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Sobitterlimetwist and I are conducting a Highly Scientific essperiment whereby she watches the new S8 episodes of Show as they come out, and I wait and mainline the first four or so all at once, and then we compare notes and see who enjoyed them more. We have Theories, although I'm not completely sure that we know what they are at this stage.

Anyway, in lieu of Show: James Bond! I'd forgotten how much I enjoy this story, and analysing it, for a while there. Plus, I realised I'm finally within cooee of Quantum of Solace, which is exciting. Especially with Skyfall looming (which I will most likely not be analysing; I'm not getting my hopes up that it can continue this level of storytelling).

Spoilers for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace ahoy-hoy.

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
montenegro, casino
montenegro, balcony, dining room
montenegro, casino, bathroom, the aston martin, mi6 hq
montenegro, casino
montenegro, dining room, countryside

MONTENEGRO (river docks).
Vesper; Valenka; henchmen; Le Chiffre; Bond; Mr White.

Le Chiffre demonstrates how easy it is to cause more pain than a man can stand; Bond does his best to withstand it.

Pictured: penis metaphor.

Um, yeah, okay. If there’s any scene I’m going to skip over as shallowly as possible, it’s this one, because this is not all that fun. The sado-masochistic undertones in the Bond source material doesn’t tend to get onto screen very often, for good reason, because it is a seriously uncomfortable aspect of his character to watch (although as a character note for what kind of man can not only do what he does but thrive on it, it makes a lot of sense). Here it is mostly located in Le Chiffre’s actions, and only the echo of it in Bond’s resistance. Meanwhile, the key point of the scene really is that – in spite of the brutal physicality on display – torture is first and foremost a psychological contest. Even while bashing Bond’s gentleman’s region, Le Chiffre remains firmly the intellectual opponent.

So, the psychological components: Bond is first literally stripped naked. Le Chiffre then attacks his virility, and his fearlessness if we take “balls” in the colloquial sense, all wrapped up in a perfect visual metaphor of a dick-swinging contest of the most aggressive conceivable kind. Of all the things we know from previous Bond-incarnations that he holds most dear, we can put sexual prowess near the top of the list, and to shatter his fearlessness – his cockiness, pardon the pun – is simply to destroy who he is. Le Chiffre, twisted bastard that he no doubt is, has intuited the point of Bond’s greatest vulnerability in a mind and body that has otherwise proven to be iron-clad. (He already used Bond’s vulnerability of heart – Vesper – to trap him. And we now know why he didn’t exploit that further, by threatening to torture her, because it’s not worth the risk of Quantum’s wrath. Bond’s expression as he gets his bearings and hears her scream is hard to read; to me, it seems like he is “switching off”, as Vesper just observed that he does, in order not to let it affect his resolution, although in this case it doesn’t look like it’s “so easy” for him at all.)

Of course, it’s obvious that Le Chiffre just gets off on this, too. So, ick. Also the fact that he has Bond utterly at his mercy and can visit on him his own bile at the position he’s got himself into. What’s interesting about all this is that Bond and Le Chiffre’s positions have literally not changed one bit from the final hand of the poker tournament: Bond does not have to win – he just has to make Le Chiffre lose. He still has the upper hand in the sense that all he has to do to succeed in his mission (not in survival, mind you, but we already know that about his priorities) is not fold. Except this time they both know that, and Le Chiffre has taken everything possible away from him – weapons, gadgets, allies, clear head and orientation, clothing, movement – anything outside of his irreducible identity (so still directly serving the core theme of this movie – kind of like “what you are in the dark”, only way, way worse) that Bond could use to withstand him. It is purely Le Chiffre’s desperation attacking Bond’s determination, and what they therein bring to bear. Aand – go!

*covers eyes*

And even with Vesper’s (or perhaps Valenka, mimicking for her) screaming from the other room, and the promise that Le Chiffre will let her live if Bond gives in, Bond has already managed to convince Le Chiffre that he is never going to give up the password to the money by the time Mr White arrives and deals with the situation for him, killing MI6’s only lead into his organization. Mr White also, helpfully, sets up the beginning of the shift from this movie’s priority theme to the next movie’s, in his second of only three lines in this one:

Le Chiffre: I’ll get the money. Tell them I’ll – I’ll get the money.
Mr White: Money isn’t as valuable to our organization as knowing who to trust. *pew*
Le Chiffre: [ded]

ITALY (lakeside sanatorium).
Bond; nurse; doctor; Vesper; Mathis; agents; M. Mendel.

