Monday, August 06, 2007

Evolving masculinities - Craig's Bond and Dench's M

One of the most interesting things about the most recent Bond film (Casino Royale, of course) is the way in which Bond's masculinity is radically refigured. I've meant to blog about this since I first saw the film, but with the library closed for the holiday, this seems like as good a time as ever.

In Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam wrote a very clever section on the previous incarnations of Bond, all of whom required some supplement to their masculinity - like Q's devices or M's intelligence. Halberstam also notes - and this is particularly true of a film like Goldeneye - that Bond's female enemies (if not his friends) are often more conventionally masculine than he. In this light, Bond's much-ballyhooed sexual escapades are easily interpreted as a sort of ridiculous effort at over-compensation.

Daniel Craig's Bond seems like a different sort of character. This Bond is built like a pro wrestler and doesn't require laser pens or cuff-link grenades, sure; he's also rather adept at doing his own detective work, as he determines M's top-secret identity and is otherwise entirely competent at putting two-and-two together.

You've probably figured out by now, though, that there's a 'but' coming. More explicitly than ever, this is a Bond with an unformed and dangerous masculine practice. Initially, it's a destructive, libidinal sort that M attempts to reign in by foisting Vesper upon him; and when Vesper betrays him, it's a different kind of control that she exerts. When Bond admits that he doesn't trust anyone, M's (surprising? maybe it is, at first) reply is 'then you've learned your lesson'. It seems that Bond's destructive male power, so useful in pursuit of the bad guys, is just as likely to get him killed.

M's impositions - chastising Bond, saddling him with Vesper, failing to share their suspicion of Vesper's double-agent status - are aimed at maximizing the former and containing the latter. Or, more simply, at teaching him a sustainable practice of masculinity as only a wiser and more experienced woman could. Craig's Bond might seem more obviously the masculine ideal than past Bond's, but that's only because the mechanisms that ensure his masculinity have become much subtler.

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