In the 2012 movie Skyfall, the antagonist Raoul Silva rues that the "hydrogen cyanide" he took ("Do you know what it does to you, hydrogen cyanide?") didn't kill him, leaving him horribly disfigured instead.

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Firstly; Could it have actually been HCN that he took?

From what I know about this, HCN is a gas at room temperature, and gases aren't typically the poison of choice for suicide pills. To begin with, suicide pills are preferrably kept as small as possible to make it easy to conceal. Keeping the size constraint in mind, simply filling it with HCN gas wouldn't allow the pill to store enough to (seriously) harm you, much less kill you.

From what I gather, suicide pills (WW2 era) often contain a concentrated solution of potassium cyanide, and not HCN.

Well, I'm bringing this up since this is a James Bond movie, so... what're the chances the MI6 could've compressed a significant amount of HCN in the suicide pill (possibly pressurizing it until it's a liquid), without having the easy-to-crush-between-the-teeth pill exploding on account of pressure? I'm not sure how easy it is to liquify HCN, but if it is possible to do so at room temperatures without an exorbitant amount of pressure, could that have been the 'suicide pill' he had taken?

Are there any known instances ( some half-arsed experiments and such) where a gas at room temperature was liquified and stored within such a small volume.

Secondly: Could hydrogen cyanide, or any other simple cyanide compound for that matter, cause such a disfiguration?

More than having tried to kill himself with some sort of HCN pill, I was taken aback to see what it did to Silva.

Just look at what happened to the guy:

enter image description here

Seriously, just look at him:

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This is what I found on Wikipedia, on cyanide poisoning:

If cyanide is inhaled it can cause a coma with seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest, with death following in a matter of seconds. At lower doses, loss of consciousness may be preceded by general weakness, giddiness, headaches, vertigo, confusion, and perceived difficulty in breathing. At the first stages of unconsciousness, breathing is often sufficient or even rapid, although the state of the person progresses towards a deep coma, sometimes accompanied by pulmonary edema, and finally cardiac arrest. A cherry red skin color that changes to dark may be present as the result of increased venous hemoglobin oxygen saturation. Cyanide does not directly cause cyanosis. A fatal dose for humans can be as low as 1.5 mg/kg body weight.

I don't seem to find anything on 'severe-tissue-damage-and-jawbone-dissolution', so I'm still skeptical.

I mean, sure, HCN is a weak acid, but that is not what a weak acid does to you.

So did Raoul Silva bite down on a cyanide pill (of sorts...) or did he gargle a bottle of drain-cleaner and just forget about it?

Is there anything realistic about that scene, or is it just another movie gaffe?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Pressurised hydrogen cyanide capsule in your tooth? I hope MI6 agents don't have to fly that often. Oh wait, they do... $\endgroup$
    – getafix
    Nov 28, 2016 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Guess they just confused HCN with KCN. KCN will form HCN in slightly acidic media, so its not that far from the truth... $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2016 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @paracresol hydrofluoric acid is a weak acid too ($\mathrm{p}K_\mathrm{a}=3.2$) and you can dissolve a body, glass and a lot of things. So tell me what a weak "must" do, and I'll answer you ;) $\endgroup$
    – ParaH2
    Nov 28, 2016 at 17:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ HCN is a high vapor pressure liquid at room temperature, bp 25.6 °C (78.1 °F). It makes it way more dangerous, because it lingers. $\endgroup$
    – Lighthart
    Nov 28, 2016 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chloracne $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Nov 29, 2016 at 8:49

2 Answers 2


Is there anything realistic about that scene, or is it just another movie gaffe?

I have never heard about anything similar caused by $\ce{HCN}$ or $\ce{KCN}$.


  • bleeding of the gums,
  • loss of teeth, and
  • osteonecrosis of the jaws (= the bone tissue literally rots away)

are known symptoms of certain intoxications:

  1. Bisphosphonate-associated osteonecrosis of the jaw was observed in the treatment of patients with cancer
  2. Radium jaw was observed in painters (Radium girls) that licked their paintbrushes while applying radioluminescent paint to dials

  3. Phossy jaw was observed in (mostly female) workers in the matchstick industry of the late nineteenth century that worked with white phosphorus.

    Back in the days, the lives of the patients often could only be saved by removing the jawbones surgically. (If you feel for it, look for some photographs online.) Since one of the tags is , you might be interested that this was partly covered in the episode Become Man of the BBC series Ripper Street.


Yes, the movie is “accurate” in a sense. Since it is stored in a capsule, it is a liquid as long as it is held below 78°F. As for what happened to his face, chemical burns mixed with hypoxia can account for the dead tissue and lack of healing.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that there are multiple films which depict cyanide poisoning, I am sure that they will not all show the same things. $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2023 at 15:34

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