Craig Arthur explores 007 in the post 9/11 era,
and how Daniel Craig's portrayal of Bond in Casino
Royale is right for our times...
Opinion - No Armour Left
6th November 2006
NO ARMOUR LEFT: 007 IN THE POST 9/11 ERA
OPINION BY CRAIG ARTHUR
In James Bond movies, any lift - 'or perhaps
I should say elevator', as Blofeld puts it, in Diamonds
Are Forever - has the potential
to become a death-trap. The lift in Stromberg's 'Atlantis' in
The Spy Who Loved Me has a
trapdoor leading to the shark-tank; A
View To A Kill demonstrates
what happens if you take the elevator
instead of the stairs in a burning building; and the trailer
for Casino Royale offers glimpses of a sequence from near the
end of the film. Vesper Lynd, the love of the new James Bond's
life, ends up caught inside a wrought-iron lift-cage in an historic
Venetian building which collapses and sinks into the Canal, trapping
What the Bond films are manipulating
in these examples, is the audience's sense of what Alfred
Hitchcock called 'frightmares', where nightmares that manifest
themselves in our waking lives, where everyday places become
death-traps. "Fear isn't so difficult to understand," Hitchcock
explains to Charlotte Chandler in her book It's Only a
Movie. "What frightens us today is exactly the same
sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. . . . The fear
complex is rooted in every individual."
Between the late 15th century when Venice
was the hub of Europe's maritime power until 1857 when
Elisha Graves Otis designed and installed the first passenger
elevators in America, building a structure higher than
the one depicted in Casino Royale was not considered economically
viable. Who would want to walk up more than five storeys?
Otis's invention overcame this problem, heralding the era
of the skyscraper. But first he needed to prove the safety
of his invention. To do so, he took advantage of the fears
rooted in the human imagination when unveiling his elevator
design to the crowds at the 1854 New York World's Fair,
in much the same way that Hitchcock does in his movies.
Inside a vast exhibition hall modelled on England's
Crystal Palace, Otis wowed the spectators by riding the elevator
to the top of a specially constructed gantry. He would then instruct
his assistant to slice through the cable supporting the gantry. "It's
what your mind doesn't see that frightens you, what your mind
fills in," Hitchcock used to say and, true to this maxim,
the spectators watching Otis would gasp, expecting to see him
plummet to his death. Instead, miraculously, Otis remained safely
in place, thanks to the system of ratchets he devised, to prevent
the platform from falling should the main cables break.
Architectural theorist Rem Koolhaas refers to the outcome of
Otis's World's Fair stunt as an 'anticlimax as denouement.' A
term which could equally apply to the resolution of the plot
in virtually every Bond movie since Goldfinger. The plots always
play upon an audience's real world fears, most often manipulating
our terror of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
They take this terror and use cinema to give it a crutch of reality
in the same way that Salvador Dali took paranoid conjecture and
gave it a fabricated reality in his paintings. We see an imaginary
enemy achieve what we fear but then the movie will exorcise that
fear, in an identical way to Elisha Otis's assistant cutting
the elevator cable.
|The most literal parallel is in Octopussy where,
as well as the audience in the cinema, there is an on-screen
audience inside the circus Big Top gathered there like the
spectators at the 1854 New York World's Fair. Bond desperately
tries to alert the authorities to the presence of the nuclear
bomb hidden in the circus cannon, set to explode in ninety
seconds time. The fact that there is a countdown to Armageddon
extends the moment when the cable is cut, so-to-speak, as
though the audience is watching Elisha Otis perform his stunt
in slow-motion. But the circus audience gasp as Octopussy
shoots off the lock revealing the ticking bomb inside the
cannon, just as the spectators would gasp as Otis's assistant
cuts the support cable.
Above: Roger Moore is disarming in Octopussy
After a few seconds of tense silence, Bond defuses
the bomb and then Francisco the Fearless, the Human Cannonball,
raises his head from the cannon, confused why he hasn't been
shot out. "Now?" he asks, incredulous, and the members
of the circus audience laugh at the apparent bathos (as the cinema
audience did too each time I saw the film on the big screen).
Anticlimax as denouement.
The ticking bomb plots – and the numerous
variations on ticking bombs such as the deadly satellites in
Diamonds Are Forever, Goldeneye and Die
Another Day – used in the Bond movies are, also, a
literal use of Hitchcock's explanation of how suspense operates.
