Who is Bond?


“I think what’s most fascinating about Bond is the fact that he’s a self-righteous, stone-cold killer. Where Zorro is more of a rebellion, in all reality, Bond is an antagonist. He’s stopping the action started by these insidious Moriarty-esque characters, because he believes that his country is so absolutely right. Harry Palmer was more of an indentured servant than a true-believer, but James Bond believes in his country so much that he’s willing to kill its supposed enemies that are always biting at its heels. I guess that’s respectable. A man so confident in his beliefs that he can command such charisma, sexuality, and judgement with such little effort.

“About the rights thing, Holmes, Dracula, and Zorro have persisted due to its rise as popular folklore, while Bond was quickly dumped out as a character in the books, then quickly packaged as a product. He’s a capitalist creation for people to profit on rather than to merely retell stories about. Bond is no dime store novel, he’s more a mutli-billion dollar piggy bank than a spy thriller to its rights-holders.”


Well now: is Bond self-righteous? He’s certainly smug, and he does move with a certain license (so to speak). But I don’t know if I’d call him self-righteous. It always feels more like he’s got a job to do. I sit down and try to figure out how to make a hit movie out of a board game, Bond puts on a tux and blows shit up. When the job is done he goes home — or rather, he goes on vacation, usually in a boat, definitely someplace warm, always with a (new) girl on his arm (or under his pelvis).

The comparison with Zorro is instructive because we don’t need to know anything about the history of California to root for Zorro. All we need to know is that he’s a rich man pretending to be a blackguard in order to defend the peasants against the military regime that’s taken over the region (Robin Hood was a nobleman who had had his title taken away, Zorro kept his title but put on a mask to disguise himself — both were fighting for the rights of the peasants against a cruel, wrongfully empowered, dictator).

So let’s remove Bond from the Cold War, Kruschchev, Kennedy, Cuba, Castro, all those hard K’s, and examine who he is personally.  Bond is a half-formed manchild, an eternal adolescent, good with tools, good with destruction, bad with forming long-lasting relationships. In the books he drinks too much and smokes too much and pays the price for it, in the movies Bond would never drink to excess and would certainly never have a hangover and hasn’t had a smoke since Roger Moore retired.

What does Bond want? What is his primary objective? It’s not to serve his Queen and country, although George Lazenby makes a gesture toward that in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s not to please M, although Bond does respect M and does follow his orders, more or less. (M, we could say, is Bond’s father figure. Bond does what he’s told because he’s a good boy, but he’s going to get the job done his way. This is, I think, why Q becomes an important character — Q is the father-figure whom Bond can disobey. To M, Bond is all “Yes, sir, right away sir,” but to Q he’s rude and dismissive and rebellious. And it drives Q crazy. M may purse his lips at Bond’s indiscretions, but underneath he wishes he were in Bond’s place, young enough to still have sex in a spaceship after blowing up a villains orbiting headquarters.)

(Does that make Moneypenny Bond’s mother? The sexual tension between them says no, and yet what would Freud say? Why can’t Moneypenny feel both maternal and lustful toward Bond? Isn’t Bond’s devotionto his work part respect for M [father] and lust for Moneypenny [mother]? Or is Moneypenny “family,” a sister or cousin, always flirting, never consummating, because to consummate would be the end of everything? [Casting Judi Dench as M makes the parental aspect of the character clearer than ever — M for “mother,” no doubt, with still plenty of sexual tension between her and Bond.])

(Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny is, for my money, the best of the bunch, because I really believe in the attraction between her and Bond. I feel like Bond travels the world screwing women who don’t matter to him but at the end of his adventure he always comes back to Moneypenny. Christmas Jones is the woman you date, Moneypenny is the woman you marry. Or does Moneypenny symbolize home itself, the home Bond “loves” but also is happy leaving at the drop of a hat [just like the overgrown teenage boy he is]? And is that why Bond is always introduced tossing his hat into Moneypenny’s office?)

