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Bond Girl Power

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While there's a lot a feminist critique of Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond flick, could cover, such as the other-ing of the voiceless "ethnic" communities/Bond's sense of entitlement to their culture and resources, Judy Dench's role as M, or the current, very real political turbulence in Bolivia (FYI? George Bush is still our president), this post mainly focuses on the use of the rape-revenge themes and surprise, surprise, the objectification of women found in the movie.

And yes, there are spoilers.

Camille (Olga Kurylenko) is the Bond girl de jour, who at first glance appears to be sleeping her way up the chain-of-command behind a planned Bolivian coup. She openly admits to using sex as a means to an ends, and she isn't ashamed of it. We soon find out that Camille is out to kill General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), who years earlier murdered her father, raped her mother and sister, and burned down her home when she was a child. When Bond (Daniel Craig) initially "rescues" her from what he perceived to be a damsel-in-distress situation with Medrano, Camille is rightfully pissed, seeing as she had "waited her whole life to get that close" to her adversary.

Once Bond apologizes for being such a dipshit Prince Charming, he acts as her ally for seeking vengeance, but leaves the killing (and driving!) up to her. Camille eventually comes face to face with her family's assailant in flame-ridden room somewhere in a desert compound. The two struggle: Medrano attempting to assault her, Camille placing more than a few below-the-belt shots, and ultimately fulfilling her vengeance. Not bad for a Bond girl! (btdubs, Bitch readers: I definitely appreciated Camille more having previewed Tammy Oler's excellent feature on the rape-revenge film, which will appear in our winter issue, no. 42! Also stay tuned for Tammy's upcoming film-centered guest blogging!)

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But despite all the feel-good castration, Camille's empowering scene is over fast, and as the compound continues to burn, she retracts into the little girl she described to Bond several scenes earlier. Defeated, Camille becomes a trembling mess of a heroine, mumbling unintelligibly and reduced from the ass-kicking, nut-swacking woman from a few moments before to one wandering, fear-filled eye . It's up to Bond to come to her rescue (this time warranted) and he does, in an awkwardly long, father-like embrace.

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Besides failing the Bechdel test recently mentioned on Racialicious, the women of Quantum were also discredited in the camera's treatment of their bodies. It's not exactly breaking news that the Bond franchise hasn't been at the forefront of progressive feminist cinema, but this film's objectification of its heroines, although subtle at times, was particularly disturbing as it focused not just on the passive female form, but the unconscious female form.

Yep, the camera doesn't just show how beautiful these women are, but how much more beautiful they are when they don't know you're watching. Camille is knocked unconscious early on, and the camera takes it sweet time to linger on her legs and disheveled skirt as Bond whisks her away in a motor boat. Once ashore he indifferently passes her body off to a steward saying she was "seasick" (I bet that got laughs in your theater like it did in mine.).

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Mathis' swimsuit-clad wife is treated similarly, as her sunbathing, unconcerned body is kept in the corner of the screen, you know, in case the audience gets bored listening to the men talk about their important spy stories. When Fields is discovered murdered, the camera creepily revisits her distressing oil-covered corpse. Even after the scene concludes and M and Bond have finished conversing, it insists on one last look at her nude, anonymous body.

I found one of the most disturbing moments towards the end of the film at the desert compound where the current Bolivian leader signs over his country. Because the audience needs more reason to believe that General Medrano is a totally bad guy, he follows the nameless maid to a room and begins to sexually assault her. Just before he can rape her, Camille breaks in to collect her due. This should be an awesome girl avenger feat, and it is plot-wise, but as the Medrano leaves the maid, still vulnerable on the bed, to confront Camille, the camera remains, lingering on the prone maid and her splayed legs, allowing ample time (and little choice) for the viewer to stare up her dress. It's a gross feeling: the viewer finishes, visually, what the Medrano could not—an intrusive violation.

I thought the film also glossed over sexual violence against women. Camille explains to Bond that the Medrano "did awful things" to her mother and sister, but doesn't utter the word "rape." And to revisit Fields' body—she was naked, folks! Not just murdered out of the blue and delivered to Bond's doorstep soaked in crude oil, but naked—implying, but not investigating, a so-much-more-sinister demise to the Consulate representative.

I haven't seen the prequel, Casino Royale (or many Bond films for that matter), so I don't know how it compares. But overall I found Camille's character to be pretty alright for the most part—sexually empowered and seeking revenge on her own terms. Anyone else see the movie or want to weigh in?

