Thursday, October 29, 2015

James Bond, Mythic Hero

Robbie Collin penned one of the more interesting of the recent pieces about the Daniel Craig era in the Bond films' history, noting, among other things, if nothing else, for the issues he raises.

Collin is right when he points to the series' more political edge. Still, one ought not to push this too far--the series' ideas about the necessity of espionage orthodox, but the depictions of terrorism vague, while things were complicated by an abrupt, if short-lived, left turn in Quantum of Solace.

Collin is right, too, when he points to the series' greater readiness to embrace Bond's obsolescence. Still, there is no going back to a pre-Suez mind-set, regarding either Britain's place in the world, or gender attitudes--so that this does not mean very much here. And Collin claims rather than demonstrates that the changes have made Bond relevant in a way that, for example, he did not seem to be pre-reboot.

Quite the contrary, Collin is most persuasive when he discusses the turn to myth in recent films--in the evocation of the Odyssey, and in other ways. (In fact, I recently discussed the same theme at some length.) Mythology has its fascinations, but from a modern, rationalistic standpoint it has very serious limits. As Darko Suvin observed, myth is essentially a "ritual and religious approach" that, in a story taking place "above time," "claims to explain once and for all the essence of phenomena."1 As a practical matter this means that it "absolutizes and personifies apparently constant motifs from the sluggish periods with low social dynamics"--exactly what modern times have not been, with the result that myth explains much less satisfactorily. Indeed, it is apt to appear "an illusion . . . a fraud, in the best case only a temporary realization of potentially limitless contingencies."

As relevance goes, this is not terribly great, and the results show it. (Just what does Skyfall really tell us about life, the universe and everything?) Naturally the significance of a mythic Bond lies less in making him "relevant" to our times than in relieving the pressure on the creators to make him contemporary, and permitting the small-scale intrigues in which he is more apt to get caught up now to seem somehow larger than they are, as though we were watching not a civil servant chasing a Bad Guy to get a peek at his phone, but (however superficially) the doings of old-time gods and heroes whose every word, deed and gesture somehow seems worthy of an epic.

1. These remarks come from his classic article "On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre."

Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
Has Quantum of Solace Been Overcriticized?

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