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end-of-year, end-of-movie Bond!

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I never have. But I figured it might be a good deadline to get things finished by. Hence, the last of Casino Royale analysis (see? I can do symbolic too! *iz proud*). Now onto Quantum of Solace, wheeeeee!

(This has been 28,500 words. O.O I was beginning to worry what that said about my mental health, and then realised I live in a world where people have written way more than that, for better or worse, pulling apart the likes of Twilight and 50 Shades of Manipulative Abusive Bullshit, and ... didn't feel all that much better, but at least I was less focussed on my shortcomings. The world needs some balance, y'all!)

Spoilers. Spoil spoil spoil.

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
italy, lakeside sanatorium
italy, mediterranean beach

Bond; Vesper; Gettler.

Blissfully happy. Why is this movie still going?

Let’s just stop here, guys, okay? Guys?

In yet another delightful, fleeting instance of every possible detail and beat being put to work to serve the story, Vesper is sailing their yacht into Venice, while Bond types up his terse little resignation letter. Or to put it another way, Bond enacts his transfer of loyalty and trust to Vesper, as she steers them both according to prevailing winds to the final encounter. Then Bond takes over the helm – which frees her to pay attention to their surroundings, and therefore notice Quantum’s ominous presence. She looks down, knowing she has come to the end (even though we don’t, yet), then looks back sadly at Bond – who’s unaware, looking ahead, navigating the (maze of) canals she has brought them to, under the yacht’s motor, ie, his own power. Which is not just a comment on their different ways of responding to Quantum, but also combine to show that both the prevailing winds and Bond himself are driving her (even if he doesn’t yet know that he is)....

(Also, what is it with bad guys and wonky left eyes in this film? I’m beginning to think it’s more – wait for it – sinister than Le Chiffre would admit. *ba-dum tsh* Ahahaahhhhhh. Don’t think they didn’t do that on purpose too.)

So anyway, they find a hotel, and grab some afternoon delight before everything falls apart on them. And this time Bond notices the significant costuming note, or at least part of it: Vesper, having seen Gettler, knowing this is the end, has finally taken off her Algerian love-knot. He asks her about it, and she says it was time – not, as he asks, enough to get over someone, but to realise that sometimes you can forget the past. I mean, that’s all pretty straightforward – she is signalling that she’s made her choice, her allegiance has changed; her actions still haven’t, but are no longer bound by memory of the man who gave her that. Ultimately, she is now doing this for Bond first, and possibly only. Equally significant is that this is the first time that they are naked together onscreen.

Anyway, she gets up, dresses herself in crimson, blood-red, and puts on the performance of a lifetime – a lifetime together ahead – while pretty much every line carries a commentary on what’s about to happen. I particularly like “No, I want to pay for my half of our aimless wanderings.” Boy, is she about to. While Bond’s half is on a payment plan spread over roughly one more movie.

Also, she says that sometimes you can forget the past – and *daling!*, text message from Gettler, the one-eyed Quantum agent from the canal, summoning her. You can forget the past, but will the past let you? Or will it destroy you? Will Bond be able to escape this past closing in on him right now? Stay tuned to find out! (She verbalises texting “Back in one month” in reply, which obviously isn’t what she actually writes, but Solace ends with M telling Bond she needs him back, and him replying he never left. Who wants to bet that it all takes place in under a month’s time? I haven’t checked this. Stay tuned to find out!!!)

And they walk out through the hotel lobby, hands clasped together over his heart, and she wordlessly says goodbye, unable, finally, to even speak a lie to him when he says they’ll meet back there in half an hour. Which makes her second-last words of the movie to him, “Come on. I’ll get the money, you get supplies.” In other words, I’ll take the money, and you – get prepared. Not that she’s operating on that meta level, but the writers sure are. (Sinister! *Ba-dum tsh!* Ohh yes.)

Bond; M; Treasury officer; M. Menel; Vesper; Quantum agent Gettler; various henchmen; Mr White.

And everything falls apart.

One last hold, one last touch. I love you. (Please don't hate me completely.) Go!

So I guess Bond gets back from the supply run quickly, or something, because he’s looking out of the hotel room in blissful serenity, contemplating his whole new life ahead of him with the woman he loves and who loves him back the bestest and they’re going to be together forever, yay! And then phones happen, in ways that are a little bit hand-wavey but at least crack open the action again.

Now, for the most part I’ve been focussing on the good and the awesome in the way they wove this story together, and honestly very little about the movie bugs me, or caused me to go, hey, wait a minute.... But the phone thingy is a bit snarly, and I wonder about that, because they’ve mostly managed to solve their plot mechanics better than this. Ironically, if everything else hadn’t been so tight, I probably wouldn’t have cared very much, because it really is just a detail.

