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surprise!James Bond

There are any number of other things I should/could get done, which of course makes perfect sense why I would get this next bit of my Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace in-depth (far, far too in-depth) analysis done. These scenes stalled me for a while, I think because I didn't realise quite how much subtle conflict and dynamics were going on in them. I finished typing, looked back over it, and was a little shocked at how much I'd written trying to explore them. So ... you're welcome?

Indiscriminate spoilers, as I hope you'd expect.

So far:
intro
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
montenegro, casino


MONTENEGRO (balcony, dining room).
Vesper; Bond; Mathis; Felix.
Vesper refuses Bond’s demand for more money, and Bond makes a new friend.

Not on the same side.

When Vesper joins Bond on the balcony, it takes him a minute to face her, and his embarrassment is felt in a shamefaced grin that tries not to be. The idea of having lost what respect he’s managed to garner from her probably has a much greater impact on his ego than simply losing to Le Chiffre.

He makes the tone in which he asks for the extra $5M to buy back in rueful enough to indicate to her that he knows he’s screwed up, but confident enough to say that he won’t do so again. He acknowledges he’s played it badly, once again willing to wear the consequences as much when he believes it was his actions at fault as when he knows it wasn’t (ironically, once again it wasn’t actually his fault, unless you count him being too trusting of supposed allies) but he’s learned his lesson and he knows he can get this done.

Even if he’s lost all her good opinion, he appears reasonably sure that he’ll get the money; he can’t see why she would refuse him. When she does, the only reason for it that he could see would be total loss of confidence in him, and that stings badly, adding to his anger at himself, her, and the situation.

For Vesper’s part, she is sorry. She’s compressed down to bare functioning to tell him she can’t give him the money; there’s none of her usual artfulness to it, just sheer unmoving stubbornness to get her job finished. When Bond attacks her for her apology – “Sorry? Sorry! Why don’t you try putting that in a sentence, like maybe, ‘Sorry Le Chiffre’s going to win, continue funding terror and killing innocent people.’ That kind of sorry?” – he’s unknowingly dead on, in an echo and fulfilment of her line on the train (“our government will have directly financed terrorism”). That’s exactly what’s been plaguing her, now added to the reality of having to betray and sabotage the only man who’s treated her with respect and concern for her welfare, the man who gave her some real comfort and acceptance.

That pricks deep, enough to need to push him back, with the only weapon she’s used with any success on him until now: attacking him about his ego (and thus deliberately misrepresenting his identity). It’s also the only reason that she can give which he will find believable. “You lost because of your ego,” she throws at him, fighting him off verbally while remaining comfortably well within his looming physical space, her body language betraying her confidence and trust in who he is. At the same time, she can’t afford to back down an inch in her attack. “And that same ego can’t take it. That’s what this is about. All you’re going to do now is lose more.”

Bond’s frustrated, having trouble figuring out the signals he’s picking up – in line with the idea that he can’t read her – and so mostly reacts to the overt situation. He instinctively maintains the close space, sensing that it’s working in his favour: grabs her arm and tries to find something of last night’s connection to work with, asking her to look into his eyes and read him, to see that he is the man who can do this.

Which is the last thing she wants to do. She doesn’t need to read him to know that it wasn’t his ego that made him lose, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to risk him reading those reactions in her. All she can do is freeze, before gathering herself enough to be able to run away. All she needs to say is “Get your hand off my arm,” and there’s no heat in it, only distance and a hint of brokenness; because she does know him, she knows the request itself is enough – she doesn’t have to make him let her go. He’ll oblige. And she doesn’t have strength for very much more. Once again, had he really been ego-driven and cold-hearted, this would have played very differently. Once again, his identity is shown in his actions rather than what is being said.

He stares at her, taking the hit once more; watches her walk off and then starts churning through his remaining options. Going back inside, he arrives at the bar and the writers take advantage of the situation for another identity beat, reminding us that the polishing process he’s undergoing at no point changes the bulldog essence underneath. Caring if the martini is shaken or stirred is a luxury for when the mission is in hand, not an intrinsic character trait. Which is good, because otherwise we could never take him seriously. Spotting Le Chiffre with his entourage, he doesn’t wait for the drink, either; he’s got the opportunity and the tool (steak knife) at his disposal to go with his remaining option of killing him, and there’s no point waiting about.

