*Welcome to the first installment of Constant Conversations — a new column in which I invite other writers, artists and friends to discuss whatever we find odd, interesting or just plain fascinating in the world of movies and random geekdom. To me, monologuing is boring, and sometimes the best ideas, theories and opinions emerge through simply talking about whatever it is you find just so entertaining today.
SKYFALL is pretty awesome. And with $430 mil in the till already, it’s safe to say much of the world agrees.
But there have been some who question the subtextual layers of James Bond’s latest adventure, calling the series misogynistic (on account of the way one female character’s final fate is handled) and borderline homophobic (due to how Bond’s new nemesis’ sexuality is presented). Throwing fire on gas, Daniel Craig recently commented to E! that he could “never imagine a gay Bond”. So I decided to ring up Badass Digest’s resident Bond expert, Phil Nobile, Jr., and get his take on the many antiquated attitudes of 007.
A Warning: we get into some serious, serious SPOILER TERRITORY, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to have it completely spoiled (nor do you want to waste time on what would be rendered a nonsensical article), I’d suggest turning back now.
Jacob: While people are talking about what an outstanding entry SKYFALL is in the Bond franchise as a whole, there’s one scene in particular that’s caught everyone’s attention, and that’s where Silva (Javier Bardem) essentially alludes to wanting to sleep with Bond. And Bond’s reply is, and I’m paraphrasing, “what makes you think this is my first time?” Is Bond letting on that he’s been with a man before or, as the title of your review cheekily jokes: “goes both ways?”
Phil: I don’t think the movie is really suggesting Bond is open to bisexuality. If anything it’s a little troubling that the moment is essentially played for laughs, as is Silva’s apparent pan-sexuality. “Isn’t gay stuff funny???”
Jacob: That’s kind of how I took it, too. Bond is a spy, and he’s doing what spies are supposed to do when an adversary is attempting to get the upper hand (via sexuality or not). He’s diffusing, showing that he’s in control. It reminded me of when Le Chiffre [the main villain of CASINO ROYALE] was beating his nuts in and Bond just starts laughing — it’s his job not to give in, no matter what. I didn’t take it as offensive one way or the other — just Bond doing his job.
Also — pansexual? That’s an interesting way to put it. I guess there really isn’t any overt textual evidence to suggest Silva is straight up gay. Do you think Craig’s comments are on to something; where he says Silva isn’t gay, either, and would “fuck anything”?
Phil: It’s not “offensive”, exactly, but as unevolved as anything Fleming wrote, and extra sensitive PC types would probably have a problem with Silva hitting on him if they thought about it in Buffalo Bill/SILENCE OF THE LAMBS terms. But maybe we’ve grown/calmed down as a culture about that stuff.
I think Silva is at least bisexual; he calls himself Severine’s “lover” at one point, and kills her because…she slept with Bond? What other reason?
Jacob: People seem to be more put off by Craig saying, quite bluntly, that he could “never imagine a gay Bond”. Which, I guess could be viewed as homophobic but, really, you hit on it by calling Fleming’s writings “unevolved”. SKYFALL struck me as kind of weird because, as much as I loved it, Bond still felt sort of like an antiquated ideal of straight masculinity transported into a modern film. While he doesn’t smoke any longer, he still drinks like a damn fish and fucks anything he wants without (barring Vesper Lynd) any hint of attachment. And once that Aston Martin is brought out of the garage, I almost got full blown Austin Powers “old fish in new waters” vibes. So homosexuality, while not a “new” development by any means, wouldn’t fit a guy whose whole existence is rooted in an almost ’60s viewpoint of what a “man” is supposed to be.
Really — all of this is a long winded way of asking: do Bond’s “views” need to evolve to stay relevant? Or will only the overly analytical and sensitive few be put off while the rest of us just enjoy it for the fantasy it truly is?
Phil: That’s the dirty secret of the franchise, isn’t it? Until it’s explicitly not, Bond is straight white male fantasy. We can make M. a powerful woman, and give her speeches about what a misogynist dinosaur Bond is, but that doesn’t stop him from being one. And for all the “new ground” talk about Bond flirting with a man, might be time to revisit the cell escape from GOLDFINGER and ask just what the hell Bond is doing when he’s smiling, winking, and waving at his male guard…[youtube id= "AO1SQEqi8nA" width="600" height="350"]
I think Bond will always be a bit of a throwback – not just in terms of sexuality but in the basic premise. He’s a pretty unhip model of patriotism, duty, and lifetime job loyalty. They keep trying to have him “go rogue” but, man alive, did SKYFALL reset that shit pretty hard. Bond is a company man, even if we did just spend 143 minutes having him question whether that’s a good idea. Compare that to the Bourne films, where Jason Bourne’s superiors ARE the bad guys.
