Not the Review You’d Think on ‘Spectre’: Why James Bond is all about the individual against institutionalism

After giving a wonderfully deserving review of the Liberty Center movie theater Cinebistro where I saw Spectre as a first ever viewing in that newly constructed wonder, I thought it beneficial to point out some aspects of the new James Bond movie that are important to our usual discussions. I’ll have to say that I loved the movie; it was very good for a Bond film, and even wonderful as a stand a lone feature. But the movie tackled some very direct and indirect issues which concern the larger aspects of society, so this is not a review as much as it is a social commentary on the latest in the Bond franchise and its impact on mainstream, global, culture.

First of all, Spectre was essentially the epitome of what we all fear regarding the NSA program in the United States. Considering that James Bond is a British film franchise that has its largest market in America, it’s always interesting to see how the world views issues through James Bond stories intended for specifically American eyes. I have to point out that the reason that James Bond was successful as a “supers spy” is specifically because he is willing to break the rules all the time and do what he thinks is right as an individual. James Bond works because he acts as an individual who will violate the chain of his command structure to do what he thinks is right. That is why James Bond is one of the best overman characters in cinema and so long as the filmmakers know and accept that—James Bond films will be successful. James Bond films are not so good when he becomes a “duty first” sacrificial lamb working toward progressive causes. In those types of stories, James Bond falters. But in Spectre, James Bond is an overman—and he succeeds because of it—and so does the story.

In that fashion this latest film has been criticized as being a less “progressive” film and more of a throwback to the early Sean Connery films—which I thought was always the point of the Daniel Craig stories. Bond has little weaknesses, never appears to be unsure of himself, and always manages to get a situation under control. That’s wonderful—it’s why I go see James Bond movies as opposed to some of the more recent garbage where the main characters are all emotional about their parents, or their role in the universe. James Bond is sure of himself and likes the skin he lives in. That makes him a wonderful character.

English society loves rules and following them. They are some of the most proper people on the planet by their very nature. I enjoy them most of the time because at least they have wonderful values—as a nation. But, Bond works best when he disobeys orders, wither its direct commands from “M” or he’s harassing “Q” or stepping around the constructs of social well-being for the benefit of objectives only he can see. So it’s interesting that England has embraced James Bond with such open arms because he reveals about them the suppressed nature of their national consciousness. James Bond is the English version of an American cowboy—a rugged individualist functioning from their own blissful nature—without the confinement of social impositions. If he wants to make love to a woman, he does it. If he wants to save the world—he does it even if his superiors tell him to stand down. That’s a very important distinction.

Then you get into the other side of the European mindset, the constant references in the film to how government could never afford such a luxurious surveillance program as the character “C” is in charge of, that only the private sector can. Such a conversation occurred between “M” and a fellow bureaucrat as they discussed eliminating the 00 program of counter-intelligence for which James Bond works. The interesting aspect of all this is that 007, otherwise known as James Bond is a government worker and the personal identity of all the other government workers are only known by their employment positions—such as “M,” “Q,” or “C.” Their individual names are not relevant to their social context within the movie. So within all James Bond films is this strange dance between duty and national loyalty and individual free will as James Bond walks the very fine line between them.

An interesting transition occurred as James Bond was discovered at a secret society meeting of a group called Spectre and their plans for world domination through global surveillance programs—while in a car chase Bond was on the phone with Miss Moneypenny which is being recorded secretly by “C.” Bond has broken from his command by “M” to remain in London but is instead fleeing an aggressor in Rome. Moneypenny gives Bond the information he needs which allows for the adventure to continue, but later when “C” wants to slam “M” for not having control of his agents to justify the global surveillance program he is initiating with Spectre, it is brought up strategically to put justification for insurrection on the out-dated government organization which is made out in this case to be a heroic enterprise. “M” isn’t mad at Bond for disobeying him, it’s at “C” for using a big brother nanny state to take control of his “old school” 00 program, very interesting paradoxes there.

Of course I don’t mean to spoil the ending, but at the conclusion of the story obviously it involves Bond in an individual situation of value versus the greater good. He picks love for his own selfish reasons and the story concludes putting his needs before the needs of the state. He was literally on a bridge with his girlfriend on one end and his boss “M” at the other. He walked deliberately toward her and that was the parting shot of the film. Obviously the movie resonated with audiences and the picture made well over $100 million on its opening weekend. People agreed with James Bond’s decision. If he had walked toward “M” Bond would be a lot less cool. That’s something to note.

The formula with Bond as opposed to other franchises is that it gives people the surface values they feel in their society, love of country, loyalty to a cause, sacrifice, honor as assessed by collective opinion. But additionally it touches the subconscious of individual necessity and value. Bond is an individual that will disobey all the rules of society to do what’s right which only he can see. Ultimately in all Bond movies that are successful, this is the relationship Bond has with the institutions of his life, and it’s why people continue to cheer him to victory each time after over five decades of film telling essentially the same story over and over again with new actors, updated visuals, but essentially the same conflict on the screen—Bond against an ultimate villain, and Bond against the institution. At the conclusion of each film when Bond outsmarts both antagonists, the literal villain and the institutions of his life successfully while still fulfilling the mission parameters that always embody the greater good; we love the movies with successful box office earnings.

Personally, I loved the various metaphors of this latest Bond installment. There were a lot, and they were intelligent. The filmmakers obviously went the extra mile to deliver a film filled with a visual commentary on the condition of our modern era. As I’ve said previously, the opening scene was spectacular; the fight on the train was very classic—and suspenseful. The car chase and style of the secret society meeting which was very reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut was done with great taste and cinematic skill. It was compelling to say the least given many of the concerns of our real political society these days. There may not be so much fiction in it as we would like to believe. All in all, Spectre was a great film, not because James Bond was a loyal agent to His Majesty’s Secret Service, but because he was an individual who literally pushed the world away in order to save it. Powerful stuff if it is understood literally and not just subconsciously. With that context in mind, listen to the words of the theme song—“Writing on the Wall” and you will hear a small work of genius into the plight of the individual against the collective.

Spectre is a movie well worth watching, and if you are lucky enough to live near the Cinebistro at Liberty Center—go see it there with a nice bottle of wine and a juicy self-indulged steak. Maybe even have a martini shaken, but not stirred for some good fun. It’s that kind of movie and one that you will leave with no regrets and maybe a few advanced thoughts about the condition of the human race and the paradoxes of our existence. The English know they are there, but they can’t seem to admit to them in the light of day—only in the magic of a darkened theater under the light of the silver screen.

Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman


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