The new James Bond is a vulnerable man, a loving and therefore caring agent. But this vulnerability ultimately leads to a passion; to suffering from the world and its villains. Is it a coincidence that the southern Italian Matera with its “spiritus loci” is at the starting point of the story? As the location of popular Jesus films, Matera is more than just a side note. It marks the hero’s passion.
Since Daniel Craig took over the role of James Bond in “Casino Royale” (2006), a new wind has been blowing in the longest series in film history. The hero becomes a vulnerable and battered man. His love for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) changed him fundamentally. He has become a loving and suffering person. He mourns the loss of Vespers, which he was unable to save in Venice. And so “No Time to Die” (2021) leads us to the grave of the beloved whom James Bond cannot let go.
It’s a terrific sign of transversal storytelling. In a total of five successive James Bond adventures, the main character – since losing his great love – takes on guilt and suffers from this burden. He is existentially injured and in mourning. During a romantic detour in the opening of “No Time to Die” in the southern Italian city of Matera, Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) speaks to her beloved James about letting go. She has her own secret. But she won’t reveal it until James has said goodbye to his great love for Vespers.
Guilt and forgiveness
So the first big issue is guilt and forgiveness. There is an entanglement in guilt that exceeds us as individual individuals. Evil is omnipresent in the world. In the fight against this evil, the hero became infected with the dark side. Despite his outstanding skills as an agent, he has lost control of his environment. He looks over his shoulder as he steps up to the hotel in Matera and his companion notices this reflex. Is it suspicion, vigilance, or fear? Bond can never relax again. He knows that danger lurks behind every corner of the house. Guilt and fear are his constant companions.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux)
Is there forgiveness for the hero? The further the story in “No Time to Die” develops, the more hopeless the entanglement becomes. The entanglement of guilt pervades all countries, all people and even your own Secret Service. The metaphor for this systemic guilt, which classical dogmatics calls “original sin”, is a terrible weapon. Her name is Heracles and it consists of a contagious devastation of humanity. The virus as a metaphor is present in many films. But the horror scenario has now reached a new dimension.
All are victims and perpetrators at the same time
Who can forgive people in this abysmal entanglement at all? How can the world free itself from this abysmal violence? The script of the new James Bond suggests that it can only be a great sacrifice that leads to a solution here. According to studies by René Girard on mimetic theory and, in his successor, the Innsbruck theologian Raymund Schwager, societies need a sacrificial mechanism that overcomes chaos and violence. Violence causes new forms of violence again and again through imitation and mutual trumpeting. This mimetic violence is difficult to stop and can tear the entire society into the abyss. James Bond is a hero who counteracts this collapse of society, but who is increasingly reaching its limits. In spite of superhuman efforts, order cannot be restored.
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James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns from early retirement in “No Time to Die”
James Bond is a hero with a license to kill. He resolves his conflicts by killing and clearing away enemies of order. It seems to slowly dawn on the main character that he will become the perpetrator himself. Bond is not only a perpetrator – in a good sense the instrument of his government and the Secret Service MI6 – but also a victim. For him there is no grace, no contemplative and meaningful life with loved ones, no place for early retirement. He is persecuted by his own deeds and acts of violence. In this respect, Bond is always a victim in an everlasting entanglement of mimetic violence.
Encounter with evil
A highlight of “No Time to Die” is the encounter with the villain Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who is sitting in a high-security wing in London. Madeleine Swann as a psychologist and James Bond as an agent face the encounter. But the confrontation is completely different than expected. Madeleine flees from this encounter in terrible horror at the things that are to come. James tries to talk to the villain, but has to realize that he is at the mercy of the tentacles of evil. And who would have thought that 007 would lose his temper in this situation? It is the collapse of reason in the face of horror.