Mathis crosses his path and Bond wastes no words or time in ordering him to get “the girl” out, neatly removing concern for her safety from his considerations, giving Mathis no chance to question or argue. Felix, however, has more luck, largely because he grabs Bond’s arm and introduces himself with no shilly-shallying, just surreptitious looking about to make super sure no one’s overhearing them. CIA, don’tcherknow. They’re Sneaky that way.

But under that quite American characterization, Felix is genuinely canny, able to read the situation quickly himself. His assessment is the same as Bond: with careful play, Bond can take Le Chiffre. (And Felix can also see that he himself can’t.) CIA doesn’t want Le Chiffre dead any more than MI6, and naturally assuming Bond will buy back into the game, Felix wants to keep Bond from acting rashly out of a lack of confidence in himself. (Identity beat.) Upon learning that the problem is not lack of confidence but funds, he immediately offers assistance in that area too.

Despite their having little contact in the two movies, these two get each other on a foundational level; it’s Bond’s show, so Felix is relegated to reliable backup, but they are real counterparts, and Felix’s identification of himself as a “brother from Langley” is more than a cute tongue-in-cheek moment. It means that he has a pretty good handle on Bond’s identity, and vice versa, and therefore they’re able to react correctly to each other and work well together whenever they cross paths. And finally, who do you rely on to come through for you when everything and everyone else has let you down? Family, that’s who. (Which is a very understated motif in both movies, but as Vesper noted earlier, MI6 looks for orphans, people whose loyalty to “Queen and country”, as concretely represented by MI6 itself, will assume the unconditional commitment that family commands. Bond's not wrong when he says, in Solace, that M thinks she’s his mother – and M’s not wrong, either. Which is another facet in support of the notion that, despite appearances, both M and Bond know what each other's doing: namely, that M is counting on Bond to come through for her, both in terms of getting the mission done and keeping her position as head of MI6 protected.)



MONTENEGRO (casino, bathroom, the Aston Martin, MI6 HQ).
Bond; Le Chiffre; Valenka; Vesper; MI6 hotroom technicians and doctors; M; Villiers.
Bond re-enters the game, and then something in his drink disagrees with him.

Perhaps make the drink less symbolic next time?

Buoyed by Felix’s confidence, although given how solitary he’s shown himself to be so far, probably not nearly as much as he’s bouyed by the $5M Felix gave him, Bond strides back into the game and opens by suggesting they up the blind bets to $1M.

To begin with, this doesn’t worry Le Chiffre overmuch. He’s already beaten Bond once; he has confidence in his own ability to defeat him again. However, as play continues, he realises that his advantage of being able to fool Bond about when he is bluffing is blown, and that Bond is slowly, steadily, inexorably outplaying him. Bond will not be rash this time, and Le Chiffre knows he’s in trouble.

Cut to the next countermove of raising the stakes, and repeating the idea of hidden hands: Valenka poisoning Bond’s drink. Le Chiffre is through taking chances and just wants Bond out of the way. Bond exchanges an unreadable look with Vesper as he takes a sip; she’s sitting off to the side, no longer involved, having done everything she could and now being forced to wait out a situation that’s gone far beyond her influence. Something about the look or the gesture of his drinking catches her attention, although it’s impossible to tell if that’s just the fallout in their relationship, or if the suspicion of what Le Chiffre might attempt strikes her in this moment. Certainly she figures it out in the few minutes it takes him to exit the game as inconspicuously as possible (considering he’s just been poisoned), induce vomiting in the bathroom, and stumble through traffic out to the handy-dandy spy medkit secreted in the car MI6 gave him.

Bond is all focus, staggering forward against the drag of failing senses and gravity and cars clipping at him, to reach his car and go through motions he must have drilled into meaninglessness in order to be able to not fumble at a time like this. He attaches a dodad to his phone, speed dials MI6 and jams the whatsit into his wrist to sample his blood for the toxin, and at MI6 HQ, a discreet little alarm chirps in the hotroom, alerting them with typical British understatement that one of their agents is poisoned and moments from death.

