Analyzing the Bond movie -- three approaches 

I am very grateful for the help I received in assembling this file from the following people: 
Cassie Collinson, Rachel Jones, Sam Nunn, Nicola Wraight 


Many analysts have offered insights into the Bond phenomenon, partly because the Bond movies have been so successful and popular, (and later the Bond novels, although they were written first!). I also think that the Bond movies offer representations of Britain and the British way of life which raise the hackles of left-wing commentators -- they are ideological or 'persuasive'. In this sense, the Bond movie is a classic target for analysts wanting to engage in popular culture in that committed political way, exposing the technical devices of the texts to save the audience from ideology. Here though, analysis has passed through several phases -- from structuralism through gramscianism and, importantly, out of gramscianism into 'post-structuralism'. 

Before proceeding, there is one important matter to remember though. The Bond films were unusual in that they were made by one company (Eon Productions) -- well, with two exceptions (the first Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again). This gives the genre an unusually clear focus and development. The imitations of Bond (from spoofs like the 1960s Flint series to more obvious 'hommages' like Arnie in The Eraser)or the Bourne sequences are worth examining too. As usual these days, there are electronic variants too -- James Bond games (like GoldenEye) and various JB websites. 

First Approach -- 'structuralist' 

The key text here is Eco's (1979) analysis. I have used this example in teaching about structuralism and its claims (and see Harris 1996), since it follows a classic path. It is important to remember that Eco is analysing the Bond novels, however, an issue to which we return at the end. However, Eco begins in a classic manner by denying the importance of the author (Fleming, of course) and of the character as such. Fleming lets Bond serve as a carrier of current meanings which exist already, outside of the Bond texts. The real popularity of the Bond stories turns on how skilfully Fleming weaves into them these well-known, almost mythical elements. 

In true structuralist style, there is really a rather simple structure of meaning detectable in the Bond novel, and all the complexities and details can really be traced back to the interplay of these elements. This sort of reduction of complexity to simple elements and rules to combine them is what gave structuralism its great appeal --  reduction to underlying elements looked really promising and 'scientific', offering a real breakthrough in analysis, and letting us get away at last from mere opinions or 'feelings' about films (in this case).  The method also promised to be widely applicable. Other structuralist classics claimed to reduce great variety and complexity of kinship systems to a few basic terms and combinations (Levi-Strauss), or to explain the bewildering world of fashion writing in the same way (Barthes) (See Culler 1976). 

Eco's basic elements can be listed conveniently: 
5 levels of analysis

1. characters and values 
2. play, the plot as a game 
3. Manichean ideologies (i.e. simple divisions between good and bad) 
4. literary techniques 
5. literature (film?) as montage 
Some binaries in Bond (NB binary terms are important in structuralist analysis for several reasons - they demonstrate that terms get their meanings from relations with other terms, for example, not from correspondence with the 'real world', and they helped structuralism pursue an analogy with an other fashionable science - computing). 
· Bond versus M 
· Bond vs the villain 
· villain vs woman 
· Bond vs woman 
· free world vs USSR 
· duty vs sacrifice 
· Britain vs other 'races' 
· cupidity vs ideals 
· love vs death 
· chance vs planning 
· luxury vs discomfort 
· excess vs moderation 
· loyalty vs disloyalty 
These binaries can be strung together in clusters, of course. When Bond first meets Goldfinger, we can see in the ensuing scene most of them deployed to tell the story. Bond defies M by taking a personal interest in Goldfinger, Bond is strongly contrasted with Goldfinger as the villain, who goes on to kill Jill Masterton (whom Bond has seduced into helping him), Goldfinger is clearly of another 'race' (Slavic?) and so, more obviously, is his sidekick Oddjob, Goldfinger loves money (cupidity) while Bond believes in not cheating (although he cheats at golf to prevent Goldfinger from winning after he has cheated), Goldfinger has an elaborately planned system of cheating, while Bond quickly improvises -- and so on. The story rapidly unfolds and conveys meaning to the reader. 

