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more Bond, now with added pics

Continuing the Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace in-depth story analysis. Yes, spoilers. Now with something for the visual learners....

Le Chiffre is fleshed out a little, poker is introduced in earnest, and M and Bond have a Talk.

So far:
broader context
royale, first scene (prague)
musical opening
uganda, freedom fighter camp
madagascar, chase scene

Le Chiffre, girlfriend Valenka; Croatian general; Madam Wu; henchman Kratt.

Le Chiffre plays poker and learns his bombmaker is dead at the hands of the British.
Nefarious. Nothing sinister.

Le Chiffre’s villainous quirk, weeping blood from his blinded left eye, is established and declared “nothing sinister”, as he demonstrates his head for numbers, chance and poker. (Also keeps the poker theme going, started by the opening music number, with little beats of it in the movie all the way up to the big game. With Le Chiffre, the poker beats are about mathematics and probability; with Bond, the beats are about reading people, which is its own larger theme.) His ruthlessness and complete indifference to somewhat powerful/rich people are demonstrated in the game and when he orders Kratt to throw his guests overboard if they’re not gone in five minutes.

(The higher-tier poker player, Madam Wu, who doesn’t get schooled by Le Chiffre, shows up again at the Casino Royale game, suggesting there is an informal web of high-stakes poker players lying around, which makes sense with Le Chiffre’s plan to win back the money he lost quickly. It could also be inferred that she works for him, hooking wealthy marks; in the big game she is seated next to Bond – a sign of Le Chiffre angling for every edge he can get.)

Le Chiffre shows some stress but remains relatively cool. He expositions* us as to a 36-hour deadline, for which he contracted Mollaka, propelling the urgency of the plot.

*not the correct usage of the word, I know, but I like it

M; assistant Villiers; Bond.

M is drilled by superiors; Bond breaks into her apartment to follow Leads, M discovers him there and reprimands him.

Sooo busted.

M gets a fabulous rant as a character introduction, setting her up as a scathing dynamo, completely owning the old-fashioned grandeur of the rooms she storms through. She vents openly to Villiers in an accustomed display of confidence in him, going by his reaction. Her rant puts her long espionage roots and acumen on display; in a few lines of dialogue we are presented with who she is and how she runs things, as well as the reminder that she answers to people just as Bond answers to her.

Her irritation with Bond sets up their later meeting, and also gives more room for her sneaking affection for him (in its very early stages, it would seem, as they are near the beginning of their relationship) to peep through by way of contrast as she berates him.

Bond is in M’s dark apartment, using her computer and access to track the origin of the text message Mollaka received. Again, modern technology is at the point where using it well is way cooler than spy gizmos, which Bond duly does. He is shown being as comfortable sitting quietly in the dark, trespassing and hacking, using his intellect, as he is running through bright dusty construction sites using his brawn. It’s never made a point of, but his deductive skills, humour, and split-second decisions indicate a razor-sharp mind, which people who only see a blunt instrument will tend to underestimate.

Their first conversation is the opportunity to start the development of Bond’s single most defining relationship. M enters to find him playing with a deck of cards (which keeps up the poker-theme beat), is taken aback by his audacity, and lets rip at him. They spar verbally, Bond achieving his unique mix of shamelessness and respect, M hitting on the appeal of the prospect of his death too often to be at all flippant. Bond is genuinely disposable to her right now, whatever her good opinion of his abilities might have been (which she must have had to promote him). She’s making sure he knows it.

His reaction shows he’s under no illusions as to the nature of his usefulness to MI6, and to her. Once she is sure this was not just a matter of hubris, and that her own judgement in promoting him was not as wrong as she feared it could have been, she relaxes enough to start shaping this instrument of hers, casting him a vision of the potential she sees in him (while saying nothing so positive as that), and goading him toward it. In a sense, she is setting up the identity quest for him; before this, he showed little comprehension of his potential or his need to evolve beyond what he’s always been.

Hence, M states the core and secondary themes of the two movies:
M: Bond, this might be too much for a blunt instrument to understand, but arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand in hand.
Bond: So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.
M: Any thug can kill. I want you to take your ego out of the equation, and to judge the situation dispassionately [core theme of Royale, secondary theme of Solace]. I have to know I can trust you, and that you know who to trust [secondary theme of Royale, core theme of Solace].

This raises the question of how well M understands Bond, because arguably Bond is already largely able to put his ego aside. On the other hand, it is easy to misinterpret his actions as brash overconfidence, and she could be minesweeping for it, while communicating to him the trap of ego, one that an agent like him cannot ever afford. Certainly, she knows how to communicate herself clearly to him, how to point him in the direction she wants, tweaking the drive she already knows he has. Later, she says of her motives at this point that “I knew you were you” (and at the end of the movie explains Vesper’s last actions as “She knew you were you.”).

Personally, I believe M reads Bond very well, consistently keeping up with him or steering him, rather than always tagging along a step behind as she sometimes pretends. She is rarely surprised by him, although frequently annoyed. It’s also the much more interesting interpretation of her actions, as well as keeping with the theme of “reading” people, in poker or otherwise, of this movie.

It’s also the more interesting interpretation of Bond’s actions, as it seems he is frequently aware of her guidance, and consciously accepts it as such. It shows a thread of humility, respect and trust for her judgement. In spite of the differences in position and authority, this understanding of one another gives them a platform on which they are genuine peers. It creates a more layered and complex relationship, as well as a basis on which to build real and equal trust. Pertinently, it is only really possible if Bond does become half-monk, half-hitman, arrogant and self-aware, by removing his ego from the equation and becoming capable of judging the situation dispassionately – and M being aware of the fact.

She then orders him to go and stick his head in the sand somewhere, an indication (if the above interpretation is correct) that she suspects what he’s doing (his next stop is the Bahamas). She thus gives her tacit approval – while maintaining distance and deniability from a disposable asset – and makes the price of failure very clear indeed. This little trick of hers is a key part of my favoured interpretation of her actions in Solace, and I believe both characters know what’s being communicated through it, especially going by Bond’s little look at her before he stands to go and the thoughtful glance she gives the laptop after he leaves.

Before he goes, though, she pulls him up, to a nervous swallow on his part, the only thing that tells us he’s not quite as inured to his own audacity as he seems. While this was another setting-up scene, it also tells us something of his proactiveness. He knew he was in trouble with M; he doesn’t wait for it to find him (or hide and hope it blows over). He goes straight in, backfooting her to maximize his own advantage in the confrontation, and plays it to find out exactly where he stands with her and what his range of motion is now. This particular moment, however, is an unknown, and he’s smart enough to be nervous of the consequences of his ploy. However, she only issues a warning. He’s crossed a line – invading her privacy – that she will not accept again, and he receives the boundary she’s drawn, which is also necessary for a relationship of trust between them. Meanwhile, the success of this ploy makes him unhesitatingly bold, when he feels like it, from now on.

This scene serves as the basis for the licence to interpret characters’ dialogue, actions and motives based on what is later revealled, or on the precedent of previous patterns. This is particularly necessary given the amount of subterfuge in the story, and even in the construction of the story. There are a lot of layers of meaning, and the movies are designed to be enjoyable at each one, but I think taking anything at face value needs real justification.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

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January 2016
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