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James Bond, getting the action underway

I've been trying to be disciplined in my James Bond story analysis, but sometimes the heat just makes you lose the will to meta (or do anything else, for that matter, except download eps of Top Gear and watch them until nothing left in your brain works ... although maybe that was the heat. I don't know. Anyway.)

The action starts its downhill run to the poker game, and some classic Bond conventions are presented and slyly undercut.

Oh yeah, spoilers.

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

bahamas, le chiffre's yacht
england, m's apartment

Bond; Ocean Club patron Schultz; Ocean Club receptionist; Dimitrios; Solange; M; Villiers; random poker players; Le Chiffre.

Bond goes to the Bahamas to be smart, sexy, and track down his Leads.

Target acquired.

With the kickoff of the main plot, some classic sexy Bond conventions: cars, women and gorgeous scenery. As far as the car goes, it’s really only a placeholder until he trades up to the traditional Aston Martin (as he will trade up from dinner jacket to dinner jacket later on). Bond demonstrates ability to put aside ego, capitalize on opportunities, an impish sense of proportionate retribution, slick spycraft, finely judged charm and covert information gathering skills – all crammed into the space of three and a half minutes – in order to discover the face, name and address of the man who sent the text to Mokalla: Mr Dimitrios. He also shows himself undaunted and casual about large amounts of money (an attitude later noted as “disdain” by Vesper).

He stakes out Dimitrios’s house by going swimming (rising from the ocean in a tongue-in-cheek nod to Honey Ryder in Dr. No, while subtly repudiating the institutional sexism of the Bonds of yesteryear, as Jinx in I-can’t-be-bothered-to-remember-which-Brosnan-film did not), and spots his lovely wife Solange. Another opportunity to capitalize on, perhaps, Bond? Later, at the Ocean Club, he spends a bit of time scoping Dimitrios’s poker playing, and his plan has taken enough shape for him to launch, by joining the game. Bold, but not impulsive or unconsidered.

Meanwhile, back at MI6, they’re tracking Bond’s movements, and Villiers calls M about it in the middle of the night. The line “You woke me to share his holiday plans?” asks to be interpreted along with the idea that M already believed Bond was not going to let this go (a statement that I do take at face value, and which I will justify). In this interpretation, she knew he’d be going in that direction, and was not impressed at being woken up to be told something she already knew. Moreover, the line maintains the impression to others that she had no prior knowledge of his actions; if you’re working on deniability, you don’t tip your hand on what you know or when. I imagine it’s as instinctive – and necessary – as breathing for the head of MI6.

Then there’s Bond’s side of it: he had to know that using M’s name and password (which does irritate her; I don’t think that bit’s feigned, given her reaction to him discussing her real name in the apartment) would alert MI6 to the information he was accessing, and likely where he was when he accessed it. Given the competence he’s shown, if he wanted to stay off MI6’s radar, he could have found another way to access the information. He used M’s access to be cheeky, because it was easier (since he’d already figured it out) – and to flag his progress and leads to M.

I don’t believe he’d do this if he didn’t think M had given him inferred permission to pursue it. He was making sure that if something happened to him, MI6 would know what he knew, and continue following the trail; although he’s technically off the case, he’s very much on-mission, and consciously working for M. This is a key character trait of his; in his mind, he is never “rogue”. There is no latitude for betrayal. He is always loyal to M, which to him is tantamount to loyalty to England; anything less is traitorous, something he is constitutionally incapable of. How very English.

So then Solange walks in and distracts the poker players (a tactic Bond later instructs Vesper to use at the Casino Royale). Bond does a quick read of both of them, enough to know exactly how to play it the moment he gets an opening, ruthlessly stripping Dimitrios of his car and his wife in short order (while also demonstrating his deftness at poker). Both are traditional Bond bonuses (cars, women), but that’s froth on top; both are steps in tracking Dimitrios’s activity. This Bond is always on-mission.