Bond plots as a game (Eco says all these moves appear in the whole set of novels -- but not all in each novel, and not always in this order) 
(a) M moves and gives a task to Bond 
(b) Villain moves and appears to Bond 
(c) Bond offers first check to villain 
(d) Woman moves and shows self to Bond 
(e) Bond consumes woman 
(f) Villain captures Bond or woman 
(g) Villain tortures Bond 
(h) Bond conquers villain 
(i) Bond convalesces, enjoys and loses woman 

Comments on Eco
As I indicated, I quite admire this sort of approach which is nice and systematic and helps us go beyond mere personal opinion ('why I like Bond'). I think that if you try it out, it fits Bond novels pretty well. Of course, that is also a problem -- Eco's approach leaves out an awful lot of detail, especially what might be called 'content' (since it emphasizes 'form'). This might be a problem especially when we shift to looking at films and note their changes in content. You might also want to argue with the structuralist manner of ignoring individual authors or, indeed, readers and their meanings. Other problems arise from using rival approaches, of course. Eco is not critical enough, perhaps? There is a kind of political commentary in the piece, detectable in terms like 'Bond consumes woman', or the clear implication that Bond novels are racist (try the novel Goldfinger and its appalling commentary on 'Asiatics'). Structuralists of that period did ally themselves with marxism (since dominant groups also controlled the means of myth-making) - but not clearly enough for some critics (like Bennett, below) 

Second Approach - gramscian -Bennett in U203 (1982)

In this influential course U203, Popular Culture (Open University 1982), Bennett went on to develop and simplify Eco's work, and make it more marxist (more gramscian to be precise). The idea of a code at work in Bond novels (still novels, although there are references to the films too) has become focused on particularly ideological matters. So, there is: 

a sexist code There are obviously sexist moments when pretty girls appear scantily clad (and see  the file on pleasures ),and there are sexist narratives too. One major element consists of Bond as the representative of heterosexuality dealing with women who are non-heterosexual (or 'deviant') in some way. Such women may be excessively virginal (Honeychile Rider, as the book called her), or probably lesbian (Pussy Galore or Tilly Masterton). I will leave you to speculate about the innuendo implied by naming the heroine Solitaire in Live and Let Die. Bond deals with these women by seducing them, and this is enough to restore their normality, and, often recruit them to his side or at least wean them away from the villain. In this way, 'out of place' girls are restored to normality both sexually and politically. 

an imperialist code Britain retains her superiority and finds a new role post-War and post-Empire. The struggles on the new world stage are personalised, of course, as Bond competes with both Russians and Americans. He outwits them both with his flair and eccentricity, despite their superior organisation or resources. The flexibility of the Bond formula permits new challenges to be dealt with too - as international terrorism emerges, the plot changes from Bond against SMERSH (a Soviet organisation) to Bond against SPECTRE (an internationalist threat), and back again as the Cold War revives. 
Of course, Bond is also able to deal effortlessly with other lesser ethnic groups - like Afro-Caribbean ('West Indian') hoodlums, Asiatics, Mexicans - since he is cool and rational, while they are irrational, superstitious, panicky, prone to meaningless violence or just 'subhuman'. Germans are cold and calculating, of course, while Greeks are warm and friendly, but rather 'ethnic'. 
The racism in Fleming is deeply rooted and emerges in the odd views about the importance of 'breeding' and legitimacy in humans as well as in racehorses - Dr No is of mixed descent and cannot trace his father, for example. (Bennett notes that the villains are often physically flawed too, with artificial hands, for example. In the movies, Zorin in A View to a Kill is both an albino and the result of a genetic experiment ). Bond is ,of course, a perfect physical specimen, and, as we see below, Bond also shows the proper way to behave with fathers, in his interplay with M. M represents Britishness too, of course, with his office and his naval background. 

the phallic code. Here, Bennett develops some Freudian readings of Bond movies (I'm not really sure why, except that it was fashionable at the time to incorporate Freud into both marxist and feminist readings in the tradition from which Bennett came). At one level, this is rather superficial - we spot the freudian symbols in the Bond movies, such as the guns (phalluses) or the Oedipal moments in the byplay with M (M is the father who both makes Bond potent by authorising his missions or giving him guns [often bigger guns than he has now - geddit?], and M also regulates the sexuality of Bond, disapproving of his adventures with women, and in particular insisting Bond keeps his hands off his woman -- Moneypenny).  At another level, Bennett is developing a freudian analysis of desire and of subjectivity (which was to develop still further in the third approach below - and see  file on Freud and cinema  These explain some of the unconscious pleasures in the Bond movie - the delight of gazing at women (and at Bond), and the mechanisms of interpellation (see Althusser file ) or 'positioning' ( see realism file

