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James Bond, some give and take

Gosh, thank goodness I never set myself a schedule with this project. Rest assured, I'm still going with it, distractions notwithstanding.

Bond and Vesper's relationship begins to take them both in directions they weren't intending, and Bond encounters a vision of what he has the potential to become.

Spoilers positively abound.

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
bahamas, ocean club
usa, miami airport
bahamas, debriefing
montenegro, train

MONTENEGRO (car and hotel).
Bond; Vesper Lynd; chauffeur; hotel receptionist.

Bond and Vesper arrive and check into their hotel, with some disagreements.

Play nice, children.

During the car ride, we can already see a hint of thawing in Vesper. The blocking itself is telling: already they’re sitting next to one another, travelling in the same direction, rather than on opposite sides. It’s a casual visual note, but it’s a deliberate and effective choice.

There is a new, slight playfulness in Vesper’s responses to Bond, coming off the playfulness with which he responded to her at the end of the last conversation. For the first time in what we know must be far too long, she is actually having a little bit of fun, and she can’t quite bring herself to resist a fleeting moment of escapism. This part of Bond’s charm – he simply is fun – is what draws most of us to him. Take away this sense of fun, in the character and in the franchise, and you get – well, along the way you get Timothy Dalton, but ultimately you get a soul-dead killer who’s completely unbearable to watch. (I am in the minority who actually didn’t mind Dalton’s Bond, but that’s beside the point.) And, having sized him up (“the moment we met” as she later quips), she can afford to be less on the offensive, settle in to her role more.

Vesper, whose unfortunate name has already been pointed out by Bond, herself gets to protest the ludicrous and oversexed Bond-girl name tradition through her reaction to the alias she is provided with: Stephanie Broadchest. She carries the writers and the audience with her on that one, I think. Considering that in Solace, “Ms” Fields refused to give her first name (recorded as “Strawberry” in the credits), and that “Camille” (and “Solange” from Royale, for that matter) is exotic without being excessive or ridiculous, we can hope that a new tradition is being created, of little more than a sly wink to the old tradition for those who catch it.

Vesper collects herself from her brief lapse of actually enjoying herself, dictates terms on the sleeping arrangements, and then makes sure to squelch the moment with a subtle little sting, insinuating he may be less than a gentleman:
Vesper: Am I going to have a problem with you, Bond?
Bond: No. Don’t worry. You’re not my type.
Vesper: Smart?
Bond: Single.

This is a far more painful exchange than either lets on. To begin with, it is cruel on Vesper’s part, because this Bond at least (and most of the onscreen Bonds, most of the time – the source books had some more dubious undertones) does not force himself in that way on women. As before, he doesn’t protest the injustice of someone misrepresenting him. (We should note that he does kiss her in public later on, taking advantage of their cover story, but we’ll get to that.) Even from their conversations so far, she would have been able to detect that, so the concern she expressed was gratuitous. Knowing what’s actually going on, we can imagine that she might be rattled at losing focus, beginning to feel a real danger that she hadn’t expected from him, and wanting to push him back. And again, it is something she can lash out with against her situation, against the only person around who’s involved in it; it’s actually the only way she has to vent at all. She needles him more cruelly than necessary at several points, but again, each time he simply, stoicly, absorbs it.

Then there’s the pain that neither intended to cause: Bond is reminded of his conversation with Solange, as he gives his modus operandi concerning women; and his “single” rubs against an even deeper wound in Vesper. The camera lingers on her face just a hint long, and it’s possible that if Bond (and us) weren’t distracted by his own issues at that point, he might have picked up on something.

At the check in, they have their next clash, with a few interesting notes: it arises over the question of identity, and it is the very first occasion of Bond explaining his actions to anyone so far. Bond refuses to go by his alias, “Mr Beech”, and explains to Vesper why, turning a line of exposition into a relationship moment. He’s not looking for her approval; it’s unlikely the thought even crosses his mind. But he does want her to understand what he’s doing. His impulse is for her to know him, and it appears she is the first character in a long time he’s wanted anything that real from, which says a lot about the respect she’s already earned. Unfortunately, this impulse also later exposes him in ways that Vesper can exploit. If she worked out that she could provoke him into explaining what he was doing by being critical of his actions, well done to her. Otherwise it’s a bonus by-product of her determination to keep him at a distance by spurning him.

Vesper is genuinely irritated, though, and snaps back about him being reckless and egotistic. In the face of him giving a good reason for what he did, it comes off a bit weak; either way, she still doesn’t get a rise out of him. He’s downright happy to have got under her skin and provoked a reaction. Just as Bond is exhibiting unusual behaviour in wanting her to understand, she is finding it much harder to remain detached than she is used to. And as before, the accusation of ego and recklessness is just off-point enough to merely amuse him.

He also picks up another silver Aston Martin, delivered by MI6 with the closest either movie gets to specific spy gear with an emergency med kit (I wonder if that will
come up again later
?) as well as his Walther pistol. Both Aston Martin and Walther are immediately identifiable Bond trademarks, but like Bond, have been sensibly updated to their best modern version.

Bond’s only line as he quickly rifles through the information and the gadgets MI6 has equipped him with is a light, “I love you too, M.” Even though M is barely onscreen again until the very end, her presence and relationship with Bond is maintained, as she provides for him and anchors him. Once again, the line works on so many levels, reflecting the affection and subtextual communication that is slowly growing between them. Moreover, it’s the first of two times in the movie where Bond says the words, “I love you.” (The other, of course, being to Vesper later on.) And while here it is said lightly, it nevertheless points to the reality that MI6 is his first love, from which Vesper unwittingly seduces him (as he unwittingly seduces her, from her first motivating love for her boyfriend) and to which he returns, never to stray again, regardless of the concerns of his behaviour in Solace.

