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For her eyes only
He is cinema's most famous misogynist. But who wants a Bond film without all that raw hypersexuality? TOI-Crest looks at the changing sexual politics of the Bond universe.
Perhaps the only leading lady in a James Bond film whom Bond has not 'acquired' is Queen Elizabeth II. The short film that screened at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics did have Bond show his female co-star something of a typically thrilling time though, by getting her to 'jump' out of a helicopter and parachute into the Olympic stadium. If only most of his other leading ladies had been so lucky, not dumped or found dead halfway through the plot.
Yet many of them just don't seem to have minded at all, even when their dalliances with Bond were doomed from the start. They've still flocked to him over five decades, like moths to a very bright, very dangerous flame. And therein lies the rub. And the reason why angry feminists have long raged against the franchise. This has, however, changed significantly over time. Bond girls have gotten tougher and moved from being mostly helpless sexual playthings to now playing co-leads in the movies. They are action heroines (Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies), dangerously strong femme fatales (Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye) or adept peers (Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale).
Vesper is something of an irony too. The most complex and nuanced of Bond's lovers, she made an official big screen appearance five decades and 20 films after debuting in the first Bond novel. For anyone who's grown up watching the Bond films, that shouldn't be surprising. You can't have someone break Bond's heart now, can you? It's always the other way round.
Vesper is indeed emblematic of what's been a rather long journey for the evolving sexual politics of the Bond franchise on the big screen;and what will always be an uphill battle for modern women, as they battle the very genetic coding of Ian Fleming's enduring creation.
A RAKE'S PROGRESS
Freud, like all men, wanted to know what women want. Bond perhaps knows, or so he postures. More importantly, he never quite gives it all away to any one woman, which makes him all the more desirable. This is the most important element of this construct: Bond's unmistakably Anglo-Saxon mien and ability to easily charm, seduce and sleep with a variety of impossibly beautiful women. And then return for his next outing with nary a trace of a former relationship from his previous film or novel casting shadows on new romantic possibilities. This also applies to Bond's use of complex technology and weapons to fight outlandish villains, always violently. The link between sex and violence, between sustained effort and release, with the thrill of the hunt thrown in, has never been clearer in any fictional series' formula.
Unlike the novels and stories written by his creator Ian Fleming - which have Bond displaying more complexly ambivalent attitudes to women and sexuality - this element has been accentuated in the movies by canny producers. So much so, in fact, that this 'raw edge of sexuality' is vital to holding together the Bond universe, and our hypersexual hero must be necessarily set up with a whole variety of voluptuous women. Little surprise then that James Bond has come to be the most iconic embodiment of male wish fulfillment.
And the women? Most Bond babes have either been innocent bimbos or femme fatales, handed mischievous names from less politically correct times (Octopussy, Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O' Toole ) and hugely susceptible to Bond's patented blend of wit and sexual innuendo. They're usually placed in the clutches of an abnormal baddie too.
In fact, the unnatural baddie is essential to this fantasy world, as the anti-Bond. He's always perverted in some way, physically abnormal and exercises various degrees of cruel control over at least one Bond babe. Such sexual dislocation in a beautiful woman is eventually put right by our hero - who comes in to restore a more conventional, and fairly patriarchal, order of things by sleeping with her. Pussy Galore in 1964's Goldfinger, for instance, is initially a tough-minded lesbian who works for Goldfinger but ends up in Bond's arms at film's end, 'set right' and back on the sexual straight and narrow. Much of this hasn't changed still. Actually, it can't - not without ripping apart the whole Bond mythos.
LOVING THEM, LEAVING THEM
In many films, this rescued woman also dies, leaving Bond free to pursue another in the same plot. But Bond 'rescues' her only by bestowing a sexual favour - it is actually the women who usually rescue Bond from some life-threatening situation and often die trying. As several critics have recently pointed out, these women also tend to be more the aggressive partner in the seductions depicted, and not the passive fillies of popular imagination.
Yet Bond is also the big screen's most famous misogynist. One reason why when the franchise was re-launched in the '90s, the producers felt they needed to make amends and reinvent Bond's boss, M, as a woman. In her first encounter with Bond, in GoldenEye, she even tells him that he's "a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic... whose boyish charms are wasted on me. " Maybe that's why they hung onto Judi Dench, as M, when Daniel Craig was handed the famous Walther PPK in 2005, to keep the change going and firmly anchored somewhere in this technicolour universe.
But such change now involves simply slotting in one female lead who's a woman of some substance. It was a concept that had been toyed with in the late '70s, tried out intermittently in the '80s, fleshed out in the '90s and finally perfected in the 2000s - by turning to where it all began in the first place, Fleming's first shot at writing Bond, Casino Royale.
Like with many a successful formula, in its beginnings were found the seeds of change. Even if it is the hugely difficult task of making the inherently sexist Bond universe a better place for women.
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