Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Sam Mendes’ ‘Spectre’

Chris Palazzolo is startled by Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes, 2015

spectreposterIn 1964 the torture method guaranteed to make James Bond raise a sweat was to be strapped to a table while a laser beam crept closer towards his balls (Goldfinger). In 2015 it’s to have a tiny USB device inserted in his brain in order to download his repressed memories (Spectre). This shift of emphasis from midsaggital section to psychic trauma is not a steady progression in the Bond franchise over the last 50 years. Right up to the last of the Pierce Brosnans, James Bond had been among the most opaque of the 20th century superheroes. Mostly because of his Britishness (an exemplar of British Intelligence virtue – audacity, luck, and virility) James Bond had no origin and no destiny except to kill the enemies of Her Majesty and bed as many beautiful women as he could. Unlike John Le Carré’s spies Bond’s vocation was never explained by an absentee father, or repressed homosexuality, nor was he ever going to be retired into a fat and irrelevant old-age.

In Sam Mendes’ Spectre, all of a sudden Bond has a past and a mind with a deep substructure that rationalises his devotion to Service and Pleasure. Furthermore his repressed memories just happen to be useful for that evil NGO known as SPECTRE. Not only that, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the CEO of SPECTRE just happens to be Bond’s stepbrother, whose own criminal career of world domination has been mirroring Bond’s career as a secret agent; doppelgangers of two opposing covert agencies whose legal/illegal status is about to be blurred even further by a new global surveillance network being established by Western Intelligence agencies to stop terrorism, but which only require the key of Bond’s unconscious memories for criminals like Blofeld to control.  It’s a ballet of techno-media paranoia punctuated by 007 Action set-pieces.

The idea of James Bond having a past seems utterly absurd. But it is interesting, with the ‘unlocking’ of his memories, how all the ‘information’ makes Bond seem even more unreal than the old Bonds. Physically, Daniel Craig is an impressive addition to the Bond catalogue because the Bonds of history each had their own physical attributes (Sean Connery carried himself like a boxer; George Lazenby was lethal muscle and big Australian bones). Craig’s Bond is as still as a rock (and as deadly when it hits). But the dossier on this rock-solid Bond now includes a whole psychic history that makes him diffuse, indefinable. I suppose an argument can be made that this diffusion reflects the complex nature of 21st century Intelligence (what are its aims and what are its enemies). But the film’s need to ‘explain’ Bond seems more like a kind of mania, as if his ‘humanness’ is now the most important question of the franchise. The problem is the more the narrative builds a psychology for Bond the more it ‘quantises’ him, swirling his atoms into the digital flows of Global Intelligence and criminal Counter Intelligence turning the whole thing into a Global Psychodrama. So perhaps it’s not so absurd, as the film is called Spectre, that Bond himself is the Spectre of absurdity haunting the franchise.

To me it looks like Bond has been turned into an archeological dig. The different levels and relationships of Bond’s psychic substructure are like the gantries, ladders and ropes that bring up more ‘lost objects’ to work into an allegory of what Rudyard Kipling (after Captain Arthur Conolly) called The Great Game. Much of the action takes place in the ‘historical districts’ of Mexico City, Rome, and London, beautiful restored buildings of Victorian, Baroque, and Spanish Colonial style, (mausoleums of Imperial epochs for which the spy was an ambiguous servant), functioning as soundstages for weirdly undestructive action sequences. The old MI6 building in London (in the art-deco style) has not been restored, but is abandoned and condemned, and the new headquarters is a po-mo ‘glacier’ style building where the surveillance network is to be operated. SPECTRE’s headquarters, set in the Tunisian desert, is in the ‘Bond Villain Underground Lair’ style. All of these architectural styles interrelate like a pictographic language of secret states competing, by means mostly foul, for their Interests, with brothers Bond and Blofeld (spy and criminal) as that language’s spectral ‘predicates’.

 – Chris Palazzolo


Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

Comments are closed.