Monday, November 19, 2012

Daniel Craig and the Modern Bond

            I hereby dedicate this post to stating how much I love Daniel Craig.
            So yes, I am moving from The Pilgrim's Progress and discussions of reformation Christianity to James Bond, beautiful blond men, and movies in general.
            This past weekend I saw the new Bond movie, Skyfall, with the *sigh* gorgeous Daniel Craig.  I have seen a number of Bond movies, including all three of the Craig films, as well as most of those which Sean Connery starred in.  I haven't been keeping up on my internet reading, but I know I am not the first to draw comparisons between Craig and Connery's versions of Bond.  Sean Connery was always my favorite, until Daniel Craig came along, and I admit to having been somewhat surprised at Craig's casting and unsure as to how it would work out.
            This brings me to the first quality Craig brings to Bond which initially struck me as perplexing, but which ultimately I find much more satisfying to modern audiences:  brutality.
            Connery as Bond was always and forever suave and in control.  He moved with elegance, and seduced women with absurd ease.  Daniel Craig, however, is an entirely different man.  I suspect a great deal of Craig's brutal aspect has to do with his physical appearance.  He is stocky, extremely muscular, and while he does clean up nice in a tuxedo, his shortened and springy gait belies the surface of smooth decorum.  Certainly this is part of his appeal, in particular sexually.  Sean Connery appears to be the sort of man who makes love.  But a woman feels quite certain that Craig would (please excuse me, but I can't think of any other way to say it) fuck her silly.
            But as any person who has seen Craig's Bond will know, he also brings a vulnerability to the character which is at strange odds to Bond's necessary callousness about killing.  While there is a great deal of casual sex, Craig's bond seems to occasionally make the mistake of caring about some of the women he sleeps with.  And while I know I'm confusing fact and fiction here, I cannot help but see the fact that Craig sliced off the tip of his finger while shooting Quantum of Solace as symbolic.  To me, Craig is intent on making Bond both darker and more believable, a combination which almost always results in a far deeper connection between character and audience.  I never for a moment believed Sean Connery's Bond would get an owie; Craig, one worries, might well end up dead.  Christian Bale in The Dark Knight also comes to mind here.
            The weird juxtaposition of these aspects is brought out, in Skyfall, with Bond's brief encounter (and requisite shower-scene) with Sévérine.  When Bond meets her, he notes her tattoo, showing her long-ago abuse in the Macau sex trade.  He points out she must have been forced into the sex trade young, perhaps twelve or so, and that in seeking to free herself from one oppressive system she has made herself the victim of a sadistic man, Raoul Silva.  Bond offers to kill her employer if she can get him to the man.  All of this seems to indicate that Bond feels at least some sympathy for Sévérine.
            Later, however, Bond's empathy seems to have been false.  Silva has Sévérine beaten by his henchmen, and then carefully places a glass of 64-year Macallan on her head and invites Bond to shoot it off.  Bond misses the shot glass (and her head), after which Silva intentionally kills Sévérine; but Bond's only response is that it was a waste of good scotch.
            For me, the fascinating aspect here is that the contradiction within Craig's Bond is lodged there by necessity.  His brutality fits perfectly with our forever-escalating political violence, which itself belies our supposed concern for abused women.  Even now, drones are killing women who might very well be every bit as beautiful as Bérénice Marlohe, and even some less attractive ones we might be able to find it in our hearts to care about.  This is the world we live in, and it is the world of espionage which the modern Bond films try to inhabit.  Craig has, in my opinion, been instrumental in situating them here, and not in an imaginary world where the greatest threat is the disruption of a rocket taking off into outer space for safely unbelievable reasons.
            Craig's vulnerability also seems to bring him more into the modern world.  But then again, the Bond movies clearly depend upon tropes and clichés to convey meaning:  the unreachable heights of wealth; the gorgeous and exotic locations; even Bond's insistent egotism and somewhat tired jokes are needed.  And right along with these tropes are the women, who are themselves a kind of cliché.  But there is a problem here for modern audiences; on the surface, we find it less acceptable to dispose of women without any sense of empathy or justice.  Hence the modern touch about the sex trade, Marlohe's highly believable portrayal of a trapped and terrified woman, and Bond's eventual capture of her killer.
            Still, Bond is essentially a hired assassin, though he might be hired by a nation we currently have as an ally.  But Daniel Craig's interpretation of Bond, and the clichés upon which the Bond movies depend, hold a fascination which I look forward to seeing for two more films.


  1. Okay, so I didn't get to see the new movie after all. (Bonnie's sit-bones can't generally handle movie theater seating, and this hoped-for exception... wasn't. No surprise, in retrospect.) But, based on the first two Daniel Craig movies, I agree that whole new dimensions have been opened in this series.

    "Casino Royale" was a revelation to me. I have always taken popcorn-level pleasure in the Bond movies (hey, I even liked Roger Moore), but seeing one with actual story and character depth was SO satisfying. I still remember the opening chase scene, lots of parkour, and you could see the way Bond landed on the metal crane that it really HURT. It's wasn't one of your Hollywood, too-graceful feather landings. This signaled we were watching a movie where people really felt things.

    This physicality extends to sexuality, as you've observed. He's not just a guy who looks good; even straight guys like me can feel him there as a corporeal presence. And, of course, he gets tortured in a way every man can feel. None of your buzz saws stopping an inch from his nose. He doesn't just almost get hurt. He gets really, really hurt.

    Same with his heart. We know he loves Vesper, because we're allowed to love her, too. Her loss is a loss we feel with him. Is this the first real empathetic Bond? What a radical notion.

    So there's the brutality, the real pain, the deep love (therefore the deep loss), the constant inner conflict at the same time as the onslaught of external, physical conflict. Suddenly, the Aston Martin is just a fast car that's necessary to escape the onrushing steel of another car. The unreal rules of life that James Bond has always lived under seem less ethereal when you know he's limping into the casino.

    It's nice to know that one can add depth to a story without slowing it down, making it less entertaining. Even without the benefit of swooning over Daniel Craig, the approach of these new films make my old popcorn pleasures satisfying enough for a whole meal.

  2. I went ahead and re-watched "Casino Royale" after you posted this. I couldn't remember all the details. I'd forgotten how much he loves Vesper in that movie, and yes, it feels like a real departure for Bond as a character. Also, she as a character feels far more well-developed and empathetic than most "Bond girls," and her death is actually, really tragic. Bond feels real grief, not the sham grief of another innocuous pretty girl lost.

    Now I have to watch "Quantum of Solace"! It is wonderful to have these popcorn movies become real, full-blooded experiences.