The latest installment of the James Bond series hit theatres last week and has received rave reviews. Mostly. There’s one rather disturbing part of the story that has a lot of people talking. And they’re not saying good things. An article on Forbes.com explains the scene like this:
“At a casino in Macau, Bond meets Sévérine, a woman he believes to be working for Silva, the film’s villain. Bond notices a distinctive tattoo on her wrist that identifies her as a former brothel worker and correctly guesses that she is not, in fact, Silva’s employee but his captive, bought or stolen out of the brothels to serve him. She agrees to lead Bond to Silva on the promise that he will kill the villain. They part ways. In the following scene, Sévérine, who believes Bond to be dead, is in the shower when he enters, naked, and initiates sex. In the following scene, they arrive at Silva’s stronghold, and Silva promptly kills Sévérine.” You can read the full article here.
After reading the article and hearing multiple comments from various people on Facebook, I was appalled, disgusted, and infuriated. I was already mentally composing my next blog post as an open letter to the film’s director, Sam Mendes. (It’s moderately possible that he doesn’t already read my blog, but he should. I’m delightful.) I was ready to completely tear him apart for his brutal and deplorable insensitivity and his apparent glorification of one of the biggest blights on modern society. I figured I should see the movie first so I wasn’t just spewing hearsay. But boy, was I going to let him have it as soon as I got home!
I saw Skyfall last night and I came away with a completely different perspective than what I’d expected.
Bond is a flawed character. We’ve always known that, but I appreciate that the franchise has recently been developing his character into more layers than just the womanizing, martini-chugging spy. The last few Bond movies have been building towards the rock-bottom depravity that we see in Skyfall. The loss of his parents caused ongoing emotional detachment, on which MI6 capitalized (after all, “orphans make the best recruits”). His life of isolation and violence as a spy has exacerbated his dysfunction. And now it’s all coming to a head. He is a mess. His alcohol and drug abuse (and clearly his disrespect for women) are at an all-time high, and it is costing him his ability to function as a hero. The whole theme of the movie is that he has to somehow work through his unresolved childhood trauma.
The Forbes article sums up Bond’s interaction with Sévérine accurately, but fails to include a rather poignant conversation that Bond has with Silva in the meantime. The message is clear: Bond and Silva were cut from the same cloth. The point is driven home (to the audience, if not to Bond) when the men go outside to face Sévérine. Silva greets her with words to the effect of, “Here we are, both your lovers.” That statement vilified Bond. It showed that his treatment of Sévérine was not the action of a hero, but the exact same as the actions of the villain. And seconds later, the fact that 007 couldn’t shoot straight enough to save Sévérine’s life reiterates that he is a complete failure as a hero.
The argument has been made and reiterated that this film glorifies sex trafficking because the hero, the “good guy”, has sex with a victim and that interaction is accepted as part of his womanizing persona. After seeing the film, I disagree. Yes, of course the idea of someone treating a victim of sexual abuse like that is appalling. However, I think the film uses that scene not to glorify that action, but to exhibit exactly how low Bond’s character has sunk.
There is a redemptive scene at the end of the movie that seems to bring healing and closure to Bond’s traumatic past. I hope it’s enough that the next installments illustrate a new level of integrity and growth as he regains hero status.