So, if I’m following this right, the last thing Vesper does before taking out the money is text Mr White’s number to her own phone, counting on Bond to find it odd that she left her phone in the room, and then (presumably in the wake of all that happened) obsessively check everything and find it. Well done; clever woman. Both Bond and M comment on his tendencies in the next scene, although they do so before Bond discovers the “Mr White” message; at that point they’re only talking about Bond finding the message on her phone from Gettler, which is what led him to the meet (along with a little help from M. Mendel telling him where the money was being withdrawn from at that very moment), and it’s only after he gets off the phone with M that he thinks to check the unread “Mr White” text.

I do think they’re right about Vesper leaving the informational breadcrumbs to Quantum for him, but I think they’re wrong in thinking that she wanted him to find it in time to come to the meet with Gettler. She did what she could to get him out of the hotel room where her phone was (get supplies!) until after it was over, and moreover she was doing all this to save his life, not to pull him in to get shot at by Quantum’s mooks. She didn’t want to be saved, she’d clearly already resigned herself to death as the best alternative she had, and not once do her actions deviate from that – she would lose everything anyway and be at the mercy of MI6’s interrogation technicians, and have to live with the knowledge of Bond’s hatred, all of which being one big No Thank You. She’d been at the mercy of others for far too long; her freedom could only come through choosing death, and it was the only thing left she could choose for herself. Having him there only makes everything worse.

And that part is all fine, really. The convenient timing does make basic sense with the characters’ motives, and I don’t mind Bond and M misunderstanding things at this point; after all, it takes Bond the entire next movie to come to understand Vesper, so that even works thematically too. No, it’s the minor detail that he had her phone on him when he chases after her – and, unless he stashed it somewhere safe to come back to, for some unknowable reason (premonition? spy senses tingling?) he still had it on him when he had a very thorough dunking in the water. And then later he remembers the new text on it that he hadn’t checked yet, and there it is, on a perfectly functional, non-waterlogged phone. This just after talking to M on his own phone, which he also had on him at the time. I can’t actually remember without checking what the very prominent product name(s) of those phones were, but damn. Buy those puppies.

Anyway. It’s my only real nitpick so far, it annoys me and takes me out of the movie a bit, but I can’t really do much about it other than say maybe he knew he was going to get in a fight and didn’t want the phones to get damaged. (Although, framed as a self-aware SOP because he tends to wreck whatever he’s carrying, and replacing it has become that annoying to him, it’s kind of chuckle-worthy, but I don’t really think that was the character note we’re intended to take away from this. Perhaps he just had a really big bag of dry rice on hand? Or do we extend him the courtesy of acknowleging that he has rarely fallen back on spy gadgetry at all, let alone the outlandish stuff of previous incarnations, and apply that traditional suspension of disbelief to his real world gadgets now? – Ooh, maybe the stashed thing does work in the same way as him flagging his leads by using M’s password did, hiding the phones as leads for MI6 to retrieve – hers for the clues, his for them to trace to locate them – in case he gets killed or taken. Sneaky! I like it. Assuming that connection was intentional, well played indeed.)

So, M. Yay, M! Back in the action! And in fact, in terms of plot-relevance, rapidly edging Vesper out of the picture. What I love about this scene is how she handles the situation, and what it implies about how her relationship with Bond has already developed. Remember, he’s come through for MI6 at each turn – found Le Chiffre’s connection and thwarted his terrorist plot, won the poker tournament in spite of being betrayed, held out against torture and fingered the (supposed) traitor, and consistently proved himself to be as dispassionately capable of excellent judgement in the most exacting situations as M could ever have asked. He has remained unswervingly on-mission at every stage, regardless of whatever official status he held. Though he is not quite Bond, James Bond yet, the agent he has already proved himself to be is worthy of M giving him the benefit of the doubt.

So she got his resignation email at least several hours earlier – and she did nothing. She waited. She didn’t panic or jump on it to scold him like an errant schoolboy (this time). Whatever way she had planned to respond to it, the time she was taking showed a level of respect for him that she didn’t show before. But then, a few hours later, a man from the Treasury turns up, asking about the money, and she knows something’s wrong and calls Bond straight off, telling him exactly what’s up. She doesn’t assume him running off with Vesper and the money disappearing are connected, as anyone else legitimately might – she shows complete confidence in his loyalty in the way she goes about this. Of course, it’s still mildly coded so that her position is protected – and Bond immediately, flippantly, follows her lead and assumes responsibility (as he’s done every other time something’s gone wrong, his fault or not), and she knows he’s got the message. (This of course still follows my preferred reading of their relationship, rather than “M always a couple of steps behind”, however useful that little fiction is to them in front of others.)

