'Oh James': 007 as International Man of History

December 1, 2002 Topics: Society Regions: Western EuropeEurope Tags: Spies

'Oh James': 007 as International Man of History

Mini Teaser: How a fictional secret agent came to epitomize the Anglo-American relationship and interpret the evolving Cold War for the movie-going masses.

by Author(s): Jeremy Black

The recent film plots all seem to provide a setting for the struggle between Bond and assorted perverse megalomaniacs, but there is much else that makes up the attractive trademark of the celluloid Bond. Aside from the high-tech and special effects, not least the sharp cars and the red-glaring rockets, there are the girls.

The sexual theme had been set in Fleming's novels from the start. In contrast to the sexless plots and women of interwar adventure stories, Fleming portrayed women whose goals were not defined by matrimony and motherhood. At the same time, central to the image of Bond's sexuality in the novels is that he gives as well as receives pleasure. The films put the women on the screen and in so doing all thoughts of matrimony and motherhood simply disappear. Bond's dapper sexuality, meanwhile, is made to work as a counterpoint to the classlessness of his film image. He has no sense of anxiety about his masculinity and no hint of sexual concern; there is no disease (or contraception) in the secret agent's Eden. Bond's appeal to women is sometimes irrelevant to the plot-as in the scene with the professor of Danish in Tomorrow Never Dies-but it is often instrumental in ensuring the "tipping point" from failure to success, as in the film versions of Goldfinger and Thunderball. Some women, however, such as Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice, Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again, and Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye, have sex with Bond and then try to kill him. In such episodes, female sexuality appears as a threat, but one that Bond is able to overcome. How very comforting.

The threat to James Bond today is not just from female enemies, however; he is also threatened by looming sanitization. He no longer smokes; indeed, he refers to smoking as a "filthy habit" in Tomorrow Never Dies. He appears to have given up drinking as well, and has had to adjust to fashionable norms on sexual behavior. All that is left is near-continuous violence, as the newest Bond release, Die Another Day, shows. Having once saved Bond, America is now in the process of making him into a stylish automaton-not quite yet on the order of a Schwartzeneggerean terminator, but then the series is not yet finished, is it?

Nor is that the only problem in Bond's future. Quite aside from his roguishness, if he remains British, Bond must appear something of an anachronism. As Bloefeld mocked in Diamonds Are Forever, "Surely you haven't come to negotiate, Mr. Bond. Your pitiful little island hasn't even been threatened." Nevertheless, his Britishness is part of the frame of reference that ensures continuity for the films. It is difficult to see Bond as the servant of the European Union. If that is what he eventually becomes, one may doubt very much his future American sales potential.

Essay Types: Book Review