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James Bonding continues

So all this other story stuff reminded me that I had the next post of my Casino Royale waaaaay-too-in-depth analysis because-I-am-such-a-story-geek sitting around waiting to be posted. Oh! And this bit contains one of my favourite scenes in the whole thing, the conversation between Bond and Vesper after the game. Wheeeeeeeee do I need to mention spoilers? I feel stupid doing so, just in case you were wondering.



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
montenegro, casino, bathroom, the aston martin, mi6 hq



MONTENEGRO (casino).
Le Chiffre; Felix; dealer; Bond; tournament director; Mathis; Vesper; card player Fukutu; card player Ade.

The final phase of the game.


Boom, take that, Le Chiffre!... Symbolically, at least.

So Bond has charged back into the game, with Vesper’s dismay hidden in her incredulity, and not a moment too soon: Le Chiffre has just cleaned Felix out.

On this hand, Felix is holding the jack of spades, along with an ace of clubs. There are probably all kinds of symbolic things in Bond being connected to the jack of spades, although in this game it seems to be serving as a harbinger – when Le Chiffre knocked Bond out of the game, the J♠ was being played by Le Chiffre. This time around, the J♠ is not enough for Felix himself to win the hand, but it is his final play. It thus announces Bond’s return: inititally enabled by Felix (which was evidently Felix’s best “play” of the game, and for him a winning one, in the sense of what he is really aiming for); now truly coming into play as the best and last hope to win in this tournament’s final stage. (I guess that makes Felix the A♣? And maybe something about being the ace in the hole for Bond, or vice versa. Or something. If he is, that means he’s thematically “in play” in the climactic final hand too, turning up in Le Chiffre’s losing hand, which announces Felix’s return to the action.)

And skip to the one big climactic hand upon which all will be decided, because that is how movie poker games work. Bond is, as we would expect, playing the man across from him and not his cards, although since we don’t know what he knows, we don’t see that on first viewing. By the turn card, Bond has a ridiculously strong hand with his hole cards. By the river (the ace of spades), Bond already knows he’s got the highest possible hand of anyone at the table. As long as he stays in, he cannot possibly lose this round. His challenge this hand is not playing to win, as we initially assume – his challenge is to make Le Chiffre lose.

So in yet another deft little play on audience expectation of movie poker games, we traditionally watch hoping that Le Chiffre is bluffing or at least has a weak hand because we’re anxious that Bond have the higher hand to win. Bond, however, is hoping Le Chiffre is not bluffing, that he does have a strong hand and thus be easier to lure into going all-in. Essentially, the better Le Chiffre’s hand, the better for Bond. They stare each other down, Bond assessing whether Le Chiffre is bluffing, and whether he can be drawn to go all-in. Le Chiffre is rigidly stoic; Bond gives a beat of uncertainty, then a beat of smugness (indicating to Le Chiffre he’s decided Le Chiffre is bluffing, and exerting control not to give away his tell), then a beat of decision to raise and go all-in.

It’s essentially a reverse-bluff: through the initial beat of uncertainty about what to do, he’s convinced Le Chiffre that he’s only going all-in because he believes Le Chiffre is bluffing, and doesn’t have a very strong hand himself. Le Chiffre, holding a full house and knowing – playing – the mathematical odds against Bond having a stronger hand, is thus baited into calling Bond's bet, and Bond has successfully “played the man across from him”. Coy, Bond. Very coy.

(This also makes a neat in-passing comment on the efficacy of playing the mathematical odds, as Le Chiffre does (poker, stock market, banking), and Bond never; Bond would not be able to perform any of the insanely risky things he does if he ever let consideration of the odds dictate his choices. For him, they are simply not relevant, and as it turns out this is the successful way to operate. (– If you’re Bond.))

Meanwhile, Vesper, with absolutely no leverage in the situation and everything riding on it, is visibly stressed out; and Mathis, presumably victim of producers’ notes, is providing helpful summaries for anyone at home not following what is happening, although in the most minimally-scripted way possible. The dealer then kindly finishes off the exposition for us with a laconic, “Monsieur Bond wins.”

Bond hands off responsibility to Felix – “He’s all yours.” – “Much appreciated, brother.” – and, keeping his eye on the real prize, goes to bask in Vesper’s congratulations. For her part, she can have no way of knowing what will now be asked of her next, but there is a palpable relief about her as she surveys Bond, and enjoys his sense of victory. No doubt she’s under no illusions that the squeeze on herself will be increased, but to me the relief reads as though she believes that Bond’s part in this is done. He is victorious (all other things aside, I think it honestly hurt her to see his failure, especially because it was her fault, not his), and even more, he has won his way free. She has not, but she will not have to work against him any longer. Whatever will happen to her next, for just this moment she is able to relax and enjoy the company of this unstoppable man she has come to respect, trust and even care for; she is glad to be able to celebrate with him and for him.