Jacob: Ah, the magic, horrible word: “misogyny”, which actually brings me to the next point of contention some audience members have had with Bond’s latest adventure (and you even mentioned it yourself): the brutality of Severine’s death. Why did she have to die in such a horrible fashion and are her final moments portrayed in a more misogynistic fashion than previous “Bond girl” deaths?
Phil: I feel like this is the result of short attention spans. I know we now expect Bond to mope around for a movie and a half after a lady dies, but they play his bored reaction to Solange’s death for laughs in CASINO ROYALE! I think what grates on people is that her potential death is so tortured and prolonged: there’s a slow dolly in on her as she stands waiting, accompanied only by diegetic music. It’s very drawn-out, and has a “pulling wings off a fly” vibe that feels unpleasant when combined with Bond’s response and the fact that the cavalry were apparently 30 seconds away. But again, lots of dead women across 23 movies, for whom no tears were shed (though it was nice to have a film where M doesn’t chastise Bond over woman’s corpse for a change — that was starting to feel weird).
Jacob: “Lots of dead women over 23 films, for whom no tears are shed” — this is my reaction to the cries of “misogyny” when it comes to Severine’s death. I feel like complaining about Bond girls getting killed off is the same as bitching about dead female counselors in a FRIDAY THE 13th movie: it’s a trope of the series that is expected by not just hardcore fans, but the general audience at large (not to mention, you could view their deaths as being just as puritanically subtextual as those in a horror flick). Fifty years in, you don’t change the formula because (as dumb as this sounds) you’re going to disappoint those who bought a ticket. And you already discredited those who claim “well this has never happened before in the Craig era” by pointing out Solange Dimitrious — her death is actually played for laughs and she was fucking tortured!
But I guess that would lead my final question: does the trope need to go? Or is changing the game a dumb, uber PC move equivalent to Spielberg replacing guns with Walkie Talkies in ET?
Phil: I don’t think it’s quite that binary, but that part of their efforts in making the series “fun again” points up what a different culture we are (or think we are) relative to certain aspects of the franchise, and in 2012 it does feel a tad discordant when the hero is cracking jokes after a woman he’d just bedded is shot in the head.
What’s extra odd about the whole thing is that, though the films have a long history of being more than a bit cavalier about killing women, the books (which were WAY worse in terms of their sexism) never really did. Bond tends to fall in love, if only temporarily, with just about every girl he beds in Fleming’s novels.
Jacob: In your review over at BAD (which is awesome, by the way), you compare SKYFALL to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in that it’s very much grounded in that gritty, Nolan-esque reality but is also trying to be “fun”. Do you think that the oppressively dark and serious tone (specifically the ending and M.’s final moments) inadvertently highlights some of the character’s bygone qualities? Also — without getting into silly fanfic territory — where do they go from here? The final moments of the film feel very much like the closing of a chapter; a pivotal moment in the “Craig era”. If the first two films are about the man and the third about the job, what aspect of this seemingly archaic character gets explored next for a modern audience?
Phil: I think the grounded, serious stuff doesn’t play up the out-of-style elements. Just the opposite; it plays up the current climate of movies, and honestly will end up dating these films the same way the older films are married to their eras by the trends they’re chasing.
The perverse part of my brain would love to see Craig quit now. That would just make people’s heads explode. He’d be going out on a win, having put back everything where he found it, so to speak. But the fanboy in me is really excited to see him paired with this supporting cast again.
I guess the one thing he hasn’t yet done is a proper large-scale adventure. If I were making a list of “Classic Bond Things” Craig hasn’t done yet, “save the world” is probably up there. A ski chase is probably in order. He should probably bed a blonde before he hangs it up. Ticking off all the ground he hasn’t yet covered reads to me like fan service on paper, but so did the return of Q and Moneypenny, and they ended up being two of my favorite parts of SKYFALL. It’s all in the execution. I’m excited to be as surprised as I was by SKYFALL, so I hope they do something surprising.
Jacob: No Blofeld?
Phil: He can save the world from Blofeld, but I’m honestly not sure where he resides legally.