Last week in my Gender and James Bond course, we discussed the deeply troubling scene at the beginning of Thunderball (1965) in which Bond sexually harasses and coerces a nurse at the health clinic Shrublands. On multiple occasions, Patricia Fearing rejects the physical and verbal advances of Bond making it clear that she is not interested in sexual activity. Bond does not accept her rejections or respect her bodily autonomy, and eventually blackmails Fearing into sleeping with him.

While my students typically find this scene problematic and uncomfortable to watch, my class this semester found it to be especially troubling. Unlike recent depictions of sexual violence featured in shows like Game of Thrones, which are more graphic but clearly framed as being bad/wrong/immoral, the sexual violence in Thunderball is (re)coded via music as playful and seductive, thus normalizing Bond’s tactics. When Christoph Lindner teaches Thunderball, he shows the scene first with sound and then screens it again without sound in order to underscore the role that the soundtrack/music plays in (re)coding the sexual violence as flirtatious and ultimately consensual. Thus, it was the framing of scene rather than the quantity and degree of explicit sexual violence that was most/more concerning to my students.

A similar tactic is utilized in the opening scene of Diamonds Are Forever (1971) when Bond, looking to ‘uncover’ the whereabouts of Blofeld, interrogates Marie who he finds sunbathing in a gold bikini. He approaches the woman, swiftly unclips her bikini top, and proceeds to choke her with it, briefly exposing her breasts in the process. As Bond tightens the noose, the woman gasps for air and her frightened face fills the screen in a close-up shot. The film arguably tries to downplay the brutality of Bond’s actions by having Marie moan in a sexually suggestive way. This sound, likely added in post-production (given the frequency of dubbing across the Connery era), does not negate the violence she endures or the lack of consent she expresses through her body (since Bond has taken away her ability to speak).

See 1:02-1:31

Like other Bond women, Patricia Fearing has a double entendre for a name but the sexually suggestive secondary meaning highlights her trepidation of Bond on personal and professional levels. As a result, her name FEARING challenges the libidinal masculinity of Bond given his use of forceful tactics that appear similar to those employed by villains in this era. For instance, in From Russia with Love (1963) as well as its 1957 source novel, Klebb’s sexual harassment of Romanova is deemed inappropriate in light of her position of authority (via rank) over Romanova as well as broader notions of sexual deviance prominent at the time. By comparison, Thunderball tries to (re)code Bond’s sexual harassment of Fearing as harmless fun. Given that his actions take place outside of an official mission, they are personal rather than professional. In other words, his sexual misconduct cannot be justified as a field tactic or explained away as a product of the sexual expectations (of women) in spy culture. As a result, Connery’s Bond comes across as predatory.

In popular culture, James Bond is known for his sexual magnetism and ability to attract women. This scene in Thunderball challenges the way we “remember” Connery’s Bond while forgetting his use of deception, intimidation, and sexual violence to accomplish his professional and personal goals. In the #MeToo era, is important that we see the full picture and examine the messages being relayed through popular culture and its icons about gender, sex/sexuality, and power.

For a detailed discussion, see my forthcoming article “Delightful Duties?: Sexual Violence in the Connery Era James Bond Films (1962-71)”

I am thinking about ice, water, and the elemental featured in the No Time To Die (2020) trailers on a frigid day in Oklahoma. I originally posted my thoughts as a Twitter thread and decided to compile them into my first blog post.

No Time to Die (2020) trailer

There is a strong link between water and femininity across the James Bond series. Water is largely considered to be a feminine element given its connection to maternity and