Thursday, October 6, 2011

James Bond: Beyond Boundaries

The viewer is in an interesting position: in this clip we see the "birth" of James Bond (Daniel Craig) as special agent 007, so we are asked to willingly suspend our disbelief that we know anything about the Bond canon (Sean Connery, Sir Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and a list of "other" Bonds), then we see the traditional "entrance" theme for Bond with him pulling a gun and shooting as we are watching him through a gun barrel and blood drips down from the top. The birth of Bond in Martin Campbell's 2006 hit Casino Royale gives us a new Bond in many ways and Marc Forster's 2008 follow-up Quantum of Solace continues the good thing.
In the important opening scene of Casino Royale (above but not including this part I am discussing), we see Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair) get out of his car and into the elevator to the 6th floor. Traditionally, the number "6" reflects the number of days of creation but is an imperfect number because the total fulfillment hasn't happened. Dryden tells Bond he's not a "double-0 yet," and the "00" (symbolically the "meditative nothingness" of asceticism) refers to the self awareness and knowing who to trust that M. (Judi Dench) will instruct Bond upon later. In order to get double-0 status, Bond has to have "2" kills. The number "2" represents unity, because you cannot have "unification" unless there have been at least two separate things to bring into unity. In this instance, it's Bond's will on two different occasions, two different lives, that he unites his will to doing the will of the MI6 (British Intelligence). When these factions have all come into place, then he is the legendary 007 but the conversion will be an ongoing one.
When characters are "going up" it symbolizes the "higher faculties" or a higher moral ground; when they descend, it signifies the mental digression or a lower moral ground, literally, they are falling from grace. The intense chase scene at the beginning of Casino Royale begins just after a fight between a cobra and a ferret, and that symbolically signals Bond and the scarred bomber and the showdown they will have. That the bomber is so agile in jumping (and it seems at times even of floating over obstacles and through the air) signals the "strength" of the evil Bond is after. When the bomber jumps through a small window and seconds later Bond crashes through the wall just below it, it displays that Bond's ability to "keep up with evil" isn't as strong as the evil itself, however, Bond is gaining strength with every second by virtue of merely staying on the trail and keeping in the fight.
Continuing with the opening sequence of Casino Royale, when Bond's flashing back on that first kill, note that it's still in black and white (but reversed from the black and white in Dryden's office: the bathroom is a white base whereas Dryden's office is the opposite, black base). The bathroom symbolizes the "waste functions," and removal of it, but there is also a janitor's cart in the room, invoking the "cleaning" which Bond has to do for MI6. Knocking the gun out of the contact's hand and shattering the glass of the mirror symbolizes Bond's own ability to reflect that is being shattered in killing this man, because, hard as it is to imagine, this is the very first time Bond has ever killed anyone. Lastly, the man dies by drowning (it could be argued that Bond still has to shoot him, but the drowning in a sink is what receives the attention) and the reason is to juxtapose to Vesper's drowning (Eva Green) and how the two are connected.
 Heroes are defined by the villains they fight; in Casino Royale, that's Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson, who also appears in the upcoming The Three Muskateers). In French, "le Chiffre" means "the figure," and in this case, a figure who is half-blind, has a defective tear-duct causing the weeping of blood, and he has asthma coupled with being a chess and math prodigy who shows it in high-stakes poker games. How--if at all--does this reflect Bond? The villain in any work of art will always reflect qualities of the hero that have been turned to evil that the hero has to overcome in order to gain greater self-unity so he can go on and fight the next battle. If, since Bond himself has "just been born" we can consider Bond to be a "figure" and only a "figure," needing to be filled in with his other qualities, then we also can see how Vesper accusing Bond of being a "cold-hearted bastard" reflects the defective tear duct of Le Chiffre: Bond can't cry, he can only spill blood.
When M. (Judi Dench) realizes Bond has (not only found out but) broken into her home, she tells him, "You've got bloody cheek," and she's wrong. If Vesper is correct and Bond is an orphan, than he literally attempts to "form a bond" to someone because of his human nature. But because of his "learned" nature (from experience) his name "James" means to "supplant" so anything he forms a bond with he's going to supplant, hence he will always be in internal conflict.