There is a bomb placed beneath a table. The characters seated
at the table are unaware the bomb is there but the audience watching
them know. They know when it is due to go off. The suspense comes
from the gap between what the audience knows and the characters
do not. When the ticking bomb plot is used in a Bond movie, both
Bond and the audience are privy to the villain's plans but the
intended victims – like the characters seated at the table
in Hitchcock's analogy – have no idea, just as the victims
of the terror attacks of 9/11 or the Bali and London Underground
bombings had none. In a Bond film, of course, there has to be
an anticlimax as denouement (something Hitchcock stipulated in
his ticking bomb analogy, too) but the point is, the tourists
on the Bosporus cruise at the end of The
World is Not Enough, for instance, who think Bond and Christmas
Jones are merely waving at them, have no clue how close they
came to nuclear annihilation minutes earlier. In this manner,
the films deliver the fantasy that security forces are at work
to prevent terrorist attacks of which we remain blissfully unaware
(just as Otis's ratchet system is invisibly present to save us
should the support cables perish and snap while we're in an elevator).
So Bond films, on the one hand, show
us our frightmares made 'critical', but on the other deliver
a hero figure who can vanquish the threat. As such, like
Otis performing his stunt at the World's Fair, they create
a feeling of invulnerability – insulating audiences
from reality. (I remember when, as a child, I emerged from
Sunday night double-feature screenings of the Bond movies,
the only people on the streets at that hour would be people
who had been at the same screening; they would drive like
maniacs, projecting the illusion of invulnerability from
the movies into real life).
Manhattan's skyscrapers are similarly
statements of apparent invulnerability, like the vicarious
fantasy world of Bond. Their flamboyance was borrowed from
the legendary early 20th century amusement parks on New
York's Coney Island, where visiting merry-makers could
visit replicas of exotic locations, such as Venice's canals
and refrigerated mock-ups of the Swiss Alps, and enjoy
countless thrill rides – an early equivalent of things
audiences would flock to see, in Bond movies, decades later.
As such, Manhattan skyscrapers have allowed their tenants
to exist in an unreal comfort and safety, immune from the
violence and hardships that have plagued most of the planets'
population, today and throughout history. Immune, most
of all, from reality itself.
Vienna's equivalent of Coney Island was the Prater amusement
park with its famed Ferris wheel. As every Bond fan knows it
featured in The Living Daylights. When Bond and Kara's gondola
reaches the top of the wheel, it shudders and stops like a broken
elevator. As this is a Bond film, we expect trouble (shades of
the Sugar Loaf cable car ride in Moonraker).
But the movie is manipulating audience expectations, as Otis
manipulated the expectations
of the World's Fair spectators. Nothing happens: another anticlimax
as denouement. It turns out Bond has arranged for the wheel to
stop, for his own amorous purposes. Instead of danger, the gondola
offers a brief escape from reality, from the murder and distrust
which lies ahead in the narrative, on the ground below. When
that very same Prater wheel featured in Carol Reed's The Third
Man - during the famous sequence where Joseph Cotton's Holly
Martins confronts his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) -
Lime asks Martins to glance down at the people on the ground
beneath the Ferris wheel. "Look down there," he instructs. "Would
you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving
forever?" Similarly, in Hitchcock's North By Northwest,
we see Cary Grant - first mistaken for a secret agent and now
photographed holding a murder weapon - fleeing across the from
the UN building in New York, running across the lawn outside
the UN building, a mere dot dwarfed beneath the mighty skyscraper.
The scene then shifts to a Washington office where indifferent
spymasters discuss his fate and consign him to oblivion. The
elevation of a New York skyscraper, like that of the Ferris wheel
equates with a detachment from responsibility, from reality and
As does two hours spent watching a Bond movie. The violence
in a Bond movie is purely for either plot requirements or pictorial
affect – like the stylised pop-art blood that drips down
the screen during the opening gun-barrel sequence at the beginning
of each movie, Jill Masterson's gold-painted corpse in Goldfinger,
or for that matter the electrocution of the Mexican thug in the
Bond is, after all, an assassin. A difficulty
the early Connery films faced was distracting audiences from
the violence of the films. They did so by emphasising black humour – giving
Connery's Bond trademark one-liners to round off an action sequence.
Through such means the film-makers create a sense of self-parody,
distancing the audience from the implications of the killing,
as if turning Bond's victims into simple dots on the ground. "Victims," Harry
Lime remarks in The Third Man, trying to distance himself from
the effects of his black-market operations, "you're being
so melodramatic." But Lime could be a Bond movie producer
trying to deflect criticism of the movies (Albert Broccoli even
bore a striking physical resemblance to Orson Welles, circa The
Third Man era).
Consider all the Russian soldiers Bond shoots in Goldeneye.