Dimitrios runs off to facilitate Le Chiffre’s nefariousness (pinging the “trust” theme again, too, but by saying he doesn’t care if Le Chiffre trusts him or not, it’s about his reputation – low tier baddies don’t grasp the importance, clearly), and Bond seduces Solange just to the point of getting information, and she calls him a “bad man” – very approvingly – as well as the unfortunate foreshadowing: “... so you have all night to question me.” Yes, Bond is sexy. Which makes it all the more a shame for her that he ditches her the moment she tells him her husband’s gone to Miami. He may be sexy, but he’s driven first. So she doesn’t get laid, but is subsequently questioned/tortured/killed to death. The expendability of women in the franchise (and to Bond himself) is commented on by M in both movies (more on that later).

Bond; Dimitrios; bombmaker Carlos; M; Villiers; Le Chiffre; stockbroker.

Bond chases Dimitrios to Miami and foils Le Chiffre’s plan to blow up a “Skyfleet” airplane prototype (which would cause stocks to plummet in value).

[Insert quip here.]

This is essentially one long chase, of Dimitrios, then of Carlos, giving Bond more deductive-fu action, as well as using existing technology intelligently instead of gadgets (and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that choice). Dimitrios’s death, amidst an oblivious crowd, reminds us that Bond is a stone-cold killer (and that you miss a lot of what’s going on if you’re not paying attention); Carlos’s death, that he does get pleasure out of destroying bad guys (as his interminable punning throughout the previous movies should tell us). The chase of the petrol tanker across the runways reinforces that he is unshakeable, willing to take insane risks; the wounds on his face a reminder that this Bond suffers actual consequences, in more ways than one. They don’t want us to lose sight of this physicality, given that the real climax of the movie is very still and cerebral, and the average audience has a short attention span.

There is no dialogue for five minutes before the set piece starts, which is interesting – as an audience, it sort of sucks us into Bond moving through his world, doing his thing, in a way that dialogue can distract from. There’s a quick expositional exchange that lets M figure some things out for us, and help her agent do his job. It also allows a brief dry comedic beat, as is customary in the middle of a tense Bond action scene.

The set piece – with no dialogue at all – kicks in, another brutal seven minutes of straight action, only this time Bond’s overmatched by a huge vehicle instead of just another man. Same bullish principle applies, though, and he improvises to get his man, with – and this was quite neat – an entirely silent post-kill quip (pictured above). They are using some of the familiar beats of a Bond fight to show this Bond to be more internal; the humour’s there, but often only inferred. Which invites us to pay attention to layered characterization. Huzzah! Moreover, the kill depends entirely on who knows what – who has out-manoeuvred and bluffed the other, another subtle layering of the poker/bluff theme.

We learn that Le Chiffre has thereby lost $101,206,000 (calculating the amount in his head = mathematical genius), and is both unhappy (natch) and determined to find out who “talked”.

Bond; Villiers; the late Solange; M; MI6 technician.

M expositions some more and sets up the McGuffin for bringing down Le Chiffre, and tags Bond for future reference.

Staff meeting.

Having just titillated us with our accustomed Bond attractions (women, cars, action, etc), they graphically remind us of the cost of Bond’s world for those who come into contact with it. Villiers briefly gives us the human reaction to the situation, but takes it with him as he passes M, who draws us back into the Bond universe by coolly (but not without subtle pain) noting, “Quite the body count you’re stacking up.” In this way, they get to offer a brief self-aware meta-commentary on the entire series to date and the toxicity of espionage, that elements of it are appalling, not cool and sexy, and then smoothly pick up again with the usual tone of the narrative. After all, this is Bond, not Syriana.

Bond’s emotional distance serves to demonstrate that significant chunks of his soul are already gone, and that although he looks much cooler than Villiers, this is not actually a good thing – except that it allows him to be very much better at his job. This is the identity trade-off that his falling in love with Vesper will bring into conflict, and the resolution of which will forever shape who he is.

