[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for No Time to Die.]
No Time to DieThis is an unusual name for a film in which James Bond has every opportunity in the universe to accomplish exactly that. The latest 007 adventure takes a variety of big swings, but none (including giving the world’s foremost sex addict a child) bigger than having him get completely eviscerated by a Costco-sized helping of missiles aimed at the villian Safin’s island lair.
James Bond being nearly impossible to kill is, after over half a century, an intrinsic part of the character’s appeal. It’s like Sherlock Holmes taking advantage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death to gain entry into Reichenbach Falls. This was done in Guy Ritchie’s movie. But the 007 we’ve enjoyed for the last 15 years could only meet one fate, and that’s the one that awaits all of us mere mortals at some point or another.
Bond didn’t have to go. Ian Fleming who was Bond’s creator didn’t bother to leave him alone. Or maybe it wasn’t something he did. Fleming was just 56 when he died in 1964. That’s only two years after the release of the first Bond film, Dr.. Fleming has written 13 Bond novels and a handful of shorter stories. All of these were completed in 11 years. Conan Doyle, on the other hand, killed Sherlock Holmes six-years after his introduction. The public pressure would force him to write Holmes stories. 30 YearsBeing one of the original franchise stewards to completely recontextualize their prior work several years later. George Lucas, take a deep breath.
In the last novel published in Bond’s lifetime, Fleming was close to killing Bond. The Only Time You Live Once. After a dramatic showdown with Blofeld, Bond is believed to be dead. He has amnesia. As in the earlier story On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld murders Bond’s newlywed wife, Tracy. Book version The Only Time You Live Once ends with Bond thinking he’s a Japanese fisherman. Bond eventually recovers his memories. The Man With the Golden GunHowever, Fleming was already dead by the time that this book could be published. Bond survived the pages and was immortalized forever in pop culture.
Bond was larger than life and more impenetrable through his movies. Bond had an invention for each crisis and a joke for every villain. He also had a bed that he could collapse into after the story was over. Eon Productions’ Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman made Bond a superhero in a tuxedo. This film adaptation was adapted by The Only Time You Live Once scrapped the angst and darkness of that book’s revenge story, dispensing with the revenge plot about Bond’s dead wife and the amnesia in favor of more space age spectacle. Eon continued to follow up The Only Time You Live OnceThe film version On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceStarring George Lazenby. However, the portrayal of Tracy’s death in the movie is almost forgotten when Sean Connery takes over the role. Diamonds Are Forever — a movie that is mostly a camp parody of the previous six Bond epics.
The reason every Bond film ends with the promise that “James Bond Will Return,” and why for decades there was no discernible continuity between installments, is because there’s no end in sight for the global audience’s love affair with this character. The spell could be broken if reality is acknowledged. The mission of the Daniel Craig era, however was to make Bond a human being with emotions, resentments, and fear of being abandoned. One of the most important points in all three Craig films was to make it clear that James Bond was an orphan. He lost his parents when he is a child. He tried to get out of all the pain and become a government assassin but was forced to fall for Vesper Lynd. At the end of it all, she turns against him. Casino Royale, he watches her die, and then callously tells M “the bitch is dead” — a direct lift from Fleming’s hard-boiled novel.
Craig follows a wounded man, who is forced to suppress his emotions for survival. The surrogate mom of Craig dies. SkyfallIt is. The pseudo-brother of Bond is a sadistic, tyrannical tyrant who heads a terrorist group that aims to destroy his life. Bond plunges headfirst into tragedy after tragedy and only stops long enough for another martini. He is a death follower. He is intimate friends with the Grim Reaper — both as his willing servant, dishing out grisly demises for a slew of nameless bad guys, and as an observer of his handiwork. Why then, wouldn’t his story end this way?
In the Craig films, Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann serves a similar purpose to Tracy in the novels. She’s the one that lets Bond finally move on from Vesper. It allows him to re-imagine a normal life. Blofeld and Irma Bunt kill Tracy in the books, but Madeleine is there to give Bond yet another chance at betrayal. He thinks she’s been a SPECTRE agent this entire time, just like Vesper. Bond quickly shuts down and runs. However, his longing for a normal life remains. He’s more than happy to go domestic and make breakfast for Mathilde, even if Madeleine swears she’s not his childYou can read more. Daniel Craig’s subtle performance in this interlude at Madeleine’s home in Norway shows his Bond to be a man who wants peace as much as his literary counterpart in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He’s done tempting fate, but fate is not done with him.
There are some who complain that Safin’s nano-virus scheme doesn’t seem particularly motivated by anything other than plot contrivance. However, his nihilism proves the point. Through these five movies, Bond’s story has been about a man warring with duality in much the same way that a comic book character like Batman might. He’s both a scared little boy who wants to find someone to love him without qualifications, and an empty vessel honed for murder, mayhem, and personal gratification. Bond is an nihilist, but only in the private sense. When he’s not killing people for money, he lives to gratify himself through drinks, sex, and material possessions without a thought for his health or his future. He lives for the moment, and his life is meaningless beyond that. Safin is the extreme form of this nihilism. Because someone injured him as a child, he wants to murder lots of people. Madeleine too is the victim of severe childhood trauma.
All the main characters are distorted versions of Bond, with bent and twisted reflections that reflect his pain. This might not sound like a recipe for escapist entertainment of the variety that we’ve become accustomed to by the Bond franchise. Some of the pleasures of the series seem distant in these five movies precisely because these are not “James Bond films.” They are films about James Bond, concerned less with reveling in the excess and more with exploring why one would need to fill their lives with excess in the first place.
Craig’s Bond might yearn for a normal life. Perhaps he wants to become a father. But he can’t have either of those things. He is only able to know himself and that is difficult. In the Craig Bond series, Bond confronts the reality that its protagonist is a self-absorbed narcissist. This is in part to protect him from more heartbreak. Bond has to do one last, totally selfless act before he can be a hero. Bond must die in order to save not only the world but also the child and woman he loves. True maturity isn’t just about getting older. It’s also about recognizing that there are people besides the one you see in the mirror every day.
Sure, James Bond saves the day in all of these movies, but that’s his job. It’s a job that he gets a lot of money for. It is clear that he enjoys what he does. James Bond would not be appealing as a character if his life didn’t seem fun! Acceptance of death is a part of the job, but the willingness to give your life for someone you love goes beyond its limits. Whether or not Ian Fleming came to terms with his own mortality before he passed away is something we’ll never know, but director Cary Fukunaga and the writers of There is no time to dieHis greatest creation was given the opportunity to make that final discovery. If there was ever a time for James Bond to die, it’s when it meant something.
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