So anyway, Bond does his detecting and running and chasing and killing and fighting thing. And even though he says he wants to be the one to kill Vesper when they threaten her life, by the end of it he’s still going to every length he can to save her (and as demonstrated previously, those are some considerable lengths). Meanwhile, Vesper does literally nothing – she has no control or agency to do anything – other than stopping him from saving her life, from freeing her from her cage. At which she succeeds: the enemy of his heart once again defeated him, but uniquely, this results in her death and his survival.

And of course her method of death is to turn the key in the lock of her (elevator) cage and let herself be pulled down under the rising tide that is the direct result of Bond’s head-on clash with Quantum. (And tries to keep him from being taken down with her.) Because why waste symbolism that deliciously potent?! (As Bond follows her to the rendezvous, virtually every shot of her has her passing behind bars or grates of some kind.) Also, please notice, the only wounds he takes through all of this fighting is a slice of a cutter across his heart, and stabbed, non-lethally, in the back with a nail from a nailgun (do we give them the nailed pun? At this stage I think we kind of have to, really).

What’s also fun, symbolically, is the way Bond blows up the pontoons supporting the Venetian house being renovated – he starts from the bottom and works his way up the levels, through Quantum’s mooks, to the top and the higher-ranking agent, bringing down the whole structure as he goes, having been led there and driven by his true objective, Vesper. And he still manages to miss Mr White, who jaunts off with the case full of money and his essential objectives still intact. O hai, entire basic plot of Solace (which climaxes with a similarly symbolic demolition of a building).

And Vesper does, at last, get to tell Bond she’s sorry, to have a moment free of any deceit with him; death is freeing that way. Bond does, finally, manage to retrieve her, but not before it’s too late to save her (basic plot of Solace!), and, unable to restart her heart (as she once did for him), collapses in confusion and grief, clutching her body to him, unable (yet) to let her go (Solace). His forging into half-monk, half-hitman – the final, needed searing of his heart to make it as invulnerable as his body and mind and ego – is complete, but has also transferred the bondage of the Algerian love-knot onto him, which he cannot free himself of until the end of Solace. (Solace!) (Also, parentheses!)

So, back to M and our phones, where she explains to us all what the hell all just happened. Bond does not answer the “how are you” question, and demonstrates that he has now learned to trust absolutely no one (other than M, from what we can tell) and detaches himself from emotional reaction to situations and people as easily as Vesper ever said he did.

A little too easily, in fact, and M (for whom this whole conversation formed a series of tests to register where he’s at), having regained his heart’s allegiance, expertly manipulates him back onto this warpath – onto the unfinished job he’s declared done in the process of shutting himself off from it – using the levers of pride, duty, grief, guilt and vengeance, all the while wearing a very subtle expression of sorrow under the necessity of all this in making him the weapon she needs him to be:
M: You don’t trust anyone, do you, James?
Bond: No.
M: Then you’ve learnt your lesson. Get back as soon as you can; we need you.
Bond: Will do.
M: If you do need time....
Bond: Why should I need more time? Job’s done. The bitch is dead.
M: James ... did you ever ask yourself why you weren’t killed that night? Isn’t it obvious? She made a deal, to spare your life in exchange for the money. I’m sure she hoped they would let her live – but she must have known she was going to her death. And now we’ll never know who was behind this. The trail’s gone cold.

ITALY (lakeside villa).
Bond; M; Mr White.

The name’s Bond. James Bond.


Phone: *bringbring*
Mr White: Hello?
Bond: Mr White? We need to talk.
Mr White: Who is thi– *shot in leg*
Bond: The name’s Bond. James Bond. *smug*
Music: BOOYAH, full theme, baby, finally!

So, yeah. That happened.

Okay! Before finishing up here and moving on to the next movie, there’s one more theme that I want to quickly note from Royale that is central to Solace: the idea that Vesper = water. Or, more specifically, Vesper-with-Bond = water. Each significant step, or deepening a level in intimacy, between them has included water in some way:

– first minor exchange, of clothing, ie, engagement in each other’s worlds (and Bond in his first dinner jacket) set in the bathroom in front of the handbasins [link]
– shower [link]
– Bond refuses to give her/the password up under torture, and she makes a deal for his life at the river docks [link]
– verbally giving themselves to each other, next to the lake, then consumating that, coming in from getting drenched in the rain [link]
– Bond telling her he loves her and will leave MI6 for her, on the beach after a swim [link]
– Vesper sailing them into Venice [link]
– Vesper drowning, and Bond sitting on their yacht when he decides to check and chase the last lead she left him [link]

And what are the villains seeking to gain control of in Solace? What is Bond’s mission, entwined with his search for the true, pure Vesper? Ohh yes they did. And it is brilliant.

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January 2016
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