Forget the Queen, forget England. None of that makes any difference to Bond. He doesn’t believe his country is right; he never gives a moment’s thought to his country at all (and when he’s being played by a Scot, an Irishman or an Australian, who can blame him?). Politics is all a show to Bond, just symptoms of an eternal power struggles, left and right, capitalist and communist, they’re all meaningless, flags of convenience, in and of themselves.  Most of the villains he fights don’t impact England directly anyway, and when they do (as in Goldeneye) the audience says “He’s going to blow up England? What kind of lame supervillain sets his sights on blowing up England?” When someone says to Bond that he’s doing something for Queen and country, they’re teasing him, calling him a momma’s boy.

The attacks in Bond’s world are, narratively speaking, attacks not on Queen and country but upon Bond’s family of M, Moneypenny and Q (again, made explicit in the ambitious but tangled TWINE). M provides authority, Moneypenny provides the “home fires,” the warm bosom waiting, ever waiting for the hero’s return, Q provides the tools that every handsome prince needs to go forth and slay dragons. To continue the medieval spin, M is the aging Arthur, Moneypenny is Guinivere, Q is Merlin. That would make Bond, hm, Lancelot I guess, or maybe Percival, going forth to seek the grail.

I think this is why Bond can’t be 60 years old — he has to be believable as an adolescent boy (which is what Fleming said he was) — rebellious, sex-mad, perpetually eager to experience life, fast on his feet, a good improvisor. He honors his parents and will always come home, but he might also take off with the car/boat/hovercraft/yacht/spaceship/submarine and use it to pick up girls when he’s done running his parents’ errands.

Bond is certainly a capitalist creation, a consumerist creation more precisely (Bond doesn’t make a very good capitalist, but he makes a wonderful consumer), but I think it’s a mistake to believe that he holds no intrinsic value. If he were valueless as an idea he would have faded away long ago.
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17 Responses to “Who is Bond?”
  1. I would like to ask if James Bond is nothing more than the ultimate male fantasy, satisfying all of our id impulses of Eros (love) and Thanatos (death), zapping us continuously with Freud’s pleasure principle without having to wake up with a guilty conscience (ie do battle with one’s superego).

    As a pre-teen seeing my first Bond, the idea of sleeping with protecting exotic women, saving the world by killing the terrible monsters villains and going on a rollercoaster ride towards certain death but somehow there is that gadget on my utility belt, Batman…

    At Hamley’s in London (the biggest toy store), they told me in 1983 that they had sold the toy Aston Martin I was buying to three generations of people (men I am guessing)…it is still there, along with the Lotus Esprit and that ridiculous Citroen from For Your Eyes Only. This and the massive amounts of product placement in every film helps to agree with your consumer idea – who could forget the British Airways poster with the car in the mouth in Moonraker?

    And when we all go home, we cannot be Bond, although we want to – this weekend, one of our celebrity rich people in Britain, Peter Jones, stars in Dragon’s Den, offering money to entrepreneurs with great business ideas, was interviewed in the Telegraph over the weekend – here is a guy with more than 150 million pounds in the bank, and what does he want to be? James Bond.

    That is how unreachable this fantasy is…I would have to write the screenplays of the century, get close to JK Rowlings in the earnings department, and then have enough to say in the government or private consultants, I want to be this…

    And do you know what? It still wouldn’t work, because of Freud’s reality principle. It is all just wonderful make believe! A spy’s life, by comparison, is boring, waiting around, hopeing for something to happen!

    Thank goodness for suspended disbelief! When is the next Bond film out???

  2. teamwak says:

    Amen. Long live Bond

  3. sheherazahde says:

    Who is James Bond?

    “I sit down and try to figure out how to make a hit movie out of a board game,”

    I meant to comment on your previous post where you said “Must the villain capture Bond (and preferably the girl) at the end of Act II, leading to a protracted, silly, woefully inefficient murder attempt? Why is this plot-point still tolerated, decades after being pointed out as silly?”

    But since you bring it up again, there is game. It was originally called “Before I Kill You, Mr Bond” but after a cease and desist order it was renamed James Ernest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game
    “Players take the roles of super-villains, earning points by luring secret agents into their dastardly lairs, taunting them with deadly devices, and then killing them. Sure, you could kill a spy without taunting him, but he’s not worth nearly as many points. It hardly matters that he will destroy everything if he escapes. You’ll still have time to build another mysterious island.”