MONTENEGRO (outdoor café).
René Mathis; Bond; Vesper; chief of police.

Mathis, Bond’s local contact, welcomes them and deals with some minor obstacles.

Team building.

We meet the charming Mathis, who takes up the exposition mantle from M. He makes sure to emphasize the precarious position they are in: there’s no one to rely on here besides themselves. I do like the chemistry between this rather mismatched trio, each operating at a sufficiently equivalent level to be able to appreciate one another and able to depend on one another’s abilities. (Especially once Solace confirmed that Mathis was not a traitor; it is harder to appreciate these scenes thinking that Bond is alone with two people who he trusts, who are working against him.)

Mathis’s own strength appears to be keen-minded guile and subtle manipulation of more established powers, honed over decades in intelligence work. The way he deals with the crooked chief of police demonstrates he is far from helpless, and avoids confrontation and direct involvement, while removing the problems in their path without undue fuss.

Vesper doesn’t say anything at all during the scene (Bond doesn’t say much either), simply watching and sizing up the possible threat that Mathis poses. Fairly soon, though, it is apparent that he considers her a beautiful and charming mere accountant, to be treated with gallantry and a touch of token lechery. She is very able to play the sweet, slightly unsure young girl that he assumes (perhaps correctly) is at her core, even if the outer layers are more complex. Starved as she is for emotional connection, it is not long before she allows herself to enjoy this more harmless relationship and role, too.

However, at the time of this scene, she isn’t sure of Mathis yet – she has the same reserved wariness she did in meeting Bond on the train, but without needing to be active in the conversation. She is very alone at this point, and a few of her expressions indicate that she has already formed a level of trust in Bond’s judgement and ability to safely navigate them through this alien spy world (which means she did accept his explanation of his actions earlier as being reasonable). When the police arrive to arrest the chief of police according to Mathis’s scheming, she is taken aback, and checks Bond’s reaction. His calmness reassures her, and she goes back to observing; in spite of herself, she has already begun to depend on Bond.

MONTENEGRO (hotel suite).
Vesper; Bond.

Bond and Vesper play dress up, and Bond discovers himself in the mirror.

The man in the mirror.

The first thing we see is that Vesper has become relatively comfortable in the space and with Bond; she has embraced the place she has landed in. This scene allows her character to have dropped the armour of her severe clothing and makeup; the simple bathrobe and the act of beginning to dress for the evening make her more vulnerable, more real. When Bond brings in the dress, there is no increase in guardedness, either at his presence or his request. No doubt she is determined to act as normally as possible in her current situation, and she still has plenty of shields up, but this living arrangement in itself creates the first deepening of intimacy between them. (Which is immediately escalated as they essentially dress one another.)

In spite of Vesper driving their first conversation, Bond is the initiator in their relationship. He’s not pursuing her in the conventional sense (he honestly doesn’t want the entanglement that comes with a single woman), but this allows him to playfully explore. He’s curious, wanting to get reactions out of her, wanting to challenge her – in a quite boyish way, just wanting to enjoy her, as playmates. Even though she is trying to keep her distance as much as possible, it’s no wonder Vesper gets drawn in. Her little smile after she manages to get under his skin with the tailored jacket is superior, but with a hint of sneaking enjoyment of the game, too.

There is really no strategic purpose to having Vesper walk in and distract the other players, for Bond. He’s a much better player than that. But having got the idea from Solange, he uses it to invite Vesper into his efforts, to contribute – to play – and also to push at the flirtation boundaries between them that he still has no real intention of crossing. He gives her an option of refusing, even while he dares her with his eyes and smile, but she has no intention of backing down.

She really should, if she wants to keep her distance, but she, too, is already enjoying this relationship too much. The only story purpose for it is so that she can turn it around on him and deliberately distract him, instead, thus answering with her own kind of playfulness. If she really despised Bond as no more than a cold-hearted bastard (as she is trying to), she would not have the impulse to tease him, or follow it if she did. She would not, in whatever small way, want to impress him, to make him respond to her beauty. But she does.

Vesper is aware of the danger, at least, if not how far she’s already wandered into it, as she shows with another cruel little needling of Bond, attempting to thwart the seeping pleasure of his company. She sees him discovering for himself, in the mirror, the difference between dinner jacket and dinner jacket, and forces a stinging little laugh at him. Again, if Bond were as egotistic as everyone keeps accusing him of, he would not respond at all well to being laughed at like that, but once again he merely soaks it up and goes back to examining the difference the jacket makes. Considering how forced the laugh was, he had to notice; he likely interprets it as retaliation for the dress.

Vesper doesn’t much distract him from the figure he cuts in the mirror, and he’s right to be absorbed by it. By putting him in that tailored dinner jacket (another little needle, that someone like him wouldn’t know the importance), Vesper opens up a world to him that he had previously only despised. Some combination of Vesper considering it important, and how he looks in the mirror, invites him to revise his opinion somewhat. He sees the value of knowing the difference, and he grasps the tools that can help him navigate this world that he will be entering more often in his new position. Bond is always ready to become better at what he does.

But it is, of course, deeper than that. It’s deeper even than us seeing that iconic Bond image for the first time; it’s him seeing it for the first time. He stands in that bathroom and looks in the mirror and learns himself, sees who he is becoming, the potential he always had but never knew it. And he likes it. (Who wouldn’t?) He’s confident enough to claim it, own it, giving the audience shivers (or this audience member, anyway). It is a profound moment in his character evolution, and Vesper was the one to give it to him. Even when she tries to undercut it, he has already inhabited this new self so naturally that her amusement finds no target of uncertainty in him.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

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January 2016
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