Comments on Bennett (1982)
I feel pretty mixed about this work, really. Again it is ingenious and insightful, but also a little formal and forced. This analysis took place in the middle of a whole course that I personally read as having some sort of agenda to claim the whole field for gramscian work, and Bennett seems as interested in making theoretical points as in actually tangling with the texts. Thus he admits himself that there could be other codes at work (the able-bodied/disabled one I hinted at above), but never tells us why he chooses these ones as specially important - I suspect it was because that was the way he had been trained and also that he wanted to claim more ground for gramscianism (all academics do this too, of course - they all need to push forward with their research programmes) I have developed this complaint against the entire OU course in Harris (1992) - in other words, I wish to push forward my critique of gramscianism too!!. 

There is also the issue of the differences between the novels and the movies here, which Bennett and Woollacott were to address more fully later on (see below). The novels are pretty blatantly racist, for example - but the movies generally much less so (maybe - certainly in the case of Goldfinger), and the ambiguous sexuality theme is probably less obvious too. On the other hand, films provide much more imagery with which to work, so to speak (and have their own systems of signification and representation as we shall see). Maybe Bennett is still thinking here that novels are somehow more relevant for analysis, or more fundamental? (There was a strange reluctance to tangle with TV or films in the early analysis, and a kind of literary approach persisted for a long time even later). 
Finally, this is an old-fashioned 'centred' reading of the ideological structures of a text, using privileged concepts (in gramscianism) to unpack the 'real' meanings of the piece: the audience's actual readings are not considered (for very good reasons - Bennett (1980) argued that 'the audience' was an awkward concept, which presupposed that the viewers possessed meanings independently of texts, somehow 'outside' of the flow of textuality which surrounded them - a classic structuralist argument against the notion of independent 'subjects'). 
The centred reading misses much detail,of course. I think it is perfectly possible to read Bond films in terms of realism, for example, so that all the talk about guns (and cars and aircraft, and Intelligence or military procedures) adds to the authenticity of the scenes, without having to invoke any deeper freudian meanings. On a more trivial note, I find my own pleasures vary according to details like the settings, which vary in their ability to engage my fantasies. 

Third Approach - 'post-structuralist' -- Bennett and Woollacott (1987) 

Bennett's later work represents a considerable change of emphasis from his 1982 writing. This can be annoying, but it does happen, I am afraid, and it is important to be careful to remember the differences between the 1982 Bennett and the 1987 Bennett and Woollacott (hereinafter known as B&W). Some things remain the same, but there is a new theoretical resource, one which had made a considerable impact everywhere - we'll call it 'post-structuralism'. 

Basically, analysts came to see that it was increasingly difficult to insist on one 'centred' reading of a film, using only the privileged concepts suggested by marxism, freudianism or classic structuralism with its established codes and binaries. This sort of doubt about the foundations of all academics had held dear previously was to end in the radical challenge of postmodernism (see  my file  on this). 
Post-structuralist challenge was in the air even while U203 was still trying to hang on to gramscianism. I want to trace some themes here using the work of Barthes (1977) (although Foucault would probably do too). I have discussed some key essays in Barthes in Harris (1996), and if you want to see this discussion in a fuller version  click here

If you want to carry on for a bit with B&W, I can summarize the main implications of Barthes' work pretty drastically as two main points: 

1. Since there is so much textuality around in modern societies, it is impossible to ignore the relations between texts (intertextuality) when trying to grasp their meaning. Texts are endlessly citing and referring to each other as well as trying to represent something about the world. Thus instead of the 'old semiology' which tried to unpack central ideological meanings in texts, we need a new semiology which understands actual texts as mere moments in a sea of textuality, and oppose any attempt to fix meanings once and for all. 

2. The reader's role is crucial in unpacking and in fixing these meanings. However, we don't need to see readers as concrete individuals. Readers too are really only moments in the seas of textuality (as are authors). Barthes himself demonstrates how skilled readers can unpack many levels or layers of meaning in a kind of poetic rendition of a text, especially with those texts that delight in ambiguous or playful language. 

B & W want to use this insight to rethink Bond films (specifically and at last) as 'relatively autonomous' texts with their own history of film-making, and not just as containers for codes or for ideology. They want to investigate the textuality itself, the processes of making sense, of signifying (not just representing) that runs in and through Bond films.They are able to do this partly because they have spent some time observing the production team at work, and have caught them signifying, so to speak. 

