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James Bond, soulless by choice

I can't bring myself to Road So Far meta right now. Going back to this soulless bastard for a while feels like a blessed relief. Mind you, this scene is about as soulful as he gets. I always loved this scene between them in the shower, for all kinds of reasons. The delicacy of it, in how he treats Vesper, the way it takes their whole relationship to a completely different level, her sudden vulnerability after being so cold and hard for so long. But analysing it through made me appreciate it even more; the symbolism of it is extraordinarily done. And I have to admit I was a little discombobulated at finding such a powerful expression of delicacy, respect and compassion from Bond of all characters. I had to shut myself up eventually, or this would have been twice as long. I'm sure you're all more than capable of seeing much of the symbolism I didn't touch on (such as the use of water, etc).

Spoilers, blah blah.

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
montenegro, outdoor café
montenegro, hotel suite
montenegro, casino
montenegro, casino bar
montenegro, le chiffre's room, stairwell

MONTENEGRO (casino, hotel suite).
Bond; Le Chiffre; Vesper; Mathis; henchman Leo; local police; the late Obanno and lieutenant.
Cleaning up after the fight; not the kind of shower scene you expect from Bond.

No going back.

Once again, the bloody aftermath: this Bond bleeds, and not just physically. He has to take time to recover, and a drink, and clean himself up; even if his jacket made it through (this is still Bond, after all), he’s taken damage. A few steadying breaths, a long beat of reorientation with himself in the mirror, before he is back on course.

There’s a snide little one-two exchange at the poker table between Bond and Le Chiffre, mostly serving to demonstrate the speed with which both men recover from this kind of thing. They must be shown to have comparable mental resilience, or Le Chiffre is not a worthy opponent.

The collectedness of both men also serves as counterpoint to Vesper’s shakenness in the shower. Returning to the room, the gradual introduction of the sound of water running and the camera focus transferring from Bond to the broken wine glass let us know something is off at the same pace as him. Considering he’s just taken out two very violent opponents, and can’t be sure there weren’t any more around the place, there is really no telling what he’s going to find in the bathroom. The possibility that it will be her dead body (echoes of Solange) has to be in his mind; there’s probably also the slight worry that she’s just having a shower and he’s risking her wrath if he walks in on her.

There’s caution on his face, but no urgency, because he senses no immediate threat; he doesn’t allow himself to hesitate, but a hint of fear is expressed in the deliberate way he opens the door. Already he can’t pretend to be unaffected by the idea of Vesper’s death as he was by Solange. The door’s slightly ajar when he pushes it open, making it unlikely that he’s interrupting the normal course of showering, and the pause at seeing her shivering under the flow of water (before honest concern takes over) is likely one of relief. Of course he doesn’t show it, but that’s how I read it.

This is the turning point in their relationship. Staged beautifully and deliberately in the most intimate space between them, the innermost and only shared room of their suite, where they first began to relax their guard with one another. (The writers have been very careful throughout the two movies to make the settings symbolic of Bond’s evolution of character and emotional arc.) Here, in the heart of their physical environment, their hearts are first given to touch.

Huddled in full dress on the floor of the shower, physically, emotionally and mentally helpless, all Vesper’s defences are down and she is intensely vulnerable. The dawn of realization and concern on Bond’s face is subtle but affecting. If he were ever this shaken by events in his own life which he couldn’t control (most likely long ago as a scorned youngster at Eton, where his drive to command and overcome his challenges was nurtured), the memories have been buried for years. It’s even more unlikely that he has ever allowed himself to be in a relationship where he would witness and be touched by such suffering.

Yet rather than being repelled by it, remaining coolly aloof from this mess of emotions (as we might imagine he would do with anyone else), he is immediately drawn to her. He cannot walk away from her misery and he doesn’t appear to have any desire to do so, or to have even noticed that in responding to her defencelessness and need, he has dropped all his own defences. Without meaning to, Vesper has thoroughly ambushed him and slipped inside his heart.

Under no illusion about the possibility of his support being spurned in this moment (after all, she’s made no bones about her contempt for him), he nevertheless crosses to her side. He pauses at the threshold of the shower, giving her an opportunity to refuse his presence, but she makes no objection of any kind. He doesn’t force comfort on her; he doesn’t do anything to push or pull on her or manipulate her space. He respects her by simply joining her in it, sitting beside her and loosening his bowtie and dress shirt – identifying with her at the place she is, and signifying that he is settling in, making himself comfortable in this much-less-than-comfortable place. He won’t leave her by choice.

As before, it is this respect on his part, to not try to bend her to any agenda, that speaks to Vesper. He asked nothing of her, but rather gave her his complete and unwavering presence, available to anything she needs from him. Like Bond, it’s probably been many years since she was in such a position, if ever, in her case of having someone’s strength unconditionally offered on her behalf. Without meaning to, Bond has drawn her into his heart, a place of safety, strength and comfort.

When she responds with a physical confirmation of this exchange, clutching at the strength of his arm resting beside her, pressing her cheek against his shoulder, their connection is forged. The power of this acceptance of him, of what he offers, briefly stuns him, but still he doesn’t push anything, doesn’t treat it as an invitation, doesn’t make it about himself. He just lets her take what she wants, lets her need dictate what he gives.