They represent dots that stop moving forever. The plethora
of violent action in the four Brosnan James Bond films exists
as little more than an amusement park ride, with explosions
and bullet-hits to best exploit the wonders of Dolby digital
surround-sound. While Pierce Brosnan is capable of conveying
a wide range of emotions from tender vulnerability to the
hardness of a paid assassin but his boyish elegance always
puts a stamp on the action because it distances him from
the unpleasant and violent actions depicted, turning the
carnage into a mere aesthetic, the victims just dots. But
the post-9/11 era has stripped away our sense of invulnerability,
making the violence of Brosnan's movies look too detached,
too far removed from reality.
Viewed with hindsight, the most striking characteristic
of the Brosnan Bond films (including Die Another Day, despite
being made after 9/11) is the invulnerability of the world
they depict. The Timothy Dalton films dispensed with the
traditional anti-climax as denouement, in keeping with Dalton's
more low key, serious style. (Although there is a ticking
bomb threat in The Living Daylights, the bomb is small; it
threatens only Bond and Kara aboard the commandeered Russian
Cargo plane, rather civilisation itself).
Above: Pierce Brosnan's 007 clocked up kills against Russian
soldiers in "GoldenEye", a style which would be echoed
in the videogame.
But because the Dalton's two outings as Bond
did rather poorly at the box-office, the Pierce Brosnan films
variations on the ticking-bomb formula. However, because the
Cold War was over, the film-makers could no longer use the nuclear
brinkmanship between the Superpowers to evoke the threat of Armageddon.
Dies uses the same plot as You
Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, where a third party tries to start
World War Three between two rival Superpowers. But not only are
the attacks on British battleships and Chinese fighter-plans
far less spectacular than the capturing of American and Russian
space-capsules in You Only Live Twice and nuclear submarines
in The Spy Who Loved Me, but the conflict between Britain and
China, should it occur, seems less threatening than a nuclear
war between the US and the Soviet Union in the earlier films.
Similarly the Goldeneye satellite, the threatened nuclear irradiation
of Istanbul in The World is not Enough and Colonel Moon's satellite
targeting the Korean demilitarised zone in Die Another Day seem
rather toothless compared to the plot McGuffins of Connery's
era or Moore's.
Such is the invulnerability of the
west after the fall of the Soviet Union, the biggest threats
in Brosnan Bond's
universe come from within (as with a myriad of imitators
in the wake of Goldeneye – most notably Tom Cruise's
Mission Impossible franchise, Broken Arrow and Sean Connery's
The Rock). Alex Trevelyan in Goldeneye is a former Double-O
agent. Eliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies is a western media
mogul, supposedly reporting the 'truth'. In The World is
not Enough the heroine, Elektra King turns out to be the
villainess and in Die Another Die MI6 agent Miranda Frost
turns out to be the person who betrayed Bond in North Korea,
leading to 007's lengthy incarceration in a North Korean
prison. Simultaneously, unlike Timothy Dalton's Bond, Brosnan's
Bond rarely questions his orders. If anything, the closest
person to Dalton-Bond in the Brosnan-Bond universe is Alex
Trevelyan. "Did you ever ask, why?" Trevelyan asks
Brosnan-Bond, in a confrontation reminiscent of The Third
Man, using words that could have easily come from the mouth
of Dalton, "why we toppled all those dictators, undermined
all those regimes, only to come home: 'well done, good show
but sorry old boy, everything you risked you life and limb
for has changed' . . ?" "It was the job we were
chosen for," Brosnan-Bond responds, never for once
questioning authority in the same way Dalton's 007 did.
Above: Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan
In the era of the Iraq War, this is too simple
a view. Plus, of course, 9/11 has stripped our sense of invulnerability.
a line of dialogue from Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's Bond says, "I
have no armour left. You've stripped it from me." He is
talking about Vesper Lynd's grip on his heartstrings but he could
be talking about the effect of world events upon both the character
and, indeed, contemporary consciousness. During the movie's trailer,
the line delivered in voice-over while on-screen, the image cuts
from Bond staring at his reflection in the mirror - a face much
meaner and less elegant than Brosnan's - to the shot of the Venetian
The action sequences in Casino Royale
still resemble a Coney Island thrill ride. Sequences such
as the spectacular chase in Madagascar, the scenes set
on the runway at Miami Airport, and the final act in Venice
(incidentally, like the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios,
the blank white exterior of Coney Island's Dreamland contained
a replica of Venetian buildings and a Venetian Canal and,
again like the 007 Stage, Dreamland burned to the ground).