MONTENEGRO (dining room, countryside).
Bond; Vesper; waiter; Le Chiffre; Kratt; other henchmen; Valenka.

A celebration, followed by the shortest car chase ever.


Just – *sigh*.

This is the second time they’ve sat opposite one another and had dinner, bookending their first meeting on the train and concluding this phase of their relationship, where Vesper was being used against Bond in order to preserve Le Chiffre as Quantum’s asset. Much of what is communicated in this scene was set up in their first one, the subtle contrasts and callbacks showing us how much their relationship has progressed, and also how Bond has changed.

Setting-wise, they are calm, alone and settled in the aftermath of the contest, rather than in the train rushing them inexorably toward it. They are specifically there to eat together; this time the meal is playing its conventional role of communion between people, rather than being essentially a business meeting plus food. The lighting is dim and intimate, rather than bright and public. And they have both relaxed immeasurably with one another, neither trying to play the other in any way but able to simply show the appreciation they have arrived at. Rather than clipped and chary, the tone is softened, mellow, playful. In keeping with this, they both “read” each other – and allow themselves moments of vulnerability, allow each other to call their bluffs, without it ever being the threat it would have been at that first dinner. They are no longer in contest: they are no longer playing the man across from them. The camerawork in both scenes also reinforces these shifts in their relationship, especially where this one is all over-shoulder shots and more intimate focus, and on the train where they were repeatedly shown in a wideshot, facing off across the table.

Unfortunately, Vesper’s moment of freedom to celebrate does not last long. The first thing to happen in this scene after the waiter leaves them truly to themselves (alone in the hotel’s restaurant that presumably closed hours ago) is Vesper receiving a text. Knowing, as we do, that Mathis is innocent, the text must be from Le Chiffre, instructing her on what to say.

Vesper: Mathis says the Americans have made contact with Le Chiffre. They’re going to extract him before dawn.

In this way, Mathis is set up as the mole (preserving the usefulness of whatever Bond’s attachment to Vesper is), and gets Bond to drop his guard, to react to and make decisions based on the wrong things. This is Le Chiffre’s last ploy, his desperation leading him to co-opt one of Quantum’s assets as a last bid at recovering the money and preserving his integrity (or more pertinently his survival) with his investors. He thus unwittingly casts Vesper in her second role – trapped and sinking further, she has now become everyone’s direct gateway to the money (including Bond, who used her name as the password for the account).

(Incidentally, I can’t help but wonder what the hell Felix was doing at this point. Presumably, going by his presence at the game, the CIA’s strategy was the same as MI6’s: offer Le Chiffre protection from his pissed-off clients in exchange for information. If he refused, I guess no one had any other options to pursue, CIA included. It might have been nice if they’d let MI6 in on that, but whatever.)

Bond, here, is flush with victory – not only over Le Chiffre but demonstrably over M’s misgivings about his ego (specifically voiced by Vesper on the balcony as the reason not to fund him rejoining the game) and all the old school-days taunts and the chip on his shoulder (specifically voiced by Vesper in their reading-of-one-another game in their meeting on the train). Intellectually, procedurally and ego-wise, he has already achieved the half-monk, half-hitman identity M required of him. All that remains is to scorch his heart so that he can remain emotionally detached to everything (besides his duty and loyalty to MI6), as M already assumes he can, as indicated by the scene with Solange’s body. (This will take rather longer. Nor is it ever quite complete, because if it were, he would be a monster and impossible to root for. Also there would be no internal conflict, without which he would be boring ... and impossible to root for.)

However, he doesn’t dwell on his victories. He merely accepts them (he is nothing if not Stoic in every vagary of fortune), and instead turns his attention to the real benefit of his victory – being able to focus on Vesper with no distractions, no other agenda. And here we see that even though her status in Bond’s eyes has completely inverted, it remains equally off-limits. She began as a disposable pleasure (after all, this is how he sees any attractive woman), but undesireable because she was single; now she has become utterly desireable (and unique) as a meaningful pursuit, and as such is off-limits because she is not single. He shows as little intention of crossing the present boundary between them as he did the initial one; it is his understanding of her worth that has changed, and it shows. From superficial flirtation and casual dismissal, he goes to gallant respect and true esteem.