The technicians – a surprising number of them given that it’s probably close to midnight, neatly giving a sense of global timelessness to the nature of MI6’s work without a single word ever spoken – gather around, all hands on deck to save their man’s life. They’re onscreen for collectively probably less than a minute, but I have to admit I kind of love these guys. I want to know who they are and what their job is like and the office politics and watercooler gossip in this room. (Although this could also be because of the book Between Silk and Cyanide, which is one of the best autobiographical works I’ve ever read and gives a very entertaining and intense account of the WWII spywar from a perspective that these hotroom technicians would find familiar. I highly, highly recommend it. Seriously. /shameless promotion)

We also see M being immediately informed about it by Villiers, and their anxiety at it, dropping everything to listen in on the unfolding situation. Although these are very brief beats, they continue to give evocative sketches of this little web of relationships and the very late hours M and Villiers work, reinforcing to us that in odd but significant ways these people are family and the job is their life.

Bond, appropriately, uses flippancy to indicate his total obedience to the instructions of those who are attempting to save his life, but – as will become more and more apparent as the events of the two movies unfold – straightforward obedience to MI6 does not necessarily translate to success in the field.

In this case, Bond does everything he’s told to do, only to be thwarted by one loose wire. The tension mounts, he passes out, and it seems that Bond has finally met his match and is about to meet his maker. But wait! It’s Vesper to the rescue (because she appears to have received training on MI6-issued emergency defibrillators)! Hooray!

Which gives her the distinction of being the only person in either movie to actually save Bond’s life, to rescue him from something where he was completely helpless. (She’ll do the same for him later with Mr White, although we won’t know that until the end of the movie.) As noted earlier, he’s not yet invulnerable, in body or in heart; he’s not finished being forged into Bond, James Bond yet. It’s not until we later see the way he bulldozes through everything and everyone in Solace, with barely a scratch to show for it, that we see the mythic indestructibility he attains through the events of Royale.

Still, we should note that it’s not that he’s in mortal peril and need of rescuing because of any incompetence on his part, unless we count drinking the drink in the first place. It is still firmly Not His Fault, because being rescued by a girl (even if she did become the love of his life) is one thing; being rescued because he screwed up is another altogether. One of those can become Bond James Bond, the other can do nothing of the sort. Not only that, but he’d done all the hard work of saving his own life – it was literally only the malfunction that Vesper repaired, in order to complete Bond’s own self-rescue.

(And lest we miss the little details it in all the excitement of watching this Bond who is still vulnerable in body and heart, it is his heart that Vesper restarts with the defib – as opposed to, say, injecting the antidote – in order to save both body and heart. And all this is because of the drink that he later names after her – the drink that, in its poisoned form, almost kills him, but in its true form makes him “never want to drink anything else”. I love the intricacy of how even the tiniest details echo and foreshadow the larger symbolism in the story.)

On Vesper’s part, this is the second time she’s taken action to save Bond's life – the first being at the bottom of the stairwell when she made Obanno, wrestling with Bond, drop the pistol. In both cases, letting him die would serve her agenda. The first time, there was violence and confusion and immediate danger, and a consideration of self-preservation. Even though she probably could have got away, and Bond would have understood her fleeing, if he died there was a small chance Obanno would come after her, too. She actually looked like she was acting off simple instinct to save his life, but even if calculated, her actions to help him then make a fair amount of sense from the perspective of her priorities.

This second time, though, there is no personal advantage – no one would ever know she could have saved Bond and didn’t – and plenty of disadvantages to him surviving. Of course, she didn’t expect him to get right back up again and back into the game, but with him dead there was no one to stop Le Chiffre winning, fulfiling Mr White and his organization’s extortion of her. She wouldn’t be the one who killed him, all she had to do was sit by and wait. But not only can she not sit by, she does everything in her power to save him. We’ve already seen that she understands that she is helping terrorists and is therefore indirectly causing people’s deaths through what she's doing, so in the abstract the price of others’ lives is one she’s willing to pay to save her boyfriend. But whether it’s because it’s not an abstract, distant death, or because Bond has become too important to her (or both), the price of Bond’s life is too high.

(It is also a nice little misdirection against the audience suspecting it was Vesper, rather than Mathis, who betrayed Bond.)

Bond bounces back with the resilience we have come to expect from him, and his first thought is for Vesper’s well-being, to her total bemusement. He then resumes his ironic flippancy in reply to her astonishment that he is intending to go right back into the game; both this and the earlier flippancy when being told how to save his life (along with the general pattern of his actions) shows how lightly he counts his own life against his focus on the importance of the mission.


Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

Comments

( 5 speakses — have a speak )
bitterlimetwist
Sep. 23rd, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
"the drink that he later names after her – the drink that, in its poisoned form, almost kills him, but in its true form makes him "never want to drink anything else". I love the intricacy of how even the tiniest details echo and foreshadow the larger symbolism in the story."

That is so damn cool.

I enjoy Casino Royale, but I have to admit that the Bondness of it - the car chases, the changing locales, all the women - keeps me from being able to concentrate on all the cool little things you point out here. But then again, without all that stuff it wouldn't be Bond, so.

I love all these interesting details you're pulling out. Kinda makes me want to rewatch to see them in action.
themonkeytwin
Sep. 24th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
That's what's fascinating to me, though – how they looked at all the "Bondness" of what they'd inherited and sat down and figured out how to wrangle the character back from the caricature he'd become. Like, okay, there's still the car chases and the locales and the women, but what kind of guy lives in this insane world? How did he become who he is? Why do we even like him? All questions that the franchise lost sight of a very long time ago. They're building a character, and a really interesting one at that.

And I still can't get past just how well they did this, how much you never notice until you stop and actually pay attention to it all. Everything is so deliberate, all the superfluity and fat has been cut out of the story. I am continuing to have trouble reconciling that with the fact that this is a Bond movie. A BOND movie. *boggles* But I love it. If you do get a chance to rewatch, let me know if it changed how you see it. :)
bitterlimetwist
Sep. 24th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Like, if you strip away the Bond stuff, it's this terrific, intense, very serious movie about how someone becomes, essentially, a killer. For queen and country sure, but still. The thing is, it's Bond that's bringing people to the movie, so I get why they can't just make a movie about some guy who becomes a spy with a license to kill. On the other hand, when I watched it, I kept wishing they would just skip all the car chases and stuff, because I find that boring. Heh, someone should do a cut where they strip away all the "unnecessary" Bond stuff, and just keep the heart of the story.

This summer I swear it was on tv every weekend, and I caught the part where Bond is in the shower with Vesper, and since I'd already read your post on it, I watched it with it in mind, and I really appreciated it much more this time. Next time I see it's on, I definitely want to check out the scene with the drink.
themonkeytwin
Sep. 25th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
Ooh, it being on tv every weekend would have made it more difficult to appreciate, I think. I hate when they do that. Also makes me glad that I don't have a tv. But I'm glad it makes you able to check out these scenes. Mind you, the drink thing is a much more subtle dynamic, much like the fact that he also used her name as a password to the winnings – reflecting that she's everyone's gateway to the money. But I'm not up to that part yet. :)

The funny thing is, as I've pulled this apart, I've come to think that you can't strip away the "unnecessary" stuff. Because, like you, I find the chase and fight scenes kind of boring, except for the way they highlight characteristics of his. (I confess to absolutely loving the boat chase in Solace, and I think it has something to do with how he stands at the wheel. Something about how Bond has a naval background, possibly ... or possibly he's just damn hot doing it. *shifty eyes*) But somehow the ritzy glitzy stuff provide an indispensible contrast and balance to the character. I have a feeling that the intense, serious stuff just wouldn't have as much resonance if the backdrop weren't so very shiny. And the fact that he's so at home in the glamour AND the dirt is another layer of complexity to him ... he's not just Bourne in a tux (who bores me most of the time, really). You know if Bourne were wearing a tux, it'd be just a means to an end, but for Bond, it's part of who he is. It creates a tonal tension that I really like.
bitterlimetwist
Sep. 26th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
TV kind of sucks, but I don't watch very much. I do however like watching the few things I enjoy on a big screen, while sitting on a couch with my feet up. Ah comfort. Also, the bigger the screen, the more immersive the experience, I find. I've watched Spn on a 60 inch, and let me just say - wow. And not just because of the pretty, but the cinematography is gorgeous, and the *feel* is really different, compared to when I watch on my laptop.

"he's so at home in the glamour AND the dirt"

Oh, I'd never considered that, but you're right. I guess that IS the point of a lot of that, to show all these different aspects of him. It's funny, because I was thinking of Bourne when I said I wished they'd strip the Bond stuff out, and I thought it would almost make Bond into Bourne, except they're entirely different creations, and it wouldn't work, and it would be completely wrong. Huh.

As for Solace, I don't really remember the boat scene. The one that sticks out is the airplane one. And the giant house in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, it's been a while since I saw that one. :)
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