Bond: The Hero and the Myth
I am an avid Bond fan and I saw the latest, No Time To Die, over the weekend. The Daniel Craig era radically redefined the franchise from one of popcorn entertainment to something that could better be described as film compared to movie. Producer Barbara Broccoli’s new take threw away gadgets and often cheesy one-liners for a pentalogy that has explored Bond as a man, not just a blunt instrument. It’s something that Ian Fleming’s novels on which the series is based also explored in great depth and I’ve appreciated this new direction. The final installment took this to a level I never thought they would and, as the credits began to roll, I just sat in my seat, totally stunned. As a friend who saw it said, “well, that was a kick in the gut.” Spoiler alert: they did the unthinkable and killed Bond. (Not to worry, Bond fans, after the credits finished rolling, they did promise that “James Bond Will Return.”) As another fan said on a podcast I listen to, “it was like killing Santa Claus.”
As I sat in the theater, I honestly didn’t know what to think. I’m still somewhat confused by the conflicting emotions within me. Given that the series spans more than 53 hours and considering I’ve seen all of them several times; read all the Fleming books and most of the continuation novels; and listened to or watched hundreds of hours of commentary, deleted scenes, and podcasts, I know Bond better than I know a lot of my friends. Considering moviegoers can be “kicked in the gut” when a character they’ve only known over the course of a couple of hours dies at the end, it only makes sense that I’m so affected by the loss of this fictional but flawed hero. It is, indeed, like losing Santa Claus, even if I’m promised Bond’s return.
Trying to view this bombshell as objectively as possible though, I think I approve. It’s ironic that we often go to movies to escape reality and have the most fun at those popcorn flicks where the hero saves the day and gets the girl all while keeping his hair perfectly coiffed, but when asked what the best movies are, the public generally rates highest the ones that leave us stunned or sentimental, sobbing our tears of empathy for the characters on screen.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish Bond hadn’t died. But if he hadn’t, I know the movie would not have been nearly as good. This isn’t only true in fiction either. Part of us would like to live forever and for life to contain no pain. Deep down inside, though, we know that pain and death are what make life worth living because we know life’s brevity is what makes it valuable. Value, after all, is directly related to scarcity.
We take this further with our hero-worship. A man who dies in old age, snug in his bed, may elicit tears from his loved ones, but it is hardly a tragedy, for we know he lived a full life. A young person who dies is more of a tragedy, but if the death came about from some illness or an accident, it’s nothing more. The deceased does not rise to the level of hero-worship. No, hero-worship only occurs when the life given was in exchange for the life saved. Greeks and Romans of antiquity worshiped their fallen warriors because they had died in glory. Men and women like William Wallace, Joan of Arc, and the soldiers who have given their lives in more recent battles are held on high. Of course, the most well-known example of this hero-worship is Christ Himself, who gave his life selflessly so that all of mankind, past, present, and future, could be freed from sin.
No Time To Die ends with Bond’s boss, M, reading a eulogy while surrounded by his compatriots at MI6. The eulogy comes from author Jack London by way of an epitaph in Ian Fleming’s novel, You Only Live Twice, which lent a few elements to this latest movie. (M quoted only the last three sentences.)
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Further spoiler alert: while Bond gives his life partly to save the world (and in this movie, the world means literally hundreds of millions of people’s lives, stakes not seen since 1979’s Moonraker), he gives it more for the life of just two people, the love of his life, Madeline Swann, and their daughter Mathilde. Without going into much detail, at the end of the movie, he could have potentially saved himself from an oncoming barrage of missiles set to destroy a bioweapon but, had he, the infection he now carried would have surely killed the two women he loved. He literally went out in a brilliant blaze and magnificent glow. He used his time not to prolong his life but to prolong the lives of others.
Could the writers have penned a different ending? Of course. He was nearly home free before having to turn back and face what was ultimately a fairly unremarkable final run-in with the fairly unremarkable villain and a fairly unremarkable death. Instead of dying, he could have escaped and the film could have ended with him driving off into the sunset with his family. It wouldn’t have changed the course of the franchise going forward. Having a family would have likely led Eon to reboot things as they now must because the Bond we’ve come to know, like many spies, cannot be tied down to the liability of something so personal. If Eon had done so, maybe I, along with so many other Bond fans, would not be as melancholy the day after, but would it have been right? Would we have valued Bond, the hero, and the myth, as much as we do now?
In worshiping life, we are worshiping death because only in the contrast do they both exist. So raise a glass to Commander James Bond! Raise a glass to Joan of Arc, William Wallace, and the many thousands of other heroes, both fictional and real, who have given their lives throughout history so that we may live ours. And once you’ve raised that first glass, raise another to your own life and the lives of those you love; then, waste no more time trying to prolong those lives but use them to truly live!
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