Bond “recovers”, if-you-know-what-I-mean, and-I-think-you-do (hur-hur-I-mean-sex).

FYI George Lucas, this is how you do tragic, character-forming Lake Como romance.

We transition from Le Chiffre’s open, dead eyes to Bond’s closed, bruised, living ones. And the first word he whispers, as he blurrily makes out who has also made it through alive and standing at his bedside? The password. Her name. (Twice.) I mean really. He never stood a chance against her getting the money from him. (Also, an unequivocal statement about the power of Bond’s loyalty; to win the man, you must win his heart. Which of course reverts irrevocably to MI6 after this whole affair, and closes off to anything else, ever again.) Then he sees someone behind her, has an Oh Noes, Mathis! moment and fades out again.

Oh, and now this bit with Mathis just makes me sad. Poor Mathis! Once you know he’s innocent, and seems to be trying to speak gently to the sick-chair-bound Bond rather than insidiously, his little look of startlement when he’s tased and hauled away is kind of heartbreaking. Still, presumably being thought to be a double agent is just one of those occupational hazards for spies.

Also, he raised a good point, which – in typical lampshade-hanging tradition – then allays the urgency of it in the audience’s minds, and apparently Bond’s, too. (Unless Bond is just distracted by all the Vesper!sex, a possibility we probably shouldn’t discount.) But the question “Any ideas ... why they left the two of you alive?” is the whole set up for the rest of this movie, and dispensing it here when the real issue is (apparently) Mathis’s betrayal is an effective little misdirect. Also, I love the beat of Mathis mixing Bond some kind of tonic – “I’m supposed to get you to drink this.” – and Bond refusing to drink it. When he has been positively guzzling “Vespers” for like half the movie. It confirms we've moved into a period of overlap between Royale and Solace’s core themes, because this last act is really also the first act of the next movie. And I love how none of these nuances matter to the mere plot, yet they took the care to weave them all in so seamlessly that you never notice the thematic symbolism the story is just swimming in until you go looking for it.

With Mathis dealt with, as far as Bond – and we the audience – is concerned, this feels like all resolution and aftermath. Bond achieved his mission objectives and proved himself capable of half-monk-half-hitman-ness, even under torture. The fact that MI6’s mission objectives weren’t actually achieved is obfuscated by us being accustomed to Bond villains being killed equalling their defeat. And this despite M’s explicit rebuke of such tactics and their viability when Bond initially killed the bombmaker in the embassy in Madagascar; we are conditioned to feel this as a win for Bond. Given that Mathis is now a possible lead in Le Chiffre’s place, and even more that Vesper makes it plain that Bond has got the girl, we are primed to dismiss the loose ends and are set up to be as blindsided as Bond by the manner of the denouement, even if the movie lingering on convinces us that there has to be (another) one.

The scene also subverts expectations regarding Bond’s identity theme. Bond very plainly did get the Bond girl; however, rather than confirm and cement his classic Bond, James Bond identity, doing so completely derails it. Moreover, it was not a typical 007 seduction, as at no point did he make a genuine move on her – she voluntarily gives it to him. (More on Vesper’s motivations in a bit.) And in doing so, she actually won; she, the enemy of the heart, made him utterly and avowedly vulnerable to herself and even supplanted his core allegiance (MI6). She has him at her mercy to the point where – just as he did not actively seduce her – she did not have to seduce the password to the money from him. He volunteered it. At this stage of his story, he is a man who had deliberately jettisoned any part of his soul that got in the way of becoming Agent 007, invulnerable monk-hitman – and is now rendered totally unsuited to it.

(Of course, from the perspective of the construction of his character, it’s telling that this does not occur until her agenda has shifted to saving his life: at no point does he ever willingly put himself at the mercy of a true enemy. That kind of a screw up, just like all the others that created obstacles that were not technically his fault, just doesn’t gel with the concept of who 007 is. Somehow, on some subconscious level, Bond is spy-canny or boarding-school-wary enough never to give himself over to anyone who intends him harm. Therefore, in this instance, his unique vulnerability is being manipulated by Vesper in order to save his life.)

