Today I watched my first James Bond movie. Yes, somehow I passed my thirtieth year never having seen a Bond movie. I decided it was time to rectify that and what better way than to start from the beginning.
So I borrowed a copy of Dr. No from my trusty local library (seriously, they save my media life) and settled in.
The plot was about what I expected. Even though I’ve never seen a Bond film before there are certain things I knew about the character just because of how pervasive it has become in society. And one of these things is the fact that he is a womanizer. This is part of the film character. But as I watched the film, a few things began to disturb me. Individually they could be brushed off, but together they provide a rather unsettling picture.
In Dr. No our first introduction to Bond, James Bond, is his flirting with a woman at a card table. She makes advances and even sneaks into his room to seduce him (not that it takes much convincing). The thing that threw me is that this woman is completely unimportant. We never see her again. She is not a spy, is not working for anyone, does not appear later for him to save – nothing. In retrospect it seems that her only role in the film is to show how sexually desirable Bond is. He is handsome, debonair, and charming.
Next he flirts with the secretary, but theirs is a give-and-take relationship that is charming rather than disturbing, so I’ll let that one go.
Next Bond meets the secretary of a professor (spoilers) who is involved with the whole evil plot. Bond catches her eavesdropping and invites her to his hotel. Perfectly normal, right? She instead invites him to her apartment. Surprise! She’s in on the plot as well and doesn’t expect him to actually show up because he is supposed to die on the way there. He evades (and kills) his pursuers and shows up. She is in a towel and he kisses her. She protests, but apparently inviting him to her apartment is the only invitation he needs. She goes along with things because she is trying to delay Bond, but there are definite moments of her resisting Bond’s advances which he ignores. The fact that she is one of the “bad guys” or that she becomes a willing participant is not enough for me to gloss over this.
But the most distressing to me was the situation with Honey. But she is a consenting adult! you cry. She is attracted to him and even instigates their physicality to some extent, you argue. But let’s look at the facts.
1. Honey tells Bond that after her father died her landlord forces himself on her as “payment” for letting her stay on for a short time rent free. There is no real reason for this plot point to come up, yet it is clearly explicated for us.
2. After waking from their drugged sleep Bond walks in on Honey while she is dressing. She appears distressed at this, clutching the top to her and dressing quickly when his attention is distracted elsewhere. Perhaps she is mostly still affected by their capture and their drugging, but she does not exhibit many signs of being physically attracted to Bond other than that he has saved her life and is the only person in the situation she can rely on. In fact, up until the ending, Honey shows little to no signs of desiring any kind of intimate relationship with Bond.
3. During dinner, Bond tries to get her released. Instead she is dragged from the room while Dr. No says, “I am sure the guards will amuse her.” The intent behind the words is very clear in the context. Especially since, according to IMDb, the original line was “I am sure she will amuse the guards.” In addition, when Honey is dragged from the dining room she is wearing a tunic top and a pair of pink slacks. When Bond locates her after he thwarts Dr. No’s plan (and kills the villain) she is chained, spread-eagle on the ground and her pants are missing. I don’t think I am making too great a leap to say that in all likelihood this girl has just been brutalized by at least one guard. Unless they were interrupted by the big plans going on… but then why not just tie her up. Why half strip her and tie her down in that sort of compromising position.
5. Bond and Honey flee aboard a small ship. They run out of gas and the first thought on Bond’s mind? I’m going to seduce this young woman whose life I just saved and who was just potentially abused.
Yes, she kisses him back. Yes, she is the one who moves closer to him. But he is the one who makes the overture. With her history (which has been made clear to us) is it not possible that Honey might feel like she owes Bond some sort of thanks for saving her life? Perhaps not. Perhaps I’m reading too much into all of this. But the fact that this thought can sit in my brain bothers me just as much. That there is evidence to support it is problematic, even if it isn’t the intent.
So where am I going with this? I don’t really know. Am I decrying the Bond movies? No. Am I judging the whole franchise on this one movie? No. I plan on watching more and I’ll keep you apprised of any other observations I make. Other movies, other books, other media have similar or worse threads running through them. Acknowledging their existence and their problematic-ness is a good step. Doesn’t mean we can’t like James Bond, but it does mean that maybe we should think more about what happens in the things we read and watch and what message they are conveying, even unconsciously.