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Arch enemy Blofeld (Christopher Waltz) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) face each other again
James Bond – the loving and caring man
In the face of evil, there is a process of knowledge in the hero. He wants to change: from the killer machine to the loving man; from destruction to care; from the constant threat of enemies to living in peace. This is acted out in some variations of the film plot and could also turn out to be a horizon of hope. So far this turning point has not been made in the character of James Bond. Every time he tried to change, Bond’s life was in danger. This was also the case at the beginning of this new adventure, when he met the grave of Vesper in southern Italy and found a criminal Blofeld’s business card with a spider symbol there. Shortly afterwards, an explosive charge detonates and knocks him over. A merciless run against time begins.
On the way to love and care, the male psyche passes through a deep abyss of vulnerability. Based on Bond, this is now played through with all clarity and rigor. No matter how hard he tries to protect his loved ones: the story leads further and further into the story of suffering.
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James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) story leads further and further into the story of suffering
Between an agent thriller and a Jesus film
The classic genre for James Bond is the agent thriller. In a world of villains, an outstanding figure of light with extraordinary abilities ensures the destruction of evil and the restoration of balance. Now there are more and more indications of religious exaggeration in James Bond: for example in the final sequence of “Skyfall” (2012), which relocates the climax of the duel to a church in which M (Judy Dench) dies. Or in the depths of the hero who is getting closer and closer to the world of evil and who is tested in these temptation stories.
Mainstream film scripts have been known to resort to Christian narratives. From “Terminator” (1984) to “Matrix” (1999) to “James Bond” this recourse to the biblical models is clearly visible. This is now abundantly clear in “No Time to Die”. Matera, of all places, is the setting for the first half an hour. Even before the animated opening credits of the Bond film begin, we see James Bond and Madeleine Swann as lovers get out of their Aston Martin in the picturesque old town.
Matera as the famous location of Jesus films
Matera is a legendary film location in Basilicata, in the very south of Italy’s heel. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Il Vangelo secondo Matteo” (The First Gospel according to Matthew, 1964) and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) are particularly influential. Milo Rau is also going to southern Italy with his new Jesus film “The New Gospel” to pay tribute to the legendary place.
© Fruitmarket / feature film / IIPM / Photo by Armin Smailovic
Jesus carries the cross.
While Milo Rau is staging a political passion play that the public is looking for, Cary Fukunaga (director) and his script team now offer us a James Bond who withdraws into private life. But this form of early retirement simply does not work. The dream of romantic love and the family idyll that goes with it meets harsh reality. The new James Bond can be read as an early retired passion play in mainstream cinema.
Passion play 2.0
The suffering in the world is underlined by the childhood story of Madeleine, who lost her mother in an attack on her parents’ house. And James, who visits the grave of his beloved Vespers in Matera, who tragically died in Venice. This visit to the cemetery is extremely dangerous for Bond’s life.
The main characters are wounded existences who mourn their losses. Letting these two figures appear as lovers in Matera is thoroughly calculated. Anyone who is familiar with the Jesus film and thinks about the importance of Matera as the setting for the Passion of Christ in the film will already know at the beginning of this film: I am in a Passion Play 2.0.
Scene from the film adaptation of the Bible by Pasolini
Lucifer, God and Treason
It is hardly surprising that many religious symbols now appear as set pieces in the cinematic narrative in the new Bond adventure. Lucifer is one of them. The question of God should not be missing in the duel between Bond and the villain. And in the background of the plot the theme of betrayal, guilt and forgiveness simmered. Can Bond forgive himself? Is he able to forgive Madeleine? Both live in their guilty entanglements and keep their own secrets that will be revealed in the end. So much catharsis has to be there, even with an agent thriller.
On the surface, “No Time to Die” is a real agent film. It offers everything a James Bond promises. But under this surface existential issues that have a lot to offer emerge. The suffering in one’s own existence, the entanglements of evil and the possibility of love and forgiveness emerge. – There is a solution to the spiral of violence that surpasses even a James Bond. Because the Jesus film is not far away.
© Catholic Media Center, October 2nd, 2021
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