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Coincidentally, the wife and I watched Casino Royale (2006) a few nights ago. It was the first time I had seen the film in over a year, and in the interim I happened to watch almost all of the previous James Bond films on DVD, so I was struck once again by the differences between this film and those — especially where Bond’s relationships with women are concerned.
First, as my wife pointed out several days earlier, this Bond is certainly capable of using sex to achieve his objectives, but he shows little interest in sex for its own sake, once he has got what he wanted. This is most evident in the scene where he takes the wife of a second-tier bad guy back to his hotel room, fools around with her for a bit while fishing for information, and then promptly leaves the room before any clothes have come off — though he does order some caviar for her, while letting her think that he will be coming back soon. The old Bonds would love ’em and leave ’em, but this Bond can barely be bothered to love ’em first.
Second, as my friend Magnus pointed out a while ago, this may be the first Bond film in which the main villain has a girlfriend, and neither she nor Bond try to seduce each other. Well, perhaps not quite the first, but the only other possible example I can think of right now is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which features Irma Bunt, who is immune to Bond’s charms but may or may not be in a relationship with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. (In the novels, it seems clear that she is in a relationship with him, but as far as the movie is concerned, she could easily be just a henchwoman, albeit a high-ranking one.)
Third, there is no Moneypenny in this film. So whereas all the other Bonds did some mild flirting with their boss’s secretary, this new Bond never gets around to doing even that.
Fourth, and almost finally, there is, of course, Vesper Lynd — and until things take a tragic turn near the end of the film, her relationship with Bond almost has the air of a romantic comedy. The Bond of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was quite happy to assert his dominance over women, while the self-conscious Bond of the ’90s was often put in his place by the women he met — but the Bond of this film approaches his leading lady as an equal. And so they trade witty barbs, and they come to each other’s physical and psychological rescue, and when they finally do consummate their relationship, their first “bedroom” scene consists of the two of them giddily getting into a tiny hospital bed and then falling clumsily to the floor, laughing all the way. If any of the other Bond films allowed for the fact that sex can be funny, in a joy-filled way that has nothing to do with double entendres, then I’ve forgotten them.
Fifth, there is M. James Bond’s boss is played by Judi Dench, and because she is the only actor in this film to have worked on previous installments of the franchise — specifically, the ones that starred Pierce Brosnan — it is especially interesting to note how her character’s relationship with Bond has changed. In GoldenEye (1995), she chastises Bond for being a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, while her secretary, Moneypenny, warns Bond that his behaviour towards her “could qualify as sexual harassment.” In the following film, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the two women instruct Bond to seduce an ex-girlfriend of his, and they tease him about the amount of “pumping” he will have to do for them. And so on. But in Casino Royale, with a younger 007 under her command and no Moneypenny at her side whatsoever, M no longer has any interest in emasculating Bond, as it were. Instead, she adopts more of a maternal approach — especially in the scene where Bond speaks ill of Vesper after her death.
I am curious to see how all these themes will play out in the next film, and in the films beyond that. The thrust of the new film seems to be that Bond is seeking revenge for Vesper’s death — but he can’t do that forever. And if he is, indeed, getting sexually involved again, is he doing so for purely utilitarian purposes? Or has he found another woman with whom he can have a meaningful relationship? Or, heaven forbid, is the franchise beginning a slow and steady descent into the sort of casual and empty flings that characterized the earlier films?
I don’t mind if Bond has a different leading lady in every film; that was how the books operated, too. But the books at least made an effort to explain why the relationships kept falling apart, and the film version of Casino Royale has set a precedent for all the films that follow that cannot simply be shrugged aside.
Ah well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.