I went to see Casino Royale last night. Profoundly disturbing film. Much of the movie is really the stuff of a top action film. But I think it may have singled-handedly ruined one of my favorite screen characters for me. Rah.
The people who are saying that the film is the best Bond movie ever are mistaken. It isn't really a Bond film, is it? The whole tone of the movie is different. Whereas the Bond films are famously tongue in cheek, this film has absolutely no sense of irony or absurdity. Where Bond films are generally thrilling with the creativity of the gadgets in action, this film is tense with the principle gadget being the brutalized body of the main character himself. Where you usually walk out of a Bond film feeling a rush, this film left me very disturbed...in a violated kind of "I never wanted to see stuff like that kind of way."
Just so we know what we are talking about, I am referring to the fact that I never wanted to see my beloved Bond, James Bond, stripped naked and bound in a cane chair to then have his scrotum viciously beat on while he screams in agony. Nope, never wanted to see that.
(Yeah, maybe that counts as giving away a spoiler. But I'm feeling really mad that somebody took my Bond away this morning. But really, I look at it as more of a warning to those who don't like to get violated than giving away a plot point. I felt completely disgusted that none of the Christian critics had cued me in that a truly perverted, vile scene was coming. What the hell is wrong with us in the Church these day?! We've gotten so avant garde that we are afraid to send out a loud, resounding "BLECK!" when we get slimed by the culture? And watching that scene was getting slimed, my friends. The fact that you didn't register it as such just means your innocence has been lost.)
Now, it may be that the whole problem was with the idea of the James Bond franchise in the first place. Here is a character that is the embodiment of the Sexual Revolution. eh? He's free (no troubling conscience), he's fabulous (terribly clever, cool cars, limitless money, exotic places, never gets caught by a stray bullet) and he's getting tons of sex with only gorgeous women (no AIDS, vd or pregnancy in this universe). And that's all a lie, isn't it?
So, by this reasoning, Casino Royale is one more deconstruction of the web of boomer lies....? Maybe. The film feels much more cynical than enlightening. It seems to me to be one more shredding of a beloved hero, for no good reason except to take something people love and spit in their eye.
See, the thing is, the James Bond franchise was formerly fun because the films were always winking at the lies of the popular culture, and the Sexual Revolution in particular. We all knew that his life was the stuff of fantasy. We weren't looking for realism in Bond andy more than we were in Superman (before we saw his 2006 reincarnation stuck in an adolescent cruch that had him knock up chick and then become a deadbeat dad). Did anybody really need Casino Royale to shatter their faith in Octopussy cliques and albino assassins?
Stay tuned, next week we are going to see a film in which we learn that not only didn't the prince marry Cinderella, but rather, the corporate climate of corruption which is the DARK REALITY beneath the trappings of monarchy, refused the poor little fool health insurance to treat the ACTUALLY REAL TB that she got while ingesting fumes from trying to make herself slippers out of broken shards of her REAL filthy basement HUD-assisted low income housing, because the REAL shoes that she should have gotten from a VERIFIABLE government contractor were IN FACT made of cheap materials in a third world sweat shop and fell apart. All that stuff about a fairy god-mother and glorious pumpkin carriage were the result of crystal meth haze which her step-mother got her addicted to so she could profit off the kid as a sex-slave.
Aren't you glad you know the whole story now? Buck up you idealistic fools! Movies are hard, then you die.
Oh yes, another disturbing note... When I was in film school, my radical feminist lesbian professors were quite adament that we all leave Northwestern with a keen sense of what they called "the male gaze" in cinema. The "Male Gaze" is a fundamentally skewed-with-patriarchy way of seeing the world and especially women that, my professors contended, was predicable of pretty much all of classic Hollywood cinema. They used to endlessly dissect camera angles and lighting in shots to reveal cues of the male desire to dominate and dehumanize women. A lot of times I thought my professors were nuts and paranoid. But every now and then they had a point.
Well, I gotta say, there is something icky in Casino Royale that feels very much like what we could call "the homosexual gaze." The women in the film, first of all, spend much of the film very ioconically made up - shall we say, like Liza Minelli or a Marilyn impersonator? Then, the women all end up as victims of sick and/or violent acts. All three are tortured or threatened with torture. Can we say the disdain of women is part of the homosexual "culture," even unofficially? (Cause I have seen it first hand, and I'm not in a mood to deny my own experience today.) Anyway, I don't recall women being tortured as part of the traditional Bond canon.
Then, there are the many loving and languid shots of the - admittedly picturesque - torso of the star, Mr. Craig. A more notable one of these was Bond coming out of the water - and the camera almost cuts off his head to focus on the middle of his body. I don't remember the same kinds of voyeuristic shots holding on the mid-section of Sean Connery.
Finally, there is the afore-mentioned, extended, gratuitous, sado-masochistic torture scene in which a naked and slimey Bond, James Bond, is first complimented on his fine body by the lascivious male villain, and then, well, whipped on his privates. In between screaming in pain, Bond cries out for more evidencing a sick enjoyment of the sexual torture. It is a kind of moment that deserves to be dissected by film scholars for evidence of the "gay gaze." (Oh yeah, and as I learned in film school, it deosn't matter if the filmmakers are gay here. This stuff is systemic.)
But maybe all that feminist film theory stuff in film school just has me seeing goblins everywhere!
If you like your action tense, brutal and perverse, go see Casino Royale. I certainly wouldn't let my kids go.