Saturday, September 19, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Women

Dimitrios' wife, Solange, shares some superficial characteristics with her namesake from "007 in New York," but she's serving an entirely different purpose. This is the kind of relationship that Bond is used to: dating married women who can't afford to get attached to him. That's one of the great things about her. She's not just there for Bond to seduce and get information from. She's also there to show us something serious and important about who Bond is.

The other great thing about her is the performance by Caterina Murino, who totally sells how lonely and sad Solange is. She wants to be a good person, but she's weak and that's what gets her into trouble.

Before I get too deep into thoughts on Vesper Lynd, let's pause for a moment and acknowledge the weird way she's introduced to the movie. She joins Bond on the train to Montenegro and announces, "I'm the money." "Every penny of it," Bond replies. I don't know what we're supposed to pull from that joke. Moneypenny isn't in the movie, so I imagine that it's just a way of acknowledging her absence, but it's strange to do that in connection with Vesper, who has nothing in common with M's assistant. Moneypenny is a consistent, but minor friend to Bond. Vesper is exactly the opposite.

She's only with him for a short time, but - especially in the novels - Vesper is the defining female presence in Bond's life. I don't think he truly loves her in the novel, but she certainly changes him and remains a powerful influence on him for years. At least until Tracy shows up. That means that there was a ton of pressure on the movie to get Vesper right. Happily, not only did it do honor to the literary version, it improved her.

Fleming's Vesper is a complicated, mysterious person for a reason. Fleming famously wrote Casino Royale while sweating over his impending marriage and his fears about that are channeled right into Vesper. She's an enigma that Bond can't figure out and he's almost ruined by trying. Eva Green's Vesper is also complicated and has secrets, but she's not as inscrutable as the literary version. That's partly because we can see her face and read her body language - and because those elements are controlled by an extremely talented actress - but it's also in the script. Her character is going on every bit as much of a journey as Bond is.

When they meet, they totally fall into the Belligerent Sexual Tension trope, but it resolves more naturally than your typical couple in a romantic comedy. They never actually hate each other, but they have opposite goals. Bond's there to risk MI6 funds on an uncertain mission, while Vesper's job is to protect those funds by minimizing the risk. The conflict created by that situation deflates though once Vesper is caught in a violent situation and has to participate in killing someone. She's devastated by the trauma of it and - shockingly - Bond is sensitive and gentle with her as she breaks down.

He doesn't appear to have been traumatized by either of the murders he committed in the cold open, and certainly not by any that he's committed in the movie since then. But some part of him is able to empathize with Vesper's reaction and comfort her through it. That beautiful moment in the shower connects them, so that later, when they undergo even more serious suffering together, they become inseparable. That's so much more powerful than it is in the book where her love for Bond seems to be mostly driven by guilt over her role in his torture.

Her treason and death are different in the book and film, too, but I like both versions. The reasons each Vesper does what she does are connected to the unique relationships they have with their Bonds, but what they're trying to achieve is the same. In both book and film, Vesper tries to move past her betrayal, but it catches up to her and she dies trying to protect Bond.

That really confuses him. He's learned to trust her, then learned that his trust was misplaced, but ultimately has to wrestle with the knowledge that she was still on his side to the very end. That's a crazily uncertain place for him to be in as the movie ends, but resolving that uncertainty is what makes Quantum of Solace so powerful. Spoilers for my feelings about that movie.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
3. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
4. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
5. Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
6. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
7. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
8. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
9. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
10. Domino Derval (Thunderball)

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