Yes: James Bond is indeed a TRUE ‘Gentleman’. Here’s Why..
The Name’s Viral. Movie Viral.
Viral, of course meaning anything that goes ‘viral’ online be it a trailer, a riff, a meme or even a lame arsed attempt to besmirch the good name of England’s best ever spy and cultural export, Mr. JAMES BOND..007. Some are excellent, pertinent and funny. See: JAMES BOND IS KIND OF A PRICK.
Others? Well, less deserving of attention. And second rate, easy and yet somehow still ‘viral’. I refer especially to: JAMES BOND IS A TRUE GENTLEMAN or ‘Inappropriate Moments in James Bond Movies‘. Lazy. Misinformed. Not that funny. And yet in its way, reflective of a common misconception in our culture about how women are treated on film and in life and with Bond simply another victim at the centre of that muddled new zeitgeist.
Allow me to explain..
We live in a strange time. On the one hand, anything and everything can be construed as ‘inappropriate’ from friendly banter to romantic notions and puerile, awkward advances in the dating game. And yet: the word ‘rapey’ is now commonly used in podcasts, water cooler chats, magazine articles and so on.
Miley Cyrus is berated for a simple ‘twerk’ yet Rhianna can sing a song about how ‘whips and chains excite me’ (despite herself being a victim of domestic violence) and then participate in a music video that might as well be a snuff film, accessible no doubt to her army of fans both young and old?
Turn on any television in Britain between 7 and 9 pm and every soap opera (perhaps exempting Coronation Street for the most part) is now a ringing endorsement for vile gangster behaviours. Everything from drug dealing to wife beating and burglary for kicks is committed by regular characters on permanent tenures, who never really get their due punishment. But any middle class character: well they will get cheated on / murdered / turn out to have an incurable disease..you name it.
Go beyond entertainment and look to our enemies: ISIS and co. Misogynists at their most cruel and evil. It’s something we simply do not do enough to combat. But fear not, we are doing everything we can to ban ‘body shaming’ adverts.
Where am I going with this? How does ANY of the above connect to 007? Well, frankly, they show quite how innocuous and innocent Bond can be. And equally they remind us that the media as a whole and threats to our country both cultural and ideological still require an opposing symbol and James Bond is about the best we have.
Is Bond flawed? Of course! Does he objectify the female form? Frequently. Is he still a bit sexist in how he talks to women and views them? Naturally! Wandering eye: You bet! But is he actually ‘inappropriate’? Is he truly a hater of women or an abuser? I’d say an emphatic NO.
I’ll illustrate specifically how and why but first let’s kill the elephant in the room.
Yes, there ARE some scenes where Bond, in his early adventures onscreen, is a nasty bastard towards women. Sean Connery’s Bond frequently ‘spanks’ them and even uses a bra as a weapon against an unwilling informant. The Lazenby 007 slaps Thereza and beds pretty much every vulnerable woman in a clinic, despite seemingly being in love with his wife in waiting? And Roger Moore TRIES to emulate his predecessors’ brutality in his first two films as Bond, especially in a quite unpleasant scene in Man with the Golden Gun.
And yet..Roger learned that just wasn’t ‘him’. His later Bond films showcase a gentle and protective attitude to women, 007 promiscuity and wandering eye intact, but tenderly so. As the times moved, so did Bond. It became clearer that the earlier Bond films were a kind of reflection of the war era to which they were a nostalgic and revisionist throwback.
If one were a field man in a war where life is cheap and death ever present, then one’s value for feeling of any kind, would be depleted and a quick smack to either man or woman would naturally have seemed less out of place, given the skewered morality of warfare. That is by no means an ideal in behaviour; but through surviving the worst..we and our fictional heroes can begin to re-propagate our better sides.
And so the basic sexism / viewing women in a flawed and objectified manner has continued for 007, but in a more comical and tender way. Notice that the great Timothy Dalton portrays Bond as quite awkward with women. Strength and physicality but genuine sentiment and even nervous laughter, with a tendency for Bond to lecture the girl as though she were a distressed student submitting a term paper. There is a nod to the Ian Fleming Bond books of finding a woman something of a distraction on a mission (sexist and inappropriate yet still somehow redeemed by Fleming’s genuine appreciation of the fairer sex?). But Dalton’s Bond is also protective of said women: hugs, kisses, reassuring words and shared laughter. Still a ‘bad lad’ but ‘on the side of good’ (Dalton’s own words).
The Living Daylights (1987) functions as tender love story as much as it does a first rate action thriller. And then, in Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton’s Bond is called out on his ‘bullshit’ by fellow field agent, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). Pam manages to highlight James Bond’s shortcomings and act as his genuine equal, without ever emasculating the man. She even winds Bond up a bit by implying the villain (Sanchez, the excellent Robert Davi) is the better specimen ‘try the biggest bank in town: Sanchez owns it’. Bond smiles in recognition of an implicit put down.
Sure, Bond tries slamming Pam onto a bed for interrogation. But she’s armed, ready and gives ten times back in return, before saving Bond on several occasions. Once again, theirs is a tender, intimate and emotional entanglement whilst retaining a pulp thrill and adventurous glamour /escapism. It’s a tribute to the subtle and intellectual innovations that Dalton took with the character.