As any Media student knows, you can't just use a novel as a source for a film, since novels work with words and not visual images, for example (not to mention images with simultaneous sound). Someone has to select or construct images to convey meaning. Not surprisingly, professional film-makers (including actors) do this by drawing on the original novel AND other novels, films, TV plays or poems they have experienced. It is easy to spot examples of this in the Bond films. The gangster meetings, where one gangster is surprised and killed, (I believe this is called the 'Sicilian vespers' sequence) come from other gangster films. The threats to Bond often have a long history (laser beams for him to modernize the usual circular saw). The car chases, love scenes and stunts draw on many similar examples in other movies. Other contributions are more original - the decision to demonstrate visually Bond's skill at improvising by introducing gadgets and the character of 'Q' (neither of which are prominent in the novels). 
Increasingly (at least until Roger Moore retired), ironic references appear to other films (e.g. Jaws) or to earlier Bond films (the skiing sequence in A View… refers to the opening sequence in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). The filmic Pussy Galore was Honor Blackman, who brought something of her recent appearances in The Avengers to the part, and, of course, Roger Moore was already known as an ironic and cool Saint

B&W indicate something of the mechanisms which drive the Bond films towards certain changes in particular. As tastes change, the racism of the novels is diminished, for example, as is the confidence in and prominence of British virtues (which are openly mocked in A View…). The development of a global market for Bond is a major factor here too - many viewers will not be English middle-class males themselves and so would not understand the ways in which Bond judges a chap by his dress, choice of brandy, his car or skill at cards. As a result, the characters become more stereotyped, and the plots even more familiar and predictable. B&W argue that, as with other globally marketed work, the fate of Bond is to become an 'empty signifier', a figure so vaguely drawn that anyone, in any country, can identify with him by projecting meanings on to the character. 

There is also the need to modernize the films. In the novel, Goldfinger poses a real threat to the British economy (and thus to the world, of course!) by possessing illegally so much gold that he can destabilise the exchange rate of the pound (which was then tied to the price of gold). Such a threat would be meaningless out of this context, so the film version had Goldfinger trying to irradiate the USA's gold stocks, simply to raise the price for his own uncontaminated stock. Later still, in A View…, Zorin threatens the world's supply of microchips, not gold. 

The image of women has changed too, perhaps. In the early pieces, women helped Bond because they fell in love with him despite themselves, especially after sex, as we saw (e.g. Tatiana in From Russia With Love, Solitaire in Live and Let Die, or Pussy in Goldfinger). Certainly, there are stronger women in later Bond films (and not just old or ugly ones either), and they seem able to resist. Thus Mayday in A View… dominates Bond in bed and goes on to save the day while he watches (although it is because Zorin has betrayed her in love - and Zorin dominates her after a wrestling match). Of course, Mayday also dies - a classic filmic punishment for the transgressing woman - and she is otherwise so strange and unusual and exotic that she can hardly stand as a representative of (normal) women. 

And there are still plenty of conventional women even in the later pieces, such as the appalling Stacey (also in A View…), a classic film blonde who shrieks for James to save her from the fire, and swoons in his arms as he climbs down the fire ladder (and succumbs sexually in the shower at the end as usual). The attempts to develop feisty career women in GoldenEye also looked a bit suspect, I thought - the female 'M' who is 'punished' by being an unattractive bureaucrat, or the unpunished but also largely irrelevant and unlikeable young Moneypenny (and both  were downplayed for Tomorrow…). 

B&W also turn to the audience at last, indeed almost excessively so, having ignored them so fastidiously earlier. In a piece which is heavily influenced by Barthes (for my money), they suggest the audience actually now constitutes the text (not just interprets it but constructs it, using members' own inter-textual [with a hyphen] resources). Different individuals can be grouped together into 'reading formations' who will have shared inter-textual resources - middle class males of the 1960s for example - and these different formations will literally see different films. The production companies also know that the film is more than the actual bit of celluloid, since they will also suggest or try to fix dominant readings, using devices like publicity materials, posters or reviews ('textual shifters 'for B&W). Audience members (or rather their formations) will express readings according to different competencies and 'institutional practices' too. 

o-what happened to ideology? The implications of the new semiology were to lead to a major break with marxist and/or feminist and/or other 'centred' readings, of course. But B&W seem reluctant to abandon their old commitments altogether (especially feminism, as you have probably gathered). They still want to suggest that there is some correspondence between Bond films and political events, although it is still the rather vague old formula of 'surely no accident' we saw earlier. 