    On the Arthurian theme I would go with Bond as Gawain as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  4. “in the movies Bond would never drink to excess and would certainly never have a hangover and hasn’t had a smoke since Roger Moore retired.”

    Actually, Timothy Dalton’s Bond smoked, and Brosnan’s Bond smoked a cigar in Die Another Day.

    Q did make a joke about Bond having liver damage in Die Another Day, but I honestly can’t imagine seeing Bond hungover either.

  5. randymonki says:

    Bond being a product of the cold war, it makes me wonder what kind of Bond-style fantasy character is going to come out of the late-aughts. Hopefully something in the vein of Buckaroo Banzai.

  6. stainedecho says:

    I wouldn’t say that Bond obeys his government to the letter.. I mean in “Licence to Kill” he disobeyed MI6’s orders and basically became a rogue agent on a vendetta.

    • Todd says:

      And produced the lowest-grossing Bond movie in history.

      No, Bond always patiently sits through his parents’ instructions (“And don’t park the car in any rough neighborhoods.” “Yes, dad.”) and then goes out and does exactly what he wants — improvisation being part of his job. (“Sorry sweetie, that was work, I have to go to a casino now and kill a guy, I’m taking the car-boat.”)

  7. mikeyed says:

    Bond is a spy. He didn’t get there without reason. Countries don’t let people become secret agents who don’t believe in them in some way or else they’d all certainly turn on or leave MI5 pretty soon (which would be a waste of money, since training a secret agent to Bond’s calibur is a significant investment) at some point, because they’re basically made to kill as much as their bad guy counterparts. Bond is detatched at times. He certainly gets tired of his work, but something has to bring him back to it? Is it all women, alcohol, the “high-life”, or this family dynamic? It could be, but he certainly doesn’t express too much outward disdain for politics (or at least I have yet to have seen that). Adventure can only go so far, there has to be some solid philosophy behind his convictions. Not to say he necessarily is waving any flags around, but I believe somewhere behind that cigarette case of his beats the heart of a pro-consumerist, “the reds are evil” kind of guy. Why else would he drive an Aston Martin and stick to his trusty Walther PPK?

    • Todd says:

      “Bond is a spy. He didn’t get there without reason.”

      I assume Bond is a spy because he showed aptitude for it. Which, if you read Jean Le Carre, means that he demonstrated a lack of morals, a secretive nature and an absence of human connections.

      “Countries don’t let people who don’t believe in them in.”

      You’re thinking about this in too much of a “real world” way, I think. Bond demonstrates at every conceivable turn that he does not live in the real world, and that MI6 does not operate as it does in the real world. Batman, similarly, begins to utterly fall to pieces if you start examining him in terms of the “real world.”

      “He certainly gets tired of his work, but something has to bring him back to it? Is it all women, alcohol, the “high-life”, or this family dynamic?”

      I think he’s brought back by duty, but not necessarily to England. Bond is English, but England is home, the homeland he cannot live in because his mind has been too broadened by his experiences in the world, to get a little Joe Campbell about it.

      “Is it all women, alcohol, the “high-life”, or this family dynamic?”

      In each movie, Bond is usually discovered living the high-life, a life usually involving alcohol, gambling and women, usually in sunny places, rarely in daytime. Then he gets called in to engage in a mission, his work, and when his work is completed he goes back to his “normal life,” getting drunk with a woman, usually in a boat. Being drunk with a woman on a boat, dramatically speaking, is Bond’s normal life, or his “natural state” anyway.

      “Why else would he drive an Aston Martin and stick to his trusty Walther PPK?”

      It’s worth noting, perhaps, that the Aston Martin was thrust upon him by Q and the Walther was forced upon him in Dr. No, much to Bond’s dismay. He had been using a Beretta up to that point and frowned sadly at being given a Walther.

      But I agree that Bond should drive English cars and shoot English guns. The BMW was a real head-scratcher to me, partly because it was a desperately unhip car and partly because it was a German car. But I guess Bond is officially “European” now.