Friday, February 1, 2008

"Bond [. . .] James Bond"

Here is an excerpt from my essay on Casino Royale, tentatively, “Hardly the Big Picture: The Ellipsis, Narratives of Control, and Interruption in Casino Royale (2006),” which hopefully benefits from the clip of the movie which is discussed below. Some of the excerpt’s significance is lost here—the discussion of anticipation, “ellipsis,” the “big picture,” voyeurism and control, and the use of low/high pov angles throughout the film. Guess you’ll just have to wait for the whole essay:

In the end, finally, James Bond admits he trusts no one. After being betrayed by Vesper, M asks him if he trusts anyone. “No,” he responds bluntly. “Then,” M quickly responds, “you’ve learnt your lesson.” Like the villains, but inverted, Bond has learned who he can trust. The villians prioritize trust and connection; the "good" guys disdain it—"the bitch is dead." M says that “trail has gone cold” in this scene. Narratively, the trail has gone cold. MI6 and Bond have yet to discover the film’s true villain, Mr. White. Yet “cold” in this moment really speaks to Bond’s emotional state in the wake of Vesper’s betrayal and death. Bond, too, literally on the narrative trail, has “gone cold.”

The inversion of issues of trust points back out to the film’s larger narrative ambiguity—M and Bond’s final conversation, focused on trust, also ends with her belief that “we’ll never how who was behind this. The trail has gone cold.” While the unseen organization controls events through a priority of trust, Bond moves out further and further to uncovering the mystery by virtue of refusing to trust anyone. Yet Bond thinks to double-check Vesper’s cellphone, which then leads to another scene, another clue. “Being dead,” Mathis tells Bond presciently at an earlier point in the film, “doesn’t mean one can’t still be helpful.” Vesper tells Bond late that his presence makes her “feel reborn,” and indeed Bond’s final actions in Casino Royale foregrounds her lingering influence beyond death—both these moments and the sequel will see Vesper “reborn.” Thus, one final time, the traces of “Vesper” as both character and name manages to unlock a mystery for him, as a message on her cell finally calls his attention to Mr. White.

“We’ll never know who was behind this.”

There are at least three climaxes to Casino Royale—the defeat of LeChiffre, the defeat of the unidentified villains in Venice, the defeat of Mr. White. Moreover, the film’s multiple potential ending points—LeChiffre’s death, Vesper and Bond’s consummation, Vesper’s death, Mr. White’s Capture—also force us to consider the irresolvability of the film’s actual plot (which carries us behind the end of the film). The extended love affair between Bond and Vesper, as they take off to Venice, also undermines the traditional ending of the Bond Film, by showing us what happens after Bond’s—eventual and inevitable—sexual conquest of the main female lead, which is usually how a Bond film literally climaxes, the final image being of his seduction. But in Casino Royale, such a moment is only the beginning.

[ . . .]

After Mr. White is shot in the leg by Bond (proving he’s taken M’s earlier advice that it’s important to question a suspect, “not to kill them”), the film cuts to an ambiguous long shot of White dragging himself across the gravel. The shot may well be Bond’s implied point-of-view, which reinforces the thematic possibility that Bond, now the watcher, has replaced Mr. White in the omniscient position of power. As White makes his way to the edge of the bottom of the stairs, his weakness is reinforced by the high-angle shot looking down on him. Standing upright, Bond’s feet move swiftly past him in the frame and up the stairs—literally signifying his literal usurping of White’s power. The camera than tilts up to solidify formally and thematically Bond’s new found power. The film cuts to White looking up, matched then by the iconic medium-close-up of Bond. Unlike in the earlier moments of the film, when Bond had been physically overwhelmed by elements of the “big picture,” he is now the one empowered by the low angle shot.

It is not a coincidence here, then, that Daniel Craig finally makes his “introduction” by uttering the famous line we anticipate throughout the entire movie: “The name’s Bond [. . .] James Bond.” Craig has not only earned it by excelling in his performance throughout the film; Bond as a character has earned it, too. He has begun to figure out the larger mysteries which the film has presented him with, thus literally anticipating the sequel. Of course, because it is a James Bond film, we expect a sequel anyway. But the end of Casino Royale, and the abrupt but all-too-fitting cut after the iconic line, literally shows us how and when the next film will begin.

It is not a coincidence either that the film plays with this anticipation of Bond’s name. “If the theatrics are supposed to scare me,” Dryden (Macolm Sinclair) says in the film’s opening scene, “you’ve got the wrong man, Bond.” This is the first reference—pre-Double O status—to Bond’s name. The “James” is missing. It is only “Bond [. . . ?].” Moreover, the emphasis on the “wrong man” plays to the initial uncertainty of the new actor, and of the fact that Bond has yet to become “Bond [. . .] James Bond.”

M says twice to Bond that people know that “you were you.” On the beach, M says simply, “Well, I knew you were you.” Later, in case we missed it, M reminds Bond that Vesper too “knew you were you.” The idea of knowing “you were you” is both ambiguous and redundant. We don’t yet know that Bond is “Bond [. . .] James Bond,” because we haven’t yet heard it, even while we do know of course that this is James Bond. Hence, “You know my name”—if not necessarily the best Bond song ever, at least perhaps one of the best song titles in the history of the franchise. Here again rests the co-present redundancy and ambiguity of Bond both being and not being “James Bond.” "You [already] know my name"—prolonging the ellipsis. We do not need to hear him say it (and, too, we do not need Craig to prove that he is "James Bond" just by stating it). That the film closes with Bond’s introduction (to the main villain of this film, if not the next, whom he has only just met) reveals and completes the film’s incompletion, and disrupts the entire franchise by offering us that perfect ellipsis which is nearly as memorable as Connery’s introduction in Dr. No. Indeed, it may be the most powerful moment in the nearly fifty years of the franchise—framed definitively from the low angle.

Bond . . . James Bond.

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