Comments on B&W (1987)
This book is a classic for me, even though it is difficult to read (even now I am not sure I have entirely understood it, and I've read some terrible obscure stuff in my time). What I like about it is that it is honest enough to change its mind, and to admit that things are more complex, and to think the unthinkable (that centred readings might be untenable). Many gramscians have never got that far, and still cling to the old faiths, and spend their lives doing 'lazy theorising', fitting in every example to the subtleties (ambiguities?) of 'hegemony. Of course, B&W don't want to abandon their faith altogether, and that is OK - at least it is a more complex and more modest faith. 

I personally believe that the book represents one of the liberating results of leaving the Open University too - the OU insists that people only learn if all the ambiguities, doubts and arguments are either removed altogether, or managed in a heavy-handed manner (although I am not sure if Bennett has ever used his critical skills to rethink the institutional constraints on his work - few academics do, of course -- oh -- yes he has, in his new 1998 book). 

The book has led to new directions in many ways too (or so we thought). The concept of a 'formation', for example, led to a whole new movement almost (the Formations Group), and I have even flirted with it myself as a way of understanding different student readings of distance education material. Of course it had problems - as before, B&W seem to use it to raise the possibility of investigating audiences at last only to raise all sorts of problems with it as an empirical device to do research with. It seems to demonstrate possibilities, endless possibilities, without ever actually leading us to any concrete ones - it 'defers meaning' as a critic has put it. I still think it is more promising than the curiously popular tradition of audience research which has developed in the Media which takes a cheerfully empiricist view that real individuals have nice manageable opinions which you can ask them about no probs. 

Finally, it is debatable whether the Bond movies made after A View… (the last example discussed in B&W) bear them out or not. In many ways the first two (the Dalton Bonds) marked a return to 'straight' Bond formulae, I thought, even though there were obvious attempts to modernize (eg the villain as a Panamanian drug dealer) and clear references to other popular films (eg Indiana Jones) - but one predicted trend (towards irony) seemed not well developed. The same goes for two (very different) Bonds since then (the Brosnan Bonds). GoldenEye followed the tradition of  taking a Fleming story as its foundation, and offered good old action sequences, threats of global domination (by the Russian Mafia this time), a dewy-eyed Russian female defector (and a strong but ultimately punished female villain). There were some self-referential comments on the Bond myth, but Bond was played pretty straight. Tomorrow Never Dies broke the mould by starting without a Fleming base (and without Cubby Broccoli), and seemed rather rootless and directionless even for a Bond as a result. It was filmed, I think in the modern mode, as a series of action scenes (presumably those chosen by the preview audience), with little attention to the narrative or to any attempt to develop a plot - more like the electronic game really. The only novelty seemed to have been Bond's choice of car - a German make for the first time (Bond now bats for Europe?). The team seems to have run out of ideas even for developing the Bond stunts, and the whole thing could have featured any action hero really. I thought A View… was the worst Bond I had ever seen, but Tomorrow… pips it easily. Maybe the novels were essential after all? 

Barthes R (1977) Image-Music-Text, London: Fontana/Collins. 
Bennett T (1980) (A review) 'S. Clarke's One-Dimensional Marxism', Screen Education 36, 119-30 
Bennett T (1998) Culture: a reformers' science, London: Sage (see chapter 9) 
Bennett T and Woollacott J (1987) Bond and Beyond: the political career of a popular hero, London: Macmillan Education. 
Culler J (1976) Structuralist Poetics, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 
Eco U (1979) The Role of the Reader… London: Hutchinson 
Harris D (1992) From Class Struggle to the Politics of Pleasure… London: Routledge. 
Harris D (1996) A Society of Signs? London: Routledge. 
Open University The (1982) Popular Culture(U203), Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 

Try a nice electronic one --

 Spectre (2015).

