So I saw Skyfall on Monday, and although I never expected to do a review of a James Bond movie for a feminist website—the two terms ‘007’ and ‘feminism’ are basically antonyms—hooooo boy, are there a lot of things to unpack, sexuality-wise. For those of you who haven’t seen it, spoilers will abound—this is going to be somewhere between a standard Sexualized Saturdays and a basic Skyfall review—so consider yourself warned.
First of all, let’s take a look at the Bond girl of the film, because I thought her portrayal was a little more problematic than the usual Bond fare. Severine is listed on the James Bond wiki as being a prostitute, but in the movie, where she is introduced in a Chinese casino flanked by thugs who seem to be there to control her, not to protect her, where she is called out as being part of the sex trade by Bond based on an old-looking tattoo of the Chinese symbol for ‘9’ on her wrist; and where she is shown to be terrified of her employer and trying to escape his grasp with Bond’s help, she seems more like a victim of sex trafficking than a woman who has chosen to go into sex work.
And although the strong-sexy-woman-was-sexually-victimized-in-her-past backstory is already played out, (Hollywood, get some new ideas already) the scene that really made me uncomfortable was the part where she and 007 actually did the nasty. She is waiting for him on her boat, and has assumed he is not coming. She goes to take a shower, and Bond finally appears, naked, and joins her in the shower. He comes up on her from behind, while she has water in her eyes, and in the movie she just gasps and turns around and they get it on. This scene was so rapey to me, and didn’t make sense for her character; if she was a sex slave (or just any woman taking a shower, because seriously), having a strange man come into the shower and grab her from behind would be terrifying. She’d scream, and probably claw at his eyes with her crazily pointy fake nails, and pretty much do the opposite of turn around and proceed to have sex with him.
The other big unpackable sexuality dealio of Skyfall relates to the bad guy, Raoul Silva, and his interactions with Bond. Silva is sinister, absolutely brilliant, and comes off as very effeminitely gay. Another annoying trope that that Hollywood writers continue to use in their writing is the gay-bad-guy thing. It’s especially annoying in testosterone-fueled action movies like this, because it helps perpetuate the stereotype that gay guys are these predatory villains coming to hit on straight guys and make them super uncomfortable, so beware! I think that the movie does do a good job of giving him a character outside of ‘gay and EVIL!’, but his first scene had me really worried that he was going to be another flat reiteration of the stereotype.
In Silva’s first scene, his henchmen have tied Bond to a chair, and Silva approaches him, sits very close (see the above picture) and begins to interrogate him. As he talks to Bond, he is also touching him—slowly pulling the studs out of Bond’s tuxedo shirt to look at the scar on his chest, rubbing his hands along the agent’s thighs, and although I personally thought this scene was far more sexually charged than the shower scene that immediately preceded it, I worried that, as the scene drew on, that Bond, as the purest avatar of straight male fantasy, was going to jerk away in disgust or lash out at the other man. Imagine my surprise when the conversation went like this:
Silva: [hands running down Bond’s chest to part his knees] Oh, you’re trying to remember your training now… What’s the regulation to cover this? There’s a first time for everything.
Bond: [smirking, unruffled] What makes you think this is my first time?
Silva: [leans back in surprise] Oh, Mr. Bond!
(source for the visual)
Now, there are many reasons besides ‘Bond has had sex with men before’ that he might have said that. He might have wanted to throw Silva off, or to play as though Silva’s fondling, which was obviously intended to unsettle him, is having no effect. That would be the good spy thing to do. But to be honest, James Bond is not actually a very good spy, and the immediate connotation for the viewer is that this is not the first time he’s been in a sexual situation with a man.
For a character who, as I’ve pointed out, is more of a stereotypical heterosexual male fantasy than any other character I can think of, this is kind of a big deal. Some people are describing it as a ‘Fifty-seven academics just punched the air” moment, referring to a scene in the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”. Shakespeare hits on both Martha and the Doctor and the Doctor, surprised, says the above line, referring to the scholarly debate over Shakespeare’s sexuality. And honestly, James Bond is a man who enjoys pleasure, and will do anything for his country. It really doesn’t seem unlikely to me that, at some point in his life, he has slept with men for work or pleasure.