And then Vesper. Her agenda, arguably, has become simpler – streamlined, in any case – to procuring the money from Bond for Mr White. That’s the price she bargained for Bond’s life, and presumably her boyfriend’s too, should he still be alive (a hope that has to be dwindling fast, especially for anyone as smart and pragmatic as she shows herself to be, but then hope is a tricky thing). And from the way the movie plays out, it seems like she managed to obtain a window of at least a few weeks to do so, depending on how long it took Bond to recover from his injuries (a loose enough leash to imply that Mr White did somewhat trust her to get the job done). Not only that, but within minutes of her (redirected) gambit on Bond, she has comprehensively succeeded – she has the man, the password and the money in her possesssion. The battle of the heart, unlike the physical or mental, was over before it even began.

Despite all this, her reaction to immediate, total victory is not triumphant, or satisfied or even relieved – she is shattered. He used her name for his drink specifically as a mark of his admiration, his desire and his respect for her. His use of her name as the password, even before that, symbolically placed her at the centre of his mission, his service, his loyalty, which he refused to give up even under torture – and which, ironically, she was at the centre of, just not the way he thought. All of this, along with the fact that he simply gives her the password, the look he gives her when he does, hits her all at once. She was, in her own admiration and respect, “warming” to him and had already determined to give herself to him physically, to thoroughly enjoy what pleasure he happily offered for as long as he was around; this is the turning point where she realises just how much he could offer her (and in a way, already has), and from this moment, she cannot keep herself from wanting that, from beginning to actually open herself up to him in response.

Her warming to him has so far progressed upon instances of him giving to her and taking nothing in return. This is the moment she tries to match that, to return it with an unreserved, unguarded affirmation of the man he is (and so still serving the identity theme). In by far her most emotional outburst of the movie, she tells him that he’s more of a man than anyone she’s ever met – even if he were nothing but his smile and little finger (the smallest possible unit of his attitude, appeal and ability? – anyhow, this is in keeping with the identity theme they’ve been playing of losing pieces of himself – soul, humanity, etc – and what you can take away from him – allies, weapons, torture, etc – to explore who/what he irreducibly is).

Much point has been made of how Bond reads people; there’s no way he can miss how much of herself she has just exposed and given to him. This astonishing, unexpected affirmation of him, elevating him to her highest esteem, stuns him into frozen silence. His face reads stone cold, but he’s not; this, from her, means almost too much to him to be able to take in, so much that he can’t react straight away. When he does, it’s a sexual quip about his little finger, which, continuing the subversion of Bond seductions, is not just the come-on it seems but a deliberately neutral gesture. He does not reject the sex, which she explicitly already offered, but he’s not sure what else she means to be on the table. To his mind, in spite of the sexual connection she offered, she is still not relationally, emotionally available. It’s his way of offering her a way out, using his womanising, sexual identity as a shield for her vulnerability, should she want to take it back. Just like the last time she was vulnerable with him, he does not presume or exploit what she has exposed, but offers shelter until she can recover her guard even against him and how much he wants to take everything she’ll give him.

This time, though, Vesper knows what he’s holding back, and – respecting that about him, as he has respected her, without expectation that it will change – shows that she meant it. She remains vulnerable, not because she thinks it will work but because she knows she is safe in doing so, and with wistful acceptance indicates that she truly did want all that he’s offered. The second he is sure of this, he reciprocates by dropping everything and giving himself (and his unreservedly affirmed identity) to her wholly – unreservedly. (Ultimately, this will lead to Bond replacing Vesper’s boyfriend as her core allegiance, which maintains parity of their character arcs. The seeds of the switch are there – “more of a man” includes her boyfriend, presumably, and there’s also the line about feeling reborn – but they’re not there yet.)

Thus the relational exchange bookends the course of the scene, going from her “you can have me” to his “I’m yours”. The first is fairly classic Bond/Bondgirl dialogue (ie, with a little tweaking could be dropped into most Bond movies):
Vesper: Everytime I [wake you], you look at me as if you haven’t seen me in years. Makes me feel reborn.
Bond: If you’d just been born ... wouldn’t you be naked?
Vesper: You have me there.... You can have me anywhere.

The second is something that we are never going to see from Bond again:
Vesper: You know James ... I just want you to know that if all that was left of you was your smile, and your little finger, you’d still be more of a man than anyone I’ve ever met.
Bond: [blink] [long pause] That’s because you know what I can do with my little finger.
Vesper: I’ve no idea.
Bond: But you’re aching to find out.
Vesper: You’re not going to let me in there, are you? You’ve got your armour back on. That’s that.
Bond: I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours.