There have been several Bond films since A View to a Kill, the last one to be discussed in any detail in the notes, and of course there have been several changes, including a shift in the cold war scenario to refer to North Korea rather than Russia (Die  Another Day, 2002), or plots run by Ukrainian or Russian gangsters, and several variations on the Spectre plot, where drug lords, mad media moguls, well intentioned renegades and treacherous secret service agents plan to both dominate the world and wreck British Intelligence, or even see the back of Bond himself.  This shift to isolated criminals is to be expected, of course, given the apparent end of the Cold War and the need to introduce more plausible enemies. There are additional modernizations too. The change of production team, with the death of Cubby Broccoli and the merger/takeover of Eon Productions might well have helped.

Another change resulting from this shift from Cold War plot has been less attention being given to Americans, who were always classically depicted as having lots of resources but not much ingenuity, compared with the delightful amateurism of Britain. At the same time, Bond is not so excruciatingly English ( I think Daniel Craig looks a bit like Vladimir Putin). It is just possible to see the USA as one of the gullible members of the alliance of 9 nations about to share their intelligence resources and thus deliver themselves to Spectre. No doubt there are good commercial reasons for changing this depiction as well. In Spectre, Americans do not appear at all, and there is only one passing reference to the CIA, when Bond promises the widow of the man he has just killed (Sciarra) that 'Felix', presumably Felix Leitner, will look after her in his embassy

There have been other changes too, including those famous ones involving gender changes for M (back to male for this one). Although she was originally a  mannish figure, she is rather motherly in Skyfall, where she reprised the maternal or family role already associated with M and Moneypenny. Here , she appears on video and is maternal but ruthless again. Moneypenny herself has gone through several evolutions, ranging from hostile and aloof to sisterly: the customary byplay between Bond and Moneypenny, promising sex although not actually ever delivering it, has been replaced by more professional or comradely forms of conversation. The new Moneypenny is also a black heterosexual woman. The family theme is definitely prominent here, with M, Moneypenny and Q working to support Bond's final struggle.  There is also a theme of pathological family life, perhaps a hint of the old Fleming disdain for 'mixed blood'. Here, it turns out that Bond and Blofeld are actually step brothers, which we learn from a link back to family photographs in Skyfall. It is hard to see any particular significance in this, however, except that it gives Blofeld a unique insight into the life and times of Bond, and might explain his evil actions, as a patricide. There might also just be a hint that this irregular family background might explain the ruthlessness of Bond himself, and it does seem to make Bond more of an outsider. The character of Q has also changed from representative of the old military order through comic eccentric to computer nerd.  Above all, sex with the Bond girls is much less prominent, and not so combined with sadism, with the first girl usually being killed in the classic films. No doubt the need for a 15 certificate for commercial reasons is partly responsible. We don't know of the fate of the Widow Sciarra, she is not actually killed, but she drops out of the plot altogether as a kind of professional death.

There was already noticeable commercial influence in the form of product placement in Skyfall. Here it is less noticeable in the film itself (apart from Aston Martin and Sig), but  there are now advertisements featuring the cast and characters in spoof action sequences. One of them features Heineken beer, and one cross critic said Bond would never drink beer -- but in the film he does, and even pours beer on the floor to find the secret room in the hotel L'Americaine. I couldn't see if it was Heineken.There has been heavy advertising of the film itself, with the TV broadcasters obligingly running various features on Bond films,and the stars interviewed on chat shows (even on the BBC, which even featured Sam Smith performing the title song). Themes include celebrating British creativity/creative industries, and cod critique involves asking if the genre is outdated, or if D. Craig plans to move on etc.

So far, then, we can see not much of the hegemonic work identified in the Bennett reading, where Bond depicts a new role for Britain in the Cold War, unless you want to read Spectre as the European Union,or the Alliance of 9 as the New World Order. The bad guys are of course still foreigners, this time with European accents if they speak at all, and Blofeld gets disabled right at the end. Bond has few chances to demonstrate his Englishness, which used to be on show when he played games or cards or showed his connoisseurship. Bond used to dominate women, especially if they had a deviant sexual identity, but this can be seen as substantially modified and deviance is depicted just as an initial reluctance. However, the women are feisty but still gorgeous and heterosexual, and the men are real men of course. Some of the deep Freudian pleasures for males are still present, as well as voyeurism, including pleasure at surviving torture, clear displays of the manly virtues of stoicism and courage, and a general depiction of male heroics. There is some byplay with the classic phallic symbol -- the gun -- but that has been modernized too. The weapon is not the classic Walther PPK with its World War 2 associations, but a Sig pistol and what might be Heckler and Koch assault rifles. Bond is still a crack shot but is upstaged a bit by Swann: when he tries to show her how the Sig works, she contemptuously unloads it (!), and then shows herself to be well able to handle a weapon in the train fight sequence. This time some of the heroics include struggling with moral dilemmas about being an assassin and missing normal life including normal relations with women.  Moral dilemmas began to appear in some of the other post-Fleming films too.