Similarly, Bond has difficulty breathing (symbolically) because breathing signifies the Holy Spirit (in the form of wind/air). Having such a big ego, Bond has difficulty being humble and sometimes he has to "suck it in" and he can't, like when he lost the hand of cards to Le Chiffre and Vesper won't put up the money for the buy-back (supplied by the American CIA). Lastly, Le Chiffre is half-blind, and at this point in the game, so, too is James: blind to Mathais' betrayal and Vesper's betrayal. But just seeing imminent betrayal isn't all of his blindness: he also doesn't know who he can trust, and once Le Chiffre is dead, it's Mr. White who kills him, and tells Le Chiffre, "It's not so much the money as knowing who we can trust," and that creates the "inner-struggle" of Bond for Quantum of Solace, knowing who he can (hence, must) trust. 
"Mathis" comes from the name of the Apostle who was voted to replace Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ, ironically, it's Mathis who betrays Bond, in Casino Royale and again in Quantum of Solace.
Incredible math skills and being a prodigy at chess and poker are wonderful skills, until you use them for deviant purposes. Le Chiffre, as a private banker using his clients' money to play the stock market, then using terrorists to sabotage the markets so he can make millions, is a genius of darkness; if Bond isn't careful, his own gifts could be "turned to the dark side" and that is the moral ground for each of us in the audience and our own gifts. When M. calls and wants to know where the bank funds are, this is exactly what she's worried about, but not too obviously, yet it's in the background. Bond overcomes this temptation when he's tortured by Le Chiffre and would, literally, rather die than give him the password because his torture and being "naked" is like him being "reborn as 007" all over again from the beginning of the film, and again at the end of Quantum of Solace.
Valenka (Ivana Milicevic) presents an interesting dimension: while Ugandan rebels are about to cut off her arm for Le Chiffre's loss of their money, she later uses that same "saved arm" to slip Bond a drug to trigger cardiac arrest, then gets shot by Mr. White when he comes to "clean house."  In this photo of her, just as the waitress takes Bond his drugged potion, her hair covers half her face, suggesting that her identity is "masked" (by her bleached hair) and she can't "see" what it is she's doing (morally speaking). Her very revealing clothes actually keeps us from seeing who she really is because we see her only as a body and never as a person, probably because we're not meant to.
Just a last word about Vesper Lynd, the Bond girl of Casino Royale (and even Quantum of Solace, since Bond is seeking revenge for her death). "Vesper" probably refers to "Vespers" the evening prayer in the Catholic church since we know her family is "strict Roman Catholic." There is also the probability that her name refers to VSEPR theory, a model in chemistry which predicts repulsion, bonding and non-bonding; Vesper appears to be "repelled" by Bond, but she tries not to "bond" with him because of his ego.
The "Algerian Love Knot" necklace she wears is obviously symbolic of the "knot" her love for Yusef will not only tie her into, but Bond as well. The knot is the carry-over symbol from Casino Royale to Quantum of Solace, and the "untangling" of the knot is the solution to Bond's inner-struggles.
It's the prediction of non-bonding that's most important: because Vesper never really bonds with Bond, she carries through with the betrayal (instead of seeking help, because when Bond needed her help in the $5 million buy-back, she refused, so she assumes he would refuse to help her [as an accountant, she's a "book-keeper in their relationship and she doesn't have enough to "cover her expenses/deficit" with Bond]; that's obviously faulty logic, however, her last name tells us what her life is really about: Lynd. Pronounced "lend," Vesper only lends, she doesn't give; nothing is for keeps, and she's just "lending" herself to Bond. Overall, it's not that Bond isn't going to be allowed to find a woman to love, it's just the filmmakers' way of deducting through elimination what are the qualities in a woman that will be right for James Bond, 007?
"You are so blinded by inconsolable rage that you don't care who you hurt. When you can't tell your friends from your enemies, it's time to go," M. tells Bond. There are three important symbols in this film: the Tosca opera, the desert and Mathis.
The moral state of Bond: upside-down and caught by a rope.
If you know opera, you know Tosca, the opera being staged during Quantum of Solace. What's so ingenius about Quantum of Solace is it's borrowing from the storyline of the opera and its reference to it (if you watch the sequence being acted out, they seriously condense the suicide, execution and torture scenes so those are the ones being acted out, although in real time, it would take much longer). If you note in the photo, there is a large eye in the stage props, and that symbolizes the "informed viewer" who knows what Tosca is about and can apply the storyline to the narrative of Bond; the purpose of that is to incorporate all ready established art into a "new" film, validating that issues and themes it discusses, but also condensing the amount of time Quantum of Solace has to spend on those issues instead of leaving it to Tosca. Including a "story within a story" was a favorite device of director Alfred Hitchcock: for example, in Torn Curtain, Paul Newman's character creates a stampede out of a theater. The audience is so intent on the drama on the stage they are oblivious to the real drama taking place in the theater off the stage, and Quantum of Solace utilizes the same tools.