On Vesper’s part, going by her reactions – her little frown, extra moment of comprehension, and weary massage of her forehead – as she delivers the news of the text she received, she knows she’s back in it. However, the lack of tension toward Bond does not change one bit as a result. She laughs with him, teases him, even asks a personal question of him, all relational connections she resisted (even after the unwitting connection made in the shower) when he was someone she had to manipulate and betray. The stiffness in her manner when she was playing him has completely disappeared. She mostly likely believes that the message (and the second after it) is designed as a blow-off to Bond, to give Le Chiffre time to get away, and this is therefore the single scene where she is allowed to interact with Bond with no agenda either. She already trusts him; now she can relax with him.

So from the moment of receiving the first text, she believes this to be their last interaction. (When she receives the second, and excuses herself, it reads subtly but unmistakeably as a goodbye to him; she says goodnight and pointedly congratulates him again, sincerely and finally.) This is her last opportunity to enjoy Bond, to know him, to dwell within the protection his heart offered and she accepted (shower scene); yet she gets to see him set free, escaping the snares that are dragging her, almost certainly, toward her own doom. The snares of love and loyalty, which he is not yet caught in, which she cannot forget and cannot escape, yet which – if circumstances were different, and they were free – they both recognise the other as being worth such commitment and would enter into. The layers of emotion in Vesper at this stage, all overlaid with resignation and determination, are astonishingly complex and entirely invisible until you know what’s going on.

This conversation between them is exquisite, and even more than the shower scene is what breaks my heart for them a little bit. It touches on so many, many things, obliquely, powerfully and purposefully. I’ll try not to spend too long on it, but I could honestly watch it over and over, and I really can’t help myself from talking about it some more. There may be unseemly amounts of flail.... You might just want to skip ahead.

Bond: You know, I think I’ll call that a Vesper.
Vesper: Because of the bitter aftertaste?

GUH, the foreshadowing, kill me now. Also, with all that her name is so much on his brain this movie – teasing her about it, using it for the password and now naming the drink he concocts after her – he will not say her name once in the next movie until the very, very end, even as he’s drinking himself stupid on them/her. Bitter aftertaste? Guh. GUH. And while her rejoinder is self-deprecating, her expression is open, curious, pleased.

Bond: No. Because once you’ve tasted it, that’s all you want to drink.

Well, yes. I’ve mentioned this. But the way he says it. He’s looking down, he’s a little nervous, he means it, even if he calls it a “line”, even though he is pushing nothing. It’s an offering; it’s not much, and it’s kind of cheesy, and he doesn’t expect anything in return but it’s important to him how she takes it.

Vesper: [laughs]
Bond: I thought that was quite a good line.
Vesper: It was a very good line.
Bond: But you’re laughing at it.
Vesper: Not so much it as you.
Bond: Oh, well, that’s fine then.

And it is. He doesn’t look up while she laughs, even though it is warm and even delighted; unlike the first time she laughed at him in the bathroom before the mirror when it rolls right off his back, he reacts, defensively, offering a mildly self-deprecating response that echoes her “bitter aftertaste” one; and then she echoes his unreserved affirmation in reply. That is the point at which he looks up, sees her sincerity, sees she understood that it was a compliment and not a come-on (which the delivery of his self-deprecating line was also intended to communicate, in case she misunderstood – which she didn’t), that she liked it, that she didn’t reject the offering. That she didn’t reject him making it. And so he smiles. And it’s fine that she’s laughing at him because all the scorn and derision and barbs from the beginning are gone and their teasing is now thoroughly affectionate, and there is no pressure and no expectations on either side. (I am flailing. Flailing.)

Bond: [notices her fiddling with her necklace]

What is she thinking about? The man who gave it to her? What might have been? What lies ahead? How much Bond has freely given her – no strings attached – and how much others are taking from her because of the man she loves – nothing but chains and knots? How glad she is that she will not become truly attached to Bond so that they can’t use that against her, and him, as well? The gesture seems habitual, although I can’t say I’ve noticed her drawing any attention to it before; likely something she does when her guard is down, which it hasn’t been until now.

Bond: I’ve figured out what that is.

And Vesper just looks at him. No guards come up; none that I can see, anyway.

Bond: It’s an Algerian love-knot.
Vesper: Really? I thought it was just something pretty.
Bond: No you didn’t.

She does not put all that much effort into the lie, but it is not any “tell” of hers that Bond picks up on – it’s that he knows her better than that, now. And when he calls her out, she just swallows. The miniscule, half-hearted guard she put up with the lie is dropped again and she lets him know that about her, doesn’t try to cover it; he’s earned it, and this is the end anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

Bond: Someone gave that to you.