Many of the other standbys of the Bond film are present in Spectre. We have car chases, featuring a new Aston Martin (the old Aston Martin DB 5, long an icon of early Bond, reappears at the end, and, indeed, featured in Skyfall); glamorous locations; shootouts; hand to hand combats, including one on a train with an unnamed assassin (which echoes the fights on trains in From Russia With Love, and Live and Let Die); torture sequences where Bond is strapped to a nasty chair; just one or two gadgets, including some in the Aston, and an exploding watch; vodka martinis, but this time 'dirty'; the famous disclosure of 'Bond. James Bond'; the classic 'Sicilian Vespers' scene where unexpected and violent murder is committed at the meeting of the villains  Actually, the technology in the Aston looks a bit amateur, with rather simple switches given Dyno labels.  We know it is supposed to be a prototype, but even so, it seems a bit unforgivable to have forgotten to load the missiles! (Maybe a protest against the cuts? The new deal for British Intelligence has to have lots of private sponsorship too). Basically, however, Bond relies as usual on his ingenuity and personal courage, and the ability to make women in crucial strategic positions fall in love with him and switch their allegiances (both Widow Sciarra and Swann).  There is also their usual startling lack of security among the bad guys which saves so much plot – Bond never has to struggle too hard to identify the bad guy nor to get access to him, but follows pretty careless clues, and simply walks into a meeting, having shown the doorman a Spectre signet ring that he had luckily stolen from Sciarra. The gadgetry seems to be vested this time in computer technology, which Bond himself does not use, and ingenious forms of surveillance used on him,  including 'smart blood'.

We can see already that there are standard features borrowed from earlier Bond films, and, as suggested in the third reading above, deliberately refer to them, in a spirit of 'intertextuality' and 'creativity', introduced by the production team to add to the pleasures of the experience to viewers, to offer reassuring formulae in order to reduce anxiety, especially in things like the torture sequence (nasty for males in particular, the classic argument goes).  There are many examples apart from the ones above, including the curious jackets worn by the senior bad guys, which have featured no lapels since Dr. No.  The clinic where Bond meets Swann looks very much like the one in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I'd like to think there is a bit of intertextuality aimed at the literary bourgeoisie too, in naming the heroine Madeleine  (geddit?)  Swann, like Proust's character: she too has to recapture childhood memories in the old location of her family holidays.  I think it is also possible that the scenes were selected by audience panels, which might explain the absence of the Widow Sciarra in favour of the younger Swann,and the strange way the film refuses to end but runs more action sequences. The equally mysterious early disappearance of the Teri Hatcher character in Tomorrow Never Dies was explained by disagreements with the director (before or after was never clear).

I think it might even be possible to continue my suspicion of a certain note of exhaustion with films like this that have to start from scratch and cannot depend on  a Fleming novel.  This one, like Skyfall, played  with chronology, filling in the back story of some of the characters, including Bond himself.  Spectre takes the extraordinary step of changing the chronology quite drastically by focusing upon how Spectre emerged in the first place, and how Blofeld came to run it.  Bond fans know that Spectre actually appeared first in Thunderball in 1965, and Blofeld in 1967.  The Blofeld in Spectre has both the iconic/cliched white cat and the same facial disfigurement as the Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (played by Donald Pleasance). The only attempt to cover this strange chronological leap is when the leading Bond female announces that she is surprised that Bond has never heard of Spectre -- so are we, lady!.  At least the 2015 Spectre is not a jokey acronym!  I am also puzzled by an offhand statement made by M at the end of the film, where he announces he is 'Mallory, 006' in order to get past security. 006 was the rogue agent in Goldeneye, so we might be set up for another chronological twist in the next Bond film.