There is another "eye" piece in front of another one on the left side, center, of the photo, suggesting two things which are hidden, but you should see: one is the cross off-center, to the right, which is the invoking of Christian symbols and the third "eye" is the lighting, the blue invoking wisdom which is found through the ordeals in both the opera and film.
The second important symbol of Quantum of Solace is the desert. It will always invoke that necessary spiritual cleansing (from the Exodus of the Jews into the Wilderness before entering the land of Canaan) before we can enter that "better state" where we are supposed to be. Being shot down, Bond forces an airplane as high as it will go, then parachutes out with Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and they fall through a sinkhole, where Bond then discovers that water and Dominic's (Mathieu Almaric) plan to control it.
Spiritually, once we have made it through the desert, we can plan on "living rivers of water" to quench our thirst.
It seems that I am always randomly assigning symbols to the Third Person of the Trinity, but actually, I think it's because of the great Power and Love of the Spirit that there are so many symbols representing the ways in which He provides that comfort and guidance to us. In this situation, the plane which Bond forces upwards is a sign of the Holy Spirit as He guides Bond in the circumstances he finds himself in, Bond pushing and pushing until he can't go any further (spiritually) except down, and that's where he goes. The sinkhole they fall into is a sign of Bond's spiritual state: a big empty hole in his heart and soul, but then he finds the water.
Jesper Christensen as Mr. White in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace; he also appears as the Nazi doctor in The Debt, my personal vote for movie of 2011. In terms of Bond, the name "white" doesn't refer to the symbolic color of virtue, faith and purity, rather, a corpse, so dead (in faith and purity) it has turned white from decay, and he represents the greatest threat to Bond in both Quantum of Solace and whatever Bond's upcoming venture will be.
Bond finding the water, when he's at the lowest point he's going to be in (spiritually) throughout the film, is symbolic of the "grace" he finds to heal, but the catch is, it's dammed in, and that damn has to be taken down, so that when the super-hero James Bond, special agent 007 is "healed and unified," he can protect the people and fight evil again. The damn needing to be broken isn't the death of Dominic Green, or revenge for Vesper's death, rather, it leads us to the third symbol, Mathis, and Bond's evaluation of their relationship.
General Medrano is fairly obvious in his symbolism, especially when he tries to rape that poor woman, as he intends to rape the country of Bolivia. But what's impressive about the 2008 Quantum of Solace is the understanding of how distant, poor countries and their unstable governments not only hurt their people, but the whole world. Someone says, "Can you imagine this place without Coke and communism?" and that's the world which has created the world of Bolivia, and we all have a duty to save it. Dominic Green is the villain who uses the earth to make money.  The name "Dominic" means "lord," and so he's trying to be "lord of the earth" by controlling the water, hence, his punishment of dying in the desert.
MI6 had questioned Mathis and decided he wasn't a double, so Bond goes back to Mathis and asks for his help tracking Quantum. Mathis agrees and wastes no time in betraying Bond once more, only to be killed himself (and Mathis' body is treated the same as the Ugandan freedom fighters from Casino Royale).  When Mathis dies, Bond holds him in his arms and respects his humanity. Granted, he dumps Mathis' body in the trash, but that symbolizes (not that Mathis himself was trash) but that Bond is trashing that part of Mathis that wasn't worthy of Mathis himself (our earthly, physical bodies are only temporary homes for our souls, which is the infinitely greater part, and it's the body Bond trashes, but cherishes Mathis' soul). To prove this, when Bond is storming the desert hotel, the first kill is the chief of police, and, aiming his gun at him, tells him, "You and I had a friend in common," and shoots him for his killing of Mathis. Bond didn't have to use the word "friend" to describe someone who had twice betrayed him, but this is the damn (his internal defense mechanism, his wall) that had to come down through forgiveness and the superior wisdom that Mathis wasn't a bad man, just a bad agent; the "flood waters of grace" can be released and--not only restore him--but strengthen him to fight the battles ahead.
In conclusion, Bond has successfully overcome the spiritual obstacles that are necessary for fulfilling his destiny, internally and in the world. As he grows stronger, so too do his enemies, but his strength grows in proportion to the demands at hand. Why does he have a gun? It's the symbol of justice, and only those who themselves have been exposed to the fire of justice (the desert) have the strength to enforce it.