And again, she just waits, watching him, watching to see how much he’ll see, what he’ll read, how much he’ll push or pry, what angle he will take – to see whether he will use it against her or for his own ends, as others have. To see whether he merits the trust she’s put in him.

Bond: He’s a very lucky man.

And that’s all. He acknowledges her worth both in word and in the respect he shows to her secrets, leaving her intact, sacrosanct. It is this, his deliberate serving of her interests rather than his own, that overwhelms her; she has to look away, and comes back with something that seems like a change of subject, but is absolutely in line with his statement.

Vesper: You can switch off so easily, can’t you? Doesn’t bother you, killing those people?

How can you be so kind to me and do what you do? Why aren’t you like all these other ruthless men around me who are destroying me without a second thought? Why doesn’t it kill you inside to take life – like it does for me? Please – be that mal-adjusted man I thought you were who gives little thought to sacrificing others, so I don’t wish for you when you’re gone, so you can’t be used against me too.

Bond: Well I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.
Vesper: I don’t believe you. You’ve got a choice, you know. Just because you’ve done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.

Please, don't become that man – get out, truly get out, and preserve this kindness you have given me. Let me know that when I am gone, the man you could become will continue on; let me wish for that at least.

Bond: Why is it people who can’t take advice always insist on giving it?
Vesper: You think I can’t take my own advice?
Bond: I think something is driving you. And I think I will never find out what that is.

Because you will not tell me and I will not make you.

And if the rest of these two movies didn’t play out the way they did, he would have been right on both counts instead of just the first. Also, having parsed this conversation out, her seemingly-abrupt, emotional change of heart toward him at the sanatorium makes a whole lot more sense. She may be all kinds of conflicted, but her character has total internal consistency. And I love that at no point does the script spell out what is going on with her, that you have to figure it out, unless you just want to watch her on the superficial plot-serving Bond-girl level, for which she also mostly works.

She gets the second text and forces herself to farewell him, while the message of the text deftly ensures that the suspicion falls on Mathis by having her tell Bond that’s who she’s going to see. We don’t know much about the hierarchical chain she was under; we know she was Quantum’s asset, not Le Chiffre’s, but considering how she obeyed his order, there must have been some understanding that she should do so. Certainly her shriek when abducted in the car seemed unfeigned, so it doesn't seem like her suspicions were raised by him summoning her outside.

Bond, naturally, figures out the clues that were fed him and runs out just in time to see her abduction, leaps to conclusions and to action, chasing after them. He was nearly dead an hour ago – it is not his physical state that influences his unstoppability, because he is immediately thwarted and forced to crash by Vesper tied up and left in the middle of his path. So, yeah. The symbolism continues!

Le Chiffre’s man Kratt makes quick work of digging out MI6’s tracker in Bond’s wrist, and Le Chiffre confirms Bond’s unfounded suspicions that “Your friend Mathis – is really my friend Mathis.” Then he hauls him off to torture the money out of him, in the last round of hands, bluffs, and reads these two have to play in their intellectual conflict.


Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

Comments

( 4 speakses — have a speak )
workerbee73
Jul. 13th, 2012 10:48 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness I cannot wait to read this. EEEEP!


(Also? Finally saw The Hurt Locker last night. Oh, my friend, there aren't enough words. To summarize? It was perfect.)
themonkeytwin
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:26 pm (UTC)
Careful, the whole project is HELLA LONG. But I love it so much, I can't stop working through the whole damn movie (and looking forward to the next one) scene-by-scene. There IS something wrong with me, but I DON'T CARE.


(Never enough words. SO PERFECT. *flail* *twirls you*)
workerbee73
Jul. 13th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Oh , I love Bond in general, and I firmly believe that this movie is a work of art. I'll be coming back to this in full. ;)

Also, this just took my breath away:

How can you be so kind to me and do what you do? Why aren't you like all these other ruthless men around me who are destroying me without a second thought? Why doesn't it kill you inside to take life – like it does for me? Please – be that mal-adjusted man I thought you were who gives little thought to sacrificing others, so I don't wish for you when you're gone, so you can't be used against me too.



(I don't think I'm near ready to discuss it yet, but there will be talking. OH YES, THERE WILL BE TALKING.)

Edited at 2012-07-13 02:20 pm (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Jul. 13th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
I firmly believe that this movie is a work of art.

It really is, it's stunning.

I'll be coming back to this in full. ;)

Oh good! *wallows in story geekery with you*

And the more I analyse Vesper, the more I love her and how she was written and played. It is a gift that keeps on giving.



(I understand. It took me a while too. I WILL BE HERE WHEN YOU'RE READY.)
( 4 speakses — have a speak )

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