What remains of the classic outline of the Bond formula in Eco's  reading of the novels?  Eco suggested that there are certain classic moves, although they might not appear always in the same sequence.  Allowing for modernization, let us try this out on  Spectre:

Bond versus M . There is a bit of this still in the form of conflict with the new M, but loyalty to the old one show appears on video. There is substantial conflict with the upstart C who wants to replace M and the 00 department altogether. The binaries are as strong as ever and expressed in terms of clothes, office furniture and Bond's initial  insubordination.

Bond vs the villain. Still a mainstay binary in terms of physique and accent etc

villain vs woman. Blofeld still wants to harm Swann or possibly possess her as an ornament,  but it is not a prominent issue

Bond vs woman . They are on opposite sides at first, she resists his advances in the hotel with a derisive comment on the plot that she is supposed to fall into his arms etc -- reminded me of Octopussy. Swann succumbs later, but it is love.

free world vs USSR . This one is free world versus Spectre,or even free world versus neocon world of surveillance

duty vs sacrifice. Bond ruminates about his duty more but is less inclined to sacrifice everything to it, especially at the end . He does overcome familiar duty towards Blofeld

Britain vs other 'races'  More attenuated, although the bad guys still have foreign accents, and an international alliance threatens British sovereignty in intelligence 

cupidity vs ideals. Bond has less control here, and generally there is little tension. The villains are not noticeably decadent. The two are even combined when Bond does his duty at personal risk AND rescues Swann

love vs death . We don't see women die this time and there are no choices for Bond to make, even with the doomed Widow Sciarra, who accepts getting the push with no regret. Bond does give up the chance to enjoy a nice Mexican lady and prefers assassinating Sciarra instead at the start of
the film.Bond chooses love at the risk of his own death at the end.

chance vs planning. Bond still depends on chances like picking up the Spectre ring from Sciarra's dead finger,and need no planning to get to the Spectre lair - -a lucky find of the secret room reveals Blofeld's location The split is really between improvisation and the human, versus computer-led operations

luxury vs discomfort. Bond experiences little discomfort himself except when being tortured. I was expecting an ordeal to get him out of the villains' lair but no 

excess vs moderation. Excessive reliance on computers is a main theme. Even the Spectre plan is not really excessive as such -- world domination as usual but via surveillance 

loyalty vs disloyalty. Clear theme here with the internal mole in British Intelligence as sly, offensive, an outsider ('cheeky bugger', M calls him)

In terms of classic moves:

(a) M moves and gives a task to Bond.  Here, Bond seems to have taken off on his own initiative at first, although we eventually discover that the old M had told him to go off and kill Sciarra.

(b) Villain moves and appears to Bond .  We are given a slightly false lead in that we think that Sciarra is the main villain, and it is later that Spectre and then eventually Blofeld appear, and we then realize that they have been the agents of Bond's misfortunes all along, including some that affected him in earlier films.

(c) Bond offers first check to villain.  Bond successfully assassinates Sciarra and escapes, and has one or two other minor tussles with various heavies, but does not actually encounter Blofeld by thwarting his plans and being captured.

(d) Woman moves and shows self to Bond.  We see the Widow Sciarra at her husband's funeral (M has told Bond to attend, and he just walks up and stands at the back -- crap bad guy security again). The main woman (Dr Swann) is introduced as the daughter of one of the informants, and they meet in the context of her profession as some sort of psychiatric counsellor.

(e) Bond consumes woman.  There's a slight difference here in that Bond effortlessly consumes the Widow Sciarra, but takes some time before he consumes Swann, and is initially rebuffed twice

(f) Villain captures Bond or womanNeither Bond nor Swann is captured: rather, they accept Blofeld's invitation to visit his secret den, are offered a change of clothing just like in Dr No,and this has the same effect of making Dr. Swann sexy -- but there is no suggestion that it is spending time with Bond that has deflowered and matured her, unlike Honeychile Ryder in  Dr No.

(g) Villain tortures Bond.  We have already mentioned this.  It is not much different from the torture sequences in Goldfinger or Die  Another Day

(h) Bond conquers villain .  Bond escapes thanks to Swann and his own exploding watch.  Swann also saves him in the train fight, incidentally, by appearing at the right moment and displaying her skills as a marksperson.

(i) Bond convalesces, enjoys and loses woman.  This is the most conspicuous absence from Spectre, and instead we are left with a hint that Bond has had enough and wants to change his life. He throws his gun into the Thames and walks off with Swann

back to list of files