But the way in which the action in Casino Royale differs
from, say, the tank chase in Goldeneye is that there is
more at stake for Bond personally. Not simply in the illusion
of physical danger - though that too – but emotionally.
If anything, Daniel Craig portrays Bond
in a colder light than his predecessors. This 007 is a
blunt instrument, truer to Ian Fleming's initial conception. "It
doesn't bother you, killing those people?" Vesper
Lynd asks him. "Well," he responds, laconically
sipping the trademark Martini, "I wouldn't be very
good at my job if it did." In other words it wouldn't
worry him if one of those dots beneath the Prater wheel
stopped moving, so long as the end justified the means:
if, say, it is M demanding that he snuff out a life in
the name of national security. But Casino Royale is above
all a tragic love story.
By establishing Bond's cold indifference to
killing, the film-makers are setting up the tragic effect; his
coldness, his armour is of no help when it comes to Vesper. There
is far more at stake for Bond once he falls for Vesper. The tank
chase in Goldeneye, with all its collateral damage on the streets
of St Petersburg, is purely for spectacle. It doesn't matter
what Bond crashes the tank into, even if he destroys famous statues
and demolishes buildings in the process, it's all just for fun.
Whereas, in Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd is tied up and placed
in the path of the speeding Aston Martin DBS. If he doesn't swerve
and roll the Aston Martin she will be killed.
The necessity for Bond to swerve and
crash serves as a metaphor for Vesper's affect on his so-called
'cold heart'. And the doomed romanticism of Venice, slowly
sinking into the lagoon, whilst not featured in Ian Fleming's
original novel, is an inspired choice for the setting Casino
Royale 's final act, emphasising that Bond's love is also
There is little hope of the anticlimax
as denouement found in the traditional Bond plot structure.
will respond to this movie's narrative in the same way
they watch Othello or Hamlet. With a mixture of pity
It would be difficult to imagine such a Bond movie made prior
to 9/11, when people felt less vulnerable, just as, for instance,
the final act of The Bourne Supremacy where Jason Bourne goes
to explain to the young woman that he killed her parents would
have seemed very out of place in a 1990s' action movie. Such
a narrative device reflects the fact that world events impact
on civilian lives far more than before 9/11. So, to a degree,
we all resemble the orphaned girl Bourne confronts or Cary Grant's
tiny insignificant figure fleeing from the UN Building or clinging
to the stony faces of the American presidents on Mount Rushmore
in North By Northwest.
Pierce Brosnan was an excellent Bond and his performances in
such movies as The Tailor of Panama and The Matador demonstrate
that he is more than capable of portraying a darker, colder version
of Bond but the stumbling-block would be that audiences would
identify him with the preceding four movies. For Bond to venture
into unknown territory in Casino Royale they needed a new Bond.
I personally was pleased to see Daniel Craig given the role.
I observed him at work on the set of Sylvia in early 2003 and
thought he would make a superb James Bond. Two things struck
me about him seeing him in real life. He resembled my impression
of the character described by Ian Fleming in the novels, and
his nonchalance reminded me of Pierce Brosnan. The only reason
I could see why they wouldn't give him the part was because,
standing next to him, I could tell he was too short. But you
don't notice an actor's height on-screen. As for the so-called
blonde hair, it was important to emphasise that we are meeting
this character for the first time. We have seen Bond on screen
before and so know who he will become. We know the icons of the
character - the Aston Martin, the tuxedo, the martini, the theme
music - but something needs to be different about Bond in Casino
Royale, to reshuffle the deck and allow the audience to willingly
suspend disbelief and pretend that the action takes place in
a parallel universe where they have not met this character before.
The hair was the obvious choice (that said, Roger Moore's hair
wasn't much darker).
For all those detractors
waiting to see Daniel Craig fail - waiting like the people
Ian Fleming describes in Miami airport in the opening chapter
of Goldfinger, standing up as the DC7 hurtles down the
runway, hoping to see it crash, or the crowds at the 1854
World's Fair watching for Elisha Otis to plummet to his
death – the denouement will not be what you are expecting.
Daniel Craig, like Otis, will prevail.
We live in precarious times. Daniel Craig
is the best actor to portray Bond in such times.
(c) Craig Arthur 2006
About The Author
Craig Arthur is 38 and lives in Dunedin,
New Zealand, where he is presently hard at work writing a
spy thriller. His first Bond experience was seeing "The Spy Who
Loved Me" in the theatre in 1977, starting a 29 year
obsession with the movies and Ian Fleming novels. He studied
English Literature at the University of Otago.
The views of this columnist
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