Daniel Craig seems very uncomfortable with the idea of a ‘gay James Bond’ (and seriously, people, can we get over the whole you-have-to-be-gay-or-straight thing because there are other types of sexuality), but most of the internet (and not just the fangirls on Tumblr, although, yes, they are excited, too) is buzzing with speculation that 007 basically outed himself as bisexual in Skyfall.
Has anyone else seen Skyfall? What were your thoughts?
Agreed with the Severine thing. During that part I was like ‘are you kidding me??’ This movie is great and everything, but I couldn’t help that it seemed to portray women (with the notable exception of Badass M)as pathetic. The scene where Bond grabs the wheel as Eve is driving turned me way off. It’s like they made it seem that women are incompetent drivers (or, judging by what happens later, unable to shoot straight) and that made me just shake my head in distaste. Somewhere, Natasha Romanov is weeping.
Personally I thought the only point where they nailed it with female characters (apart from M, who is of course magnificent) was with Moneypenny. I read her reckless driving as devil-may-care rather than incompetent and she’s just as suave as 007, and she may well be a crack shot, but that situation was asking a bit much all the same.
And yeah I was miffed at the villain=gay thing and then just as I was ready to get good and angry, Bond comes back with his insinuation and I thought. “Oh. Didn’t see *that* coming!” And now I don’t know quite what to think.
In general, though, her ladyship’s critique is dead-on, I deem.
In my headcanon that is how Moneypenny is – actually just a really awesome field agent who had one bad day, and who decided for herself that she could be more effective at a desk, because of course she can still be badass that way, no one in MI6 is -just- a secretary – but I think that the movie made it seem like everyone else suggested she just couldn’t cut it as a field agent and so she was just like ‘welp apparently I suck, I’ll just be a secretary instead.’
There is definitely still some problematicalness with Silva regardless of how Bond reacted to his seduction techniques; I mean, the gay=villain thing still stands, and the gay evil person who is also misogynist and has mommy issues is a further annoyance to say the least. But I think Bond’s reaction in that one scene threw a lot of people through a loop, and muted a lot of the criticisms of Silva’s character.
I daresay you are quite right. I touched on it briefly in my own review but as I say, I didn’t know quite what to make of it.
Yeah, I definitely have mixed feelings about the Eve situation. I have no problem with a lady deciding that maybe fieldwork is not for her and switching to desk work (she can still be badass in an office, albeit in a different way), but I felt they could have handled it a lot better. It seemed less like she was making her own choices and more like she was doing it because Bond suggested she should.
^ Same here. Also, having a gay villain was actually quite fun and different for me, and throwing the ‘007 is also gay/has been with men at one point’ bomb was priceless. But it’s very weird since we know what we think we know about Silva, yet he has his own ‘personal concubine’, so that left me thinking ‘What? Is he straight or is he not?’
I mean, maybe it’s the other side of the Bond coin. Just because Bond presents super-hetero doesn’t mean he is; the same could certainly hold true for Silva. Just because he acts in a way we consider ‘gay’ doesn’t mean he can’t be bi or pan or any number of other things, or maybe he just enjoys having sexual power over people. If his being mostly attracted to men with some exceptions is supposed to mirror Bond’s mostly being attracted to women with some exceptions, then I’m very impressed by the screenwriting.
Yeah, that makes sense, thanks 🙂
Actually, the whole gay/bisexual/*insert personal flavor* thingy doesn’t necessarily have to relate to Bond’s own sexuality. As a spy or assassin, having the ability to play whatever cards you’re dealt – be it acting gay or any other role needed to complete your objective – is very useful. Thus, he may have past experience in the gay department, without being gay himself.
Personally I don’t care much about a characters sexuality, maybe I’ll arch an eyebrow at necrophilia or some such… That said, a gay/bisexual Bond doesn’t really jibe with male chauvenistic type.
I mean, that’s certainly possible. I was just pointing out that it would be interesting and definitely very subversive for a character who has always been portrayed as a sort of chauvinistic male fantasy character to be non-straight.
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