M continues in her expositional role, explaining what happened and what’s going to happen, and why it’s important, but does it all with fine-grained nuances of intelligence, perception and humour. However, she shares her information simply, and (as far as we know) fully, without much manipulation. This is the beginning of her quietly growing approval, trust, concern, shared attitude (and humour), and confidence that he will respond to her prompting; knowing that he would accept and could potentially achieve the objectives she gives him.

However, the relationship is still only in the embryonic stage; she would far prefer another agent (presumably more experienced, and perhaps with less of a tendency to leave a wake of dead bodies, since she’s looking at Solange’s body bag as she says this, but I think also for his own sake) to take it from here, but Bond is the best poker player in the service, and is therefore best suited to the job. (And it would otherwise be a pretty boring movie, but she neglects to mention that.)

Having jabbed him with a transmitter, this exchange closes the scene:
M: Don’t worry about keeping in touch. We’ll know where you are.
Bond: Stop pretending. You knew I wouldn’t let this drop, didn’t you?
M: Well, I knew you were you.

Which gives us two ways to read the preceding interactions between M and Bond. The overt, which is little more than what we get from the text itself: that M knew he would keep going on this, but little more than that, and doesn’t want to have to be tagging along one step behind him the whole time, and this is her way of putting a leash on him.

The covert being that, if the last two lines are true, Bond and M are both tracking with what the other is doing, in spite of much of the overt dialogue to the contrary. “Don’t worry about keeping in touch,” suggests she knew he was flagging his progress and position to her by using her MI6 access – and that he knew she was expecting him to do what he did. The last line, of course, maintains the identity theme, and says M has a pretty good idea of who he is and what he’s likely to do in a given situation.

It strongly suggests that both of them were acting and communicating in a way that maintained deniability; M’s especially. It suggests that he got the message that his actions were jeopardizing her position with her superiors, and that neither could afford that. It also demonstrates that he accepts being thought rogue as a way to get the mission done while protecting M, when there is no other way. His loyalty is self-sacrificial in terms of reputation as well as his life. (In contrast to Dimitrios's prioritizing his own reputation, and being a related layer to the identity theme.)

Lastly, if this is not the intended subtext, these lines are completely superfluous to the story. Considering how lean this script is, I would be very suprised if that were the case. Hence, I favour the covert interpretation, which I quite like for its complexity, and love for its understatement. They put the exchange in to flag what is actually going on, but you don’t have to catch it for the story to work equally well as a straightforward action/thriller.

This is precisely what I mean when I talk about self-control in writers. Not only does everything serve the story (not their own agenda or hobbyhorse), but they don’t show off every detail they know about the story and the characters, just because they know it. They allow the characters to have an inner life, the plot hidden levers, and hint and draw out enough for us to follow, without ramming it down our throats. It’s not just trusting the audience to be smart enough to get it all for themselves; it’s not always needing them to get it at all. They know that what they’ve worked out about the story isn’t the story itself, and they tell us the latter, rather than the former – because the story, and not their cleverness, is the point. (The inverse being meta-ing – see my cleverness? – which is neither better nor worse, provided you don’t confuse the two.)

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.


( 4 speakses — have a speak )
Jul. 18th, 2010 08:54 am (UTC)

Really enjoying this analysis! :)

Jul. 18th, 2010 09:01 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Believe it or not, this is actually a warm-up. I wanted to see just how disciplined I could be, because what I really want to do is go back and review all the SPN eps so far. Which suggests I'm insane – but every time I find someone who's meta-ing eps, you go back and they only start at S2 at the earliest. And I want to read the lot. Which means ... I'm going to end up writing them. Which means, yes, I am insane. :)
Jul. 18th, 2010 09:06 am (UTC)

O.O Ok, good luck! That's a task and a half.

Jul. 18th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'll need it :)
( 4 speakses — have a speak )

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