be his parents, Vesper Lynd, or M. No matter how much Bond looses he still fights for the greater good, believing innocence is still worth fighting for. On the other hand however, Safin became consumed by loss, believing that innocence is a redundant concept and that in order to save the world, the fate of people must be at his control. This is a result of him being unable let go of the fact that the deaths of his family was something he was unable to control. Ultimately, Safin serves as a darker example if James Bond never lets go of his tragic past, which it will control him instead of the other way around.

References


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