The Brosnan era tried to be daring and bold, especially in its deploying Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough. I won’t spoil it for you but she certainly surprises Bond. A challenge, a muse and someone who confronts 007 with a genuine moral dilemma. Pierce probably would have mined that sort of thing further, given a chance. But he was naturally cautious, too. The franchise simply was not ready to go full on melodrama.
But even Pierce was clear his Bond was no woman hater / beater. ‘Yeah i gave Famke a slap in GoldenEye but her character was about to kill Bond and that was clear in context: my Bond does NOT hit women!‘. Typical Pierce. Endearing. His Bond certainly slept around as much as Sean /roger /George..but he retained that Dalton era sensitivity. The great Barbara Broccoli (herself an archetypal strong and beautiful woman in film management today) said at the time of Brosnan’s tenure ‘Pierce is great because he can be vulnerable without being weak as Bond‘. Amen.
So Timothy and Pierce were almost there. But in Daniel Craig, we have the perfect balance between raw masculinity /old school throwback and new age emancipation without emasculation. It’s what makes the thought of anyone replacing Craig so difficult to picture. One simply cannot top his dynamic with women in these movies. Male fantasy is catered for yet women are major players in plot and theme and whilst sexy and beautiful they are never defined solely by those qualities and neither is a big deal made of their being a ‘match’ for Bond.
Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in 2006’s Casino Royale begins as a shrill wannabe feminist, woodenly listing Bond’s faults on a train journey. Connery’s Bond would have none of that. Craig smiles, listens but asserts himself. Later on, Vesper has a kind of breakdown on confronting the violence of Bond’s world. He nurses her through that, via a tender and caring kiss of her fingers in a running shower, clothes on. She in turn, helps Bond repair his self esteem and physical performance, after an implied period of impotence post torture. This is very grown up stuff. Brutal yes. But as much about the woman as the man and in that sense, gentlemanly.
Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) both get a bad reputation on the romantic front. Countless ‘Bond basically sexually assaults these women’. NO! He DOES NOT. FFS. Honestly. Do you REALLY think the Producers would let something like that slip through a film today? Get a grip.
It is true that Severine (Berenice Marlohe) in Skyfall is exposed by Bond as a former sex worker. But that is NOT him saying ‘ you were a sex worker therefore I can come to your shower and..’. No. It’s his shorthand way of saying ‘I know the world; I know your world; I know you are now in deep trouble and I’d like to help’.
Severine is brutalised and murdered, yes but by the VILLAIN (Silva, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem). Her death is a split second and Bond simply has no time to react adequately. He is on a mission to save another great woman: M (Judi Dench: the other key staple of Bond films from 1995-2012).
And it is that very sense of danger and extreme situations that ‘bonds’ hero to heroine or damsel in distress. That and the fact that the hero LOOKS LIKE DANIEL CRAIG. Is he a pretty boy matinee idol: no. Do women in many cases LOVE his ‘toight’, toned, fit body and commanding presence/voice? Yes. So danger plus handsome man = consensual sex with woman, despite having just met. It happens. Sex can abate one’s fear of death. It’s why there is frequently a sexual affair post Funerals and perhaps why the orgasm is known in French as ‘le petit mort’.
No accident, then that Bond’s seduction of Lucia (Monica Bellucci) in SPECTRE therefore happens after her late husband’s funeral. A husband who, incidentally, was a villain that had both placed his wife in jeopardy and neglected her needs..something a true gentleman like Bond would never do (007 saves her and then appreciates/ kisses /seduces: a natural, logical flow: ‘your husband was a fool’).
Bond then progresses to meeting Madeline (lovely Lea Seydoux) and their initially reluctant association is consummated after a mutual brush with death. In short: death and its defeat ‘bonds’ people and 007 is not alone in that. Even the more sensitive action heroes ‘get’ that.
See also Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in SPEED (1994). And whilst some of Madeline’s dialogue is awkward, it is thought that she is the ‘one’ to finally tame 007 and might even be his future wife in Bond 25? We all know how that would end, alas.
But it would be nice to see a domesticated Bond for a brief period, before a call to action and a reversion to his wandering eye (about which he is always honest..the man is at least not a cheat). And he will always have MoneyPenny (now played by Naomie Harris; preceded by Samantha Bond, Caroline Bliss and Lois Maxwell) as a shoulder to cry on and an unfailing support. Yes, she is still M’s secretary and sits behind a desk. But by choice, having been a field agent, and still with an indispensable and life saving role in our hero’s life that he acknowledges.
So James Bond always has been and always will be a true gentleman. The guise of that has changed with the times and may even continue to do so, whether the series simply moves forward with Craig or gets rebooted as some high camp period piece.
A gentleman is someone with expertise, knowledge, class, refinement and respect for women, without resorting to weakness or being anyone’s patsy. And so far as I am concerned, James Bond is the perfect personification of that ideal.
James Bond is a perfect gentleman and happens to be equaled by uncommonly classic ladies as he always has been.