Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Towards a Radical Reconsideration of James Bond's Sexuality

Throughout the run of the James Bond film series, Bond has been a confirmed bachelor with an outsized libido. With 2006's Casino Royale, the series reset, using Ian Fleming's first Bond novel and showing Bond become 007. But perhaps also reset was Bond's sexuality.

Spoilers for a 14-year-old movie to follow.

In the second half of the movie, Bond is captured by the villain, Le Chiffre, who tortures Bond by whacking his nuts with the end of a heavy rope. I contend that this isn't merely an answer to the screenwriter's question, "How can we torture the hero." If it were, it serves its usefulness when Bond refuses to disclose the bank password. Instead, there is more emphasis placed on the fact that the torture is destroying Bond's nuts, and several returns to the theme long after the "will he disclose the password?" question is settled.

To begin, the director uses a close-up and omenous music as the wicker chair seat is cut out. Le Chiffre then says, "Wow, you've taken good care of your body. Such a waste." The implication is that Bond's attractive body will be wasted when he can no longer perform sexually. Once Le Chiffre introduces the nut hitting, he says, "And of course, it's not only the immediate agony, but the knowledge that if you do not yield soon enough, there will be little left to identify you as a man. The only question remains, will you yield in time?"

Now, Le Chiffre doesn't define "in time," and I'm hesitant to Google "how many whacks can my nuts withstand?", but it appears Le Chiffre feels the critical number has been surpassed, which would explain why he switches from nut whacking to nut removing, getting out his knife and saying, "I think I'll feed you what you seem not to value." But then the Le Chiffre's creditor busts in and shoots Le Chiffre in the head. Nuts saved!

If we were supposed to think, "Wow, James's nuts just had a close call," that's where the nut references would end. But that's not where they end. Next, Bond is in a wheelchair at a convelescent hospital on Lake Como. Vesper Lynd, the woman in the process of betraying Bond, becomes emotional and says, "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." Why this reference to "all that was left of" Bond? To show it is not an idle formulation, Bond tells Vesper, "Whatever is left of me.... Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I'm yours." He has to say the first bit twice because he becomes emotional and Vesper tries to stop him from continuing.

My view is that Bond did not yield in time, and Le Chiffre destroyed Bond's nuts. Thus there's a question regarding "whatever is left," which is less than what you'd get with any other man. So why does Bond have several new sexual partners in each film? Well, from the ladies' perspective, maybe James is quite attentive to their needs, since his needs are now inconsequential. And from Bond's perspective, constantly revisiting sexual situations could be a form of self-destruction, torturing himself with what he can't have. Like a character drinking himself to death, Bond doesn't bed women for pleasure but for pain.

To be clear, this is dramatically different from the books, where James survives Casino Royale (in France, not in Montenegro) with his nuts very much intact, and although he starts each book single again, he ends each book looking forward to a continuing romance with the woman in question. Between books it doesn't work out, evidently--maybe because he's an assassin. The books use sex as a reward for a job well done. The movies originally used sex as a way of handicapping Bond, of showing that he's so good at his job that he can woo an endless stream of women along the way. But the reset movies use sex as another means of abusing Bond, of showing that he takes his pleasure from killing because he's had the typical avenue to pleasure blocked forever.

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