[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for No Time to Die.]
No time to die It’s a funny name for a movie in which James Bond has all the time in the world to do just that. 007’s latest adventure takes a variety of big changes, but none (including giving the world’s biggest sex addict a child) bigger than having him completely gutted by a Costco-sized missile aid aimed at the island’s lair. of the villain Safin.
The fact that James Bond is nearly impossible to kill is, after more than half a century, an intrinsic part of the character’s appeal. Driving him out is similar to Sherlock Holmes taking a winner to Reichenbach Falls decades after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, in a Guy Ritchie-directed film. But the 007 we’ve enjoyed for the past 15 years could only find one destiny, and that’s the one that awaits all mere mortals at some point or another.
Bond was not necessarily destined to die. Its creator, Ian Fleming, never bothered to see the vodka-drinking hero, or perhaps never did. In 1964, Fleming died at the relatively young age of 56. That’s just two years after the first Bond movie was released. Dr. No. There that’s 13 full-length Bond novels written by Fleming, plus some short stories. He did all of this over the course of 11 years. By contrast, Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes six years after introducing the character. Then he would succumb to public pressure and write Holmes stories for another 30 years, becoming one of the first franchise managers to completely reconfigure his previous job years later. Eat your heart, George Lucas.
Fleming was about to kill Bond himself, in the last novel published during his life: You only live twice. There, Bond is presumed dead after a climactic confrontation with Blofeld that leaves him with amnesia. In the previous story, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld murders Bond’s newly married wife, Tracy. The book version of You only live twice it ends with Bond thinking that he is a Japanese fisherman. Eventually he regains his memory The man with the golden gun, but Fleming would have already passed away before that book could be published. So Bond survived on the page and buried himself in our pop culture pantheon forever on screen.
Films made Bond larger than life, impenetrable and unflappable. He had a gadget for every crisis, a joke for every deranged villain, and a bed to collapse into at the end of every story. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman of Eon Productions made Bond a superhero in a tuxedo. The film adaptation of You only live twice it discarded the anguish and darkness of that book’s revenge story, dispensing with the revenge plot over Bond’s dead wife and amnesia in favor of a space age spectacle. Eon followed You only live twice with the film version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby, but Tracy’s death depicted in that film is mostly forgotten when Sean Connery regains the role in Diamonds are forever – a film that is primarily a field parody of the previous six Bond epics.
The reason every Bond film ends with the promise that “James Bond will return,” and why for decades there was no discernible continuity between installments, is because there is no end in sight to the audience’s love story. world with this character. Any recognition of reality could break the spell. But the mission statement of the Daniel Craig era was to turn Bond into a human being, one with emotions and resentments and a deep fear of abandonment. Craig’s first three films set out to remind audiences as often as possible that James Bond is an orphan, that his parents died when he was a child. The poor man tried to escape all that pain by becoming a government assassin, but he had to leave and fall in love with Vesper Lynd. She turns to him at the climax of Royal Casino, he watches her die, and then cruelly tells M “the bitch is dead” – a direct impulse from Fleming’s hard novel.
Craig’s films, then, follow a deeply wounded man who has suffered so much that he has to shut down his emotions to survive. His surrogate mother dies in Skyfall. His pseudo-brother reveals himself to be a sadistic tyrant at the helm of a global terrorist organization designed primarily to ruin his life. Bond plunges headlong into tragedy after tragedy, stopping only long enough to make another martini. Death follows this man wherever he goes. He is a close friend of the Grim Reaper, both as his willing servant, doling out horrible deaths for a host of nameless bad guys, and as an observer of his handiwork. So why wouldn’t he end his story this way?
In Craig’s films, Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann has a similar purpose to Tracy’s in the novels. She is the one who allows Bond to finally get away from Vesper. You can start to imagine a real life for him again. But while in the novels, Tracy is shot to death by Blofeld and Irma Bunt, Madeleine lives to offer Bond another display of betrayal and abandonment. He believes that she has been a SPECTER agent all this time, just like Vesper. Bond immediately shuts down and fled. But his desire for a real life is still there. He’s more than happy to go home and make breakfast for Mathilde, even if Madeleine swears she’s not his daughter. Daniel Craig’s subtle portrayal of this interlude at Madeleine’s home in Norway shows that Bond is a man who wants peace as much as his literary counterpart in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He has stopped tempting fate, but fate is not done with him.
There are those who complain that Safin’s nano-virus scheme doesn’t seem particularly motivated by anything other than a plot. But his nihilism is the point. Through these five films, Bond’s story has been about a man struggling with duality in the same way that a comic book character like Batman would. He is as much a scared child who wants to find someone who loves him without qualifications, as well as an empty container perfected for murder, mayhem, and personal gratification. Bond is a nihilist, at least in a personal sense. When he’s not killing people for money, he lives to gratify himself through drinks, sex, and material possessions without thinking about his health or future. Your life has no deeper meaning beyond what feels good at the moment. Safin represents the extreme version of that nihilism. He wants to kill a lot of people because someone hurt him when he was young. Madeleine is also the victim of extreme childhood trauma (thanks to Safin) and her pain turns her into a raw, trembling nerve of barely concealed anguish at all times.
The main characters in this film are all refracted versions of Bond himself, twisted or crooked reflections of his own pain. This may not sound like a recipe for escapist entertainment of the variety we’ve grown accustomed to in the Bond franchise. Some of the joys of the series seem far away in these five films precisely because they are not “James Bond movies.” They are films about James Bond, less concerned with reveling in excess and more with exploring why their lives should be filled with excess in the first place.
Craig’s Bond might yearn for a normal life. Maybe you want to be a father. But you can’t have any of those things. In the end, he only knows himself, and barely, in that. Craig’s Bond film series is the first time the franchise has dealt with the fact that the protagonist is a narcissist who is completely self-involved as a form of defense mechanism against further distress. To become a true hero, Bond must participate in a completely selfless final act. He has to die to save the whole world, but more specifically, the woman and the child he loves. True maturity isn’t just about getting old. It’s also about recognizing that there are people other than the one you see in the mirror every day.
Sure, James Bond saves the day in all of these movies, but that’s his job. They pay you a lot of money to do it. He also clearly enjoys his job. James Bond wouldn’t be attractive as a character if his life didn’t seem like fun! But the acceptance of death and the willingness to sacrifice for the loved one is above and beyond the parameters of his work. Whether or not Ian Fleming accepted his own mortality before he died is something we’ll never know, but director Cary Fukunaga and the writers of No time to die gave his greatest creation the opportunity to make this final discovery. If ever there was a time for James Bond to die, that’s when it meant something.