Looking far beyond recent events, but to things brought devastatingly home by them, she verbally opens (partly) to him, admitting, “It’s like there’s blood on my hands. It’s not coming off.”

“Let me see,” he replies, his request making it something she can verbally refuse if she wants to, even as he draws her free hand toward him. The confirming action he takes toward her is as powerful as hers was toward him; he takes her hand and gently draws a finger into his mouth, then another one. It’s not remotely sexual, but deeply intimate, his own physical echo of bringing her inside himself. It is also works on an extremely primal level, taking whatever blood and guilt that is “on her hands” into himself as well, a total acceptance and joining with her state as words could never convey. Assuming, as he must, that this is a reaction only to the fight, it is also a cleansing act, taking the guilt for the killing from her, onto and into himself.

Again after asking, he adjusts the water temperature to warm her up, thus addressing the factors of her situation – rather than presuming to be the whole solution himself – and wraps his arm around her as she leans into him. The camera pulls back, leaving them settled in this statement of the shift in their relationship, while the musical score speaks of stillness and tragedy.

The morning shows us the aftermath of this shift: Vesper’s total trust in Bond is shown in her being in the most vulnerable position possible, asleep in her bed, with her bedroom door unlocked to him to be able to check on her and even walk through her room without any sense of violating her space. He, meanwhile, turns from contemplation of things his previous experience can give him no insight into, to deal with the practical here-and-now. Between him and Mathis (for whom the bodies posed “less [trouble] than some”), they can make the late Obanno helpful, quietly using him to have Le Chiffre’s henchman, Leo, arrested.

Their rather black sense of humour and mutual enjoyment of one other indicates a growing friendship. Bond’s becoming comfortable with Mathis, giving only an arch little smile at Mathis’s avuncular prying into the state of his relationship with Vesper. Although understated, this friendship later goes to show Bond’s ruthlessness when he thought Mathis had betrayed him (and more pertinently, Bond's mission and Bond's country), still refusing any latitude or forgiveness for a traitor. Having already learned not to rely on partners less competent than himself (Carter in Madagascar), he will discover with Mathis’s (supposed) betrayal that competency is no guarantee of a partner, either. The question of bestowing trust is well set up to be further developed in Solace, as is the genuine caring between them, by the way things stand at the end of Royale.

Their lighthearted guess that Le Chiffre will be sweating it is confirmed by a shot of him watching the arrest of his henchman from his own window, with a seeping tear of blood. Oh, that’s right: he’s a Bond villian.

MONTENEGRO (casino).
Bond; dealer; Felix; Le Chiffre; Vesper; Mathis.
The next night of play opens; Bond calls Le Chiffre’s bluff with unexpected results.

Telling lies.

That night (and hopefully Bond’s managed to get a few hours’ sleep at least during the day), Vesper and Mathis watch subduedly while Le Chiffre, armed by Vesper with the knowledge that Bond has discovered his tell, uses it to deceive and wipe out Bond. Mathis points out Le Chiffre using the tell to Vesper, who ironically reads the tell rather more accurately; she knows what’s about to happen.

(Which makes us wonder at what time Vesper contacted Le Chiffre. Given her near-catatonic state after the fight, and Le Chiffre’s genuine stress in the morning, it was most likely some time during the day. Probably while Bond was asleep and Mathis off doing other things – of course, really all she had to do was text him, so it’s not like it would have been hard to find the opportunity.)

Felix wisely bows out of the round with a snide little quip – “Seems someone knows something I don’t” – which can be read on all kinds of levels. He, too, is a canny operator, and has better instincts on a spy level than on a poker level, it seems.

Bond and Le Chiffre lock horns, and Vesper looks down, away from what’s coming. In spite of not knowing if, as Quantum’s puppet, she would survive a second longer than the moment they released her boyfriend, despite having doubts (as any reasonably intelligent woman must) that he would survive it either (I have to assume she’s demanding some kind of proof of life periodically), and even though she and Bond have just connected in a way she could never have foreseen, she has set her face upon her course and followed through. Her hope that this is all that is required to stop MI6 nailing Le Chiffre, and that it will all soon be over, is balanced against the pain of having her betrayal become intensely personal in spite of her best efforts.

On the reveal of Le Chiffre’s hand (the reveal being the jack of spades, the symbolism of which to be discussed with the final round of the tournament), both Mathis and Vesper are visibly disconcerted, although Vesper’s relief can be seen under her reaction when you look for it. Unpleasant as it will be, all she has to do now is refuse to give Bond the money to buy back in, and her job is done.

Le Chiffre can’t resist a small gloat: “You must have thought I was bluffing, Mr Bond,” which arms Bond to read him later, when he gets himself back in the game, as well as figure out how he was betrayed when he realises there was a traitor with him.

For now, Bond is like a deer in the headlights, left at the table as the others clear for the one hour break, staring at the hand trying to work out where he went wrong. He can’t, really, because he’s only considering the factors on the table in front of him – although it’s never really made a point of in the rest of the two movies, he does learn his lesson to relax his focus and consider things more widely, because he’s not caught out like this again. Even though he can’t put his finger on it, he has enough confidence in himself that getting back into the game is the option he’s determined to take.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

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January 2016
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