Saturday, November 20, 2021

Adieu, Mr. Bond

Be warned of spoiler alert here. Read no further if you have not seen the latest James Bond film…

I was seven years old when my mother took me to my first James Bond film. It was You Only Live Twice, and it was terrific. Of course, as a boy, you only notice the cars, the guns (many of them), and the high adventure. I of course missed all of the double entendre, and I don’t think I even noticed that there were beautiful women in the film. 

That was the start of a once every two-year ritual, which has been about the frequency that a new Bond film would appear. Naturally, even with the formulaic plot, some Bond films are better than others. There are a few of the movies from the franchise I can no longer watch without cringing. But by-and-large, watching a Bond film has always been something of a mindless entertainment, escapism at its best.

Ever since Daniel Craig took over the role of Bond, there has been a new depth to the storybook character, a new angst. Casino Royale, the first of Craig’s Bond films, which happens to also be Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, deals with his first outing as a “double-O”, and his betrayal by a woman he loved. Quantum of Solace, probably one of Fleming’s most heartfelt and interesting short stories, was a dud. Skyfall was brilliant and touching – for more than one reason one of the most Catholic of all the Bond films - and Spectre was not bad. Unlike the older films, there had been, through the five films with Craig in the title role, a thread in the development of the character. 

With No Time to Die, Craig’s last outing as the debonair British spy, we come not only to the end of the current story line, but the end of an era. Don’t worry, there is still plenty of spectacular locations, action, fast cars (not one but two Aston Martins), guns, and beautiful women. But there is more to this particular Bond film that any of the others.

In this film, Bond is reunited with Madeleine Swann, his love interest from Spectre. As it turned out, he fathered a child with her, as we find out at the end of the film (“She has your eyes,” Swann says.) Faced with an impossible, no-win scenario after the final battle, Bond sacrifices himself for his family, and saves the world one last time. Cliché, you say? Perhaps, but Craig’s masterful performance this time around makes this powerful ending a moving cinematic experience.

Even without knowing this ending of the story, I did feel that there is an elegiac quality to the film throughout. This is also conveyed in Craig’s brilliant acting in the role. He has really brought a depth to this formerly rather two-dimensional character. There is, in his acting, a sadness to the character, something like Lohengrin or The Flying Dutchman, doomed to be forever denied happiness, especially when it is just within reach. There is also something very Judeo-Christian about Bond’s final sacrifice. We mustn’t forget that Ian Fleming was acquainted with the work and the philosophy of British Catholic mystic, philosopher and writer, Caryll Houselander, whose one-time fiancé Sidney Reilly (“Ace of Spies”) was the inspiration for Fleming’s Bond character. 

There are many references to former Bond films, probably only noticeable to long-time fans. The obvious ones are of course the character Blofeld and the criminal organization Spectre. More oblique references include quotes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – “We have all the time in the world” – Bond’s exit line in the film immediately after his just-married wife was assassinated, was referenced in the opening and at the end of the current film. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the only other Bond film where the hardened spy actually falls in love with a woman. At the end of the film, when Madeleine says to him that they need more time, Bond responds, “You have all the time in the world,” foreshadowing his own demise. The title song from the older Bond film, “We have all the time in the world”, sung by Louis Armstrong in his unique and inimitable style, is used as the music for the final credits. A nice touch, I thought.

With the current political climate, it is difficult to tell whether there will be another reboot of the Bond story. For me, I wouldn’t watch another Bond film unless the character remains British, and male. Surely, it would be difficult for anyone to top this performance by Craig. With Bond’s death in No Time to Die, I realized with great sadness that a part of my childhood is gone forever, when one could count on one’s hero to be invincible, always returning to slay the powerful dragon, or the evil communists.

And so, Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.






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