Anyway. Yay, sex!

ITALY (Mediterranean beach).
Bond; Vesper.

A sandy exposition quickie.


Anyone sick of all that plot-serving-the-heavy-relationship-stuff yet? Good, because now we reverse it with a quick relationship scene that nevertheless would be largely pointless if it wasn’t actually serving the plot. I mean, it’s dressed up as Bond enjoying his traditional spoils of adventure, and no one begrudges him that, but it’s already established that they’re about as together as they’re going to get. But this is the point where Bond (having to do the exposition because neither M nor Mathis are on hand) ties up the loose strings to his satisfaction, while actually setting up the parameters of the final confrontation and what drives him in the next movie.

So, first, he’s clearly physically fully recovered (rising out of the sea like an adonis) and equal to the next round. The costume note is interesting, though; their newfound intimacy is in their states of undress, and her wildly free hair, but he is as naked as can be implied by swimming trunks, while she still retains one layer of covering – they deliberately eschew what would always be a bikini shot of the Bond girl. He has opened up completely to her; she still has one, pivotal secret left.

Which brings us back to betrayal and “tells”. She discovers that her present happiness is at the expense of Mathis being “sweated” by MI6, and with a hidden, dismayed look, adds that to her tally of guilt. It probably also brought home what awaits her, if she should somehow survive the end of her usefulness to Quantum. She is reminded once again that there is absolutely no happy ending possible for her; this brief here-and-now is all she will get.

Bond has no idea, which is the only way she’ll get to enjoy even that. In order to maintain this, and to explain why the reveal of her true role completely blindsides him and us, Bond points out that Vesper alone has no tell. (Which is mighty convenient, although as I mentioned in her introduction, it could be read that this is because she is always running some level of subterfuge, where a tell is the indication that someone has switched into it. So it’s not that she has no tell as there is no opportunity for Bond to detect it.) This inability to be sure of his read of her is also why it takes him the whole next movie to come to terms with what she did – because he couldn’t be sure what that actually was. Until he tracked down the pieces of her life (that I’ve been using to figure out what she was doing as well) and fit them together, he couldn’t know if everything he had loved and given himself to was real or not, worthy or not. Though fully formed in his identity at that point, until he could determine this, he could not move on.

But for now, not being terribly experienced in understanding love, he attributes it to this no-tell oddity, and offers it with the singular simplicity that is at his heart. More than Queen and Country, more than M16 and M, more than anything he has ever been up until this point, he loves her and offers her not just the next few days until M recalls him, but the rest of his life (and the counterpoint becomes her gift of same, in all its truncated form).

And once again, she is surprised and a little overwhelmed by how much and unstintingly he gives himself; in taking what she could get in the here and now, she thought there were limits, of time if nothing else, on what he was offering. His (subtly, heartbreakingly nervous) offer of himself must overturn her plans – she obviously assumed that he would soon return to MI6 and she would slip away, retrieve the money, get it to Mr White and end it all.

She accepts Bond joyfully – when he tells her he is leaving MI6 with what little of himself he has left, asking if that is enough for her (again, that irreducible identity theme), she knows it is far more than she could have ever hoped for. She also knows (or believes, probably correctly) it is also far more than he would ever give if he knew the truth. Amidst all her other crimes, the acceptance of his love under false pretences for a short period of time can hardly seem too cruel – especially when her other options would require more direct coldness and cruelty to refuse him without arousing his suspicions. Moreover, him leaving MI6 with whatever soul he has left was what she was trying to get him to consider, back in the restaurant scene, and perhaps she allows herself to hope that his freedom will stick even after her death. Either way, at this point she is content to buy for them both whatever temporary relief can be found from the demands of their masters, whether love, vicarious freedom, or the illusion of a future.

The price (in this world, love in any form always comes with its price, and no one demonstrates this more than Vesper) is that once again she is in the role of having to protect a man she loves through direct betrayal – which, in this case, she knows he will never forgive. But she already knows this, and she accepts it. With the last of the pieces being in place, she most likely falls back on the skills of compartmental living she’s cultivated and lets everything play out, giving herself up to his love as much as she honestly can. Which is why he is on hand to discover, witness, and then attempt to thwart the money’s final exchange, in spite of her efforts to keep him free of it.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.


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