Growing up as a sheltered child, I was quite the day-dreamer. Whether it be inside a classroom, my grand-parents’ living room or even my own room, I adored just sinking into my imagination and revelling in whatever exploit or incredible feat my mind had concocted for me. I suppose that these periods of fantasy are shared by practically any child out there, considering how care-free and imaginative one can be at such a young age, but mine had a direct source: movies. Shocking!, I know. To follow up on that more specifically, this source has a name — Bond. James Bond.
Now, if I can remember correctly, the first Bond movie I ever saw was Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan. Not having ever been much of a fan of the actor’s take on the character, I don’t even recall feeling quite enthralled by the film; it was just some action movie that I watched late on New Years with my parents. Sure, the violence kind of stirred me, but I can proudly say that my infantine brain had already identified that the Bond films were B-movies with a huge budget. (Actually, I probably didn’t even know what the term B-movie meant when I was 7). With that memory comes another of me scrambling my father from video store to video store with the hopes of renting the newly released Bond film, Die Another Day. By this point, I had known enough about the Bond franchise to spoil away five dollars and catch the latest adventure. Sitting down and watching this with my parents was both a somewhat exciting yet obviously awkward experience. I admit that I truly was stunned by the set pieces and the exciting fight/chase sequences (I fell in love with that damn Aston Martin V12 and wanted one parked in our driveway), but the “kissy-kissy” scenes proved to be awkward to watch with my parents. Sure, I understood that he liked kissing women but I never really understood what he would do to the women who gracefully slunk into bed with him. However, my father understood perfectly and found it somewhat unsettling that his son was watching content this mature (he’s always been kind of prude, to be honest).
Despite this, my father still saw that my imagination was fixated on the cheap yet refined aesthetics that constituted the Bond films and lead me down a more seasoned and revered path: “I should show you some of Sean Connery’s films. He’s the real Bond.” And just like that, about a week later, I was glued to my television screen watching what would become — and still remains to be — one of my favourite movies: From Russia With Love. I’ve never really swooned for actors in movies, but I had to admit that Sean Connery’s ruggedness and debonair style left me quite impressed. The film, which set off my interest in Cold War history and general espionage, left an endearing mark on my pre-pubscent psyche, which yearned for thrills and accompaniment the likes of which James Bond had. I wanted to grow up and become this suave, intelligent yet brutally physical man who could recommend you the most finely aged champagne just before enaging into hand-to-hand combat with a trained and merciless assassin (I swear I imagined myself as Bond in that train fight sequence in From Russia With Love at least more than a dozen times).
Following this, I went on to watch the rest of Connery’s outings and spent my weekends from school going through classics like Dr. No and Goldfinger — arguably the best films in the franchise, alongside with From Russia With Love. Being an only child and not living any where near my friends from school, I would take refuge from my loneliness by imagining that I, just like Sean Connery, was a globe-trotting secret agent who was capable of anything and who could, most of all, always save the day. In a sense, I felt that James Bond was the closest thing to a hero in the real world — someone who could do so much, without the need of superpowers per se.
Of course, I’ve grown up and realized that Bond isn’t the true template for what being a spy really is. He’s a fictional character, with super-human abilities that always allow him to preserve his life in practically any situation. I eventually realized, years ago, that James Bond was actually just an educated but troubled misogynist, who was quite an exceptional action hero, but somewhat of a poor role model. Sure, this criticism stems from the fact that most of the Bond films (and novels) were produced during periods where gender equality was spoken about in hush tones, if hardly ever, in the general public and that because of this the character suffers the fate of being a sometimes chauvinist civil servant. But, the thing about Bond films is that they rely heavily on the tropes that made the franchise so popular when it burst onto the screen in 1962. With the exotic locations, eccentric villains and violence aside, the fact that Bond has an insatiable libido is part of the character’s DNA — it’s what makes Bond, well, Bond. And considering that close to fifty years have past since Sean Connery took on the role in Dr. No, Bond is, just like Judi Dench’s M puts it in the 1995 film Goldeneye, a “dinosaur.” In fact, Bond is the dinosaur that, in a sense, perpetuated to my young mind the notion that a woman is second to a man or that groping a woman wasn’t odd or even slightly off-setting.
One gripe that I’ve had while recently re-watching the Connery films (Dr. No and Thunderball to be specific) is how women view Bond as if he’s a piece of meat. In both of these movies, the director — Terence Young — for some reason focuses the camera on a female hotel receptionist who eyes Bond longingly, after handing him over a key at the front desk. Sure, these scenes are representative of the social norms in the 60’s, but they are nonetheless infuriating to my sometimes neurotic self. I mean, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the film altogether, but it just feels a little annoying to have the director egg the audience about how sexy and handsome Bond is or how every woman that lays eyes on him just wants to find themselves naked in his hotel suite.
Anyways, I suppose it is somewhat pointless to dissect and scrutinize a campy, B-movie spy franchise for being a campy, B-movie spy franchise, but I just can’t help it. For years, I’ve spent hours and hours entertained at the hands of oo7. Hell, there were times when when I wished I could be him — rugged, adventurous and capable of playing chemin de fer. It’s just hard to realize, after having matured and understood the sly quips and Bond one-liners more carefully, that the character is not only an alcoholic but somewhat of a misogynist. I found it jarring, because that’s usually not the type of person that I look up to. But, that’s what it comes down to. James Bond was a character that film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to make larger than life. “Men want to be him and women want to be with him” is probably the pitch that came to their mind when they wanted to bring the character to life on screen.
I suppose that it’s necessary to realize that, in the end, the world of James Bond is not real. It’s a franchise that has only served the purpose of wetting our escapist appetites and present to us the action, thrills and superficial niceties that we all wish, from time to time, existed in our own lives. Sure, Bond may be a “relic from the Cold War” and his actions sometimes unsavoury, but he is nonetheless a romanticized spy living in a romanticized universe.
The Cynical Scribe