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

My first thought after I saw

My first thought after I saw the movie (OK, my second thought after I was done drooling over Daniel Craig) was that it was almost uncharacteristic of Bond that there was the theme of revenge over his lost love from Casino Royale - it seemed odd that Bond would actually have lingering feels for a woman beyond the bedroom. But, she did betray him, but then killed herself to save him - so perhaps since Casino Royale was the "first" Bond movie, in the sense that it was the beginning of him as 007, the betrayal and then her death could explain his attitude towards women - once burned, twice .... well not quite shy, but whatever.

I was also disturbed by Fields' corpse, she had a pretty throwaway role in the movie - cute and dead. Also, I thought the up-skirt shot of the maid was pretty tasteless and completely unnecessary. Really, we were just watching her being assaulted, do they have to take away every shred of dignity from the character?

I think the only positive was that Camille didn't sleep with Bond. She was able to be her own character instead of a total Bond girl. Maybe just a partial Bond girl.

I did enjoy Casino Royale more than Quantum. I definitely recommend it. And not just because Daniel Craig is naked in it. It definitely adds to the, er, plot.

these last two bond movies

these last two bond movies are way better than any of the previous ones. i'm sure that's time talking (i mean, they're new, i haven't seen them a dozen times) but i've really enjoyed them. i mean, there are still issues (that you mention) but the stories are better, the acting is better, and the frivolousness of the sex and action is less.

one thing i liked about quantum was that the woman of color is the one who gets to live and who was in most of the movie. even movie franchises that aren't known for objectification and insensitivity can't manage that.

i also think that you might not have understood, if you didn't see casino royale, that bond is a sociopath. he was a sociopath before (the opening of casino royale is great), but the bond woman in that movie gets to him and betrays him for the sake of another man. and then she dies! that's pretty rough when you usually don' feel much at all, you know? so while camille has a revenge thing in this movie, he does also and it's what links them. remember, camille herself was not raped.

i am totally with you about fields death, but i actually thought the scene at the party, where she trips the guard, was great. she totally took it upon herself to do that, without bonds coaching her even a little bit. that she was not really a spy made that a bigger deal and a bolder move and made me like her even more.

oh and M is great. M was orginally a man, and he had a secretary named Moneypenny who was always flirting with bond but bond never went for her. additionally, M was never a particularly main player when it wasn't Judi Dench. dench's M has become the number 2 to craig's bond (and pierce brosnan's before him). for a woman her age to have that kind of prestigious role in an action movie is pretty rad. i mean, she's gorgeous, but still you don't see women like her in movies like this very much. and her character is a high ranking spy, she's not overly sentimental, and she's married to a man her age who has only appeared as a body in her bed (while she was talking about important spy stuff on the phone). and she survives being shot in quantum.

i guess what i'm saying is that within the confines of the bond formula, these female characters, while thoroughly failing the bechdel test, are pretty rad. and comparing it with say, live and let die, where bond tricks a woman (who is a virgin) into having sex with him, when not being a virgin means that the man who keeps her around to tell him the future (she's a psychic) will kill her, the interactions between bond and the bond women is much better too. live and let die -was- during bond's feminist backlash days (i think bond's violence and disregard for women during that time, as opposed to being a 'sign of the times' not being progressive enough, is actually a reaction to people starting to pay attention to women's rights).

I was pretty pleased about

I was pretty pleased about one thing that you didn't mention: Camille wears sneakers (Converses, maybe?) and pants for her fight scene. No stilettos!

The friends I saw it with were *amazed* that Bond & Camille never slept together (one man said, "Oh, they had sex, we just didn't see it," which speaks to how much the idea of the Bond girl is sexualized), so that's a major shift which I would like to see more of. I go to see Bond movies for the explosions, not the sex!

Bond Women vs. Bond's Women

I haven't seen Quantum of Solace yet, but am very much looking forward to it, as Daniel Craig's version of Bond is more reflective of the Bond of Ian Fleming's novels - - at least as was the case in Casino Royale. Not that either Bond is less or more sexist--but the book Bond is a more complex character.

As for Bond Girls, well, like many things feminist fans and critics of pop culture enjoy we sometimes have to look beyond the surface to find something positive, and what we find is always complicated.

Vesper was the first woman to hurt Bond deeply, and it did color his relations with women after her. Bond is a sophisticate, but he's also cold and a loner. (In the movie Casino Royale, M called him a "blunt instrument.") Bond did fall in love again, with Tracy Draco, in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Tracy was murdered on their wedding day and Bond became so despondent that his job--previously the only thing that was truly important to him--was in jeopardy. So it is possible for Bond to be affected by a woman. M gave him one last chance through a promotion and a challenging mission, an impossible mission as it were, and sent him off to Japan in You Only Live Twice.

While Tracy, played by Diana Rigg in the movie version (and recognized for playing Mrs. Emma Peel on The Avengers) desperately needed the approval of men, of her father, a mob boss, and of Bond, she's also notable for saving Bond's life towards the end of the story by driving the getaway car with ease--even though it's at high speeds on an icy road. Bond himself even admits she's “adventurous, brave, resourceful."

Pussy Galore was interesting. In Goldfinger, she was the leader of a crime gang in Harlem (comprised of lesbians). In keeping with Bond tradition, 007 must, of course, sexually conquer Pussy, and does (in this case because “He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.” ). But, Ms. Galore remains remarkable for her status as the respected and successful leader of a gang of Amazon women.

Miss Moneypenny is hardly addressed in the Bond books, but M’s personal secretary still makes an impression. The importance of her position is slightly clearer in the novels; as assistant to the head of the Secret Intelligence Service she actually holds a rather prestigious position within the organization. In the movies, however, her status is downplayed; she is presented as a spinsterish, if pretty, typist who eternally pines for the unavailable Bond.

Recently, though, a trilogy of novels was written that focus on life working for the British Secret Service in the 1960s from the female point-of-view, from Jane Moneypenny's point-of-view. The first book in The Moneypenny Diaries has been released in the U.S. (I've read them all and they are really fun.) In The Times, author Samantha Weinberg wrote of Moneypenny: “Of all [Fleming’s] characters, she is the only one who is unequivocally likeable. Bond is cruel, M ruthless, most of the girls damaged dolly birds; Moneypenny alone is intelligent and loyal, a grown-up in a world of boy racers.”

Prior to the Moneypenny Diaries, one other book was written in a female voice--and oddly enough it was Fleming that did it. The Spy Who Loved Me was the only Bond book to have been written from a perspective other than Bond’s, and Viv, the only Bond Girl to tell of her experiences with 007 in her own words. (The fictional Vivienne Michel shares a byline with actual author, Fleming.)

Viv is naive but she is also sexually experienced and relatively independent; a young woman traveling North America alone on her Vespa was surely progressive in the early 1960s. While exploring she takes a temporary position at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court and when she closes the motel for the season, two mobsters arrive posing as insurance agents. Their boss intends to commit insurance fraud by burning down the motel, with Viv still on the property. Bond, who does not make an entrance until two-thirds of the way through the book, appears quite by accident when his car gets a flat tire near the motel Viv is trapped in. He saves her from the thugs, sleeps with her and disappears in the morning.

One wonders what would have possessed Fleming, someone with such a regressive view of women, to attempt to write something in a female voice. Regardless, the sexist mentality is present throughout the book. After Vivienne and Bond make love, she reflects on Bond’s “sweet brutality” and makes the abhorrent conclusion that “all women love semi-rape.” Statements like these problematize a feminist interpretation of Viv, but don’t negate her notability for being a resourceful, quick-thinking, and brave female character in a franchise laden with machismo.

Recent 007 movies have depicted women with a touch more depth. Judi Dench’s M is far more imposing than either Bernard Lee’s or Robert Brown’s embodiments; Michelle Yeoh played a more-than-merely-competent butt-kicking Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies; and Halle Berry’s Jinx in Die Another Day was more active than the majority of her predecessors. Jinx was actually based on Modesty Blaise, although Jinx could never measure up to the bad-assery and cool of Modesty - - who happens to be one of my favorite female characters of all time.

But with this post on Camille, I'm looking forward even more to seeing Quantum - - even with all it's contradictions.

Too Much Rape For Me

Too much rape in this movie for me! Icky ick ick.

If you add up all the descriptions of rape, the attempted rape, completed rape, and throw in the instances where a woman was sold as a sexual slave, you have more rape-based scenes than chase scenes in this movie. WHAT THE FUCK?

Almost every woman who enters the screen during the film has a brush with rape, except the grandmotherly character of ‘M’.

(Self-promotion: From my post about the rape in this film on my blog http://theczech.wordpress.com)

Thanks bitch for talking about this! When I saw the movie, I poked around the interwebs and didn't find too much discussion on the rape, even though it was such a dominant theme.

Saw it after reading this post

I decided to see the film after reading this post. I enjoyed the action and the visuals over all (escapism is a guilty pleasure of mine). My question: Why couldn't each of them have gone in at the end, finished their respective business and escaped the burning building independently? They were SO close to creating a female character who's talents actually complimented Bond, rather than relied on him to save her. So...close!

Take note: Opinions expressed are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?

M

Oh yeah...I forgot to mention that I thought Judy Dench was great. In fact, I'd say her character and humor stole the show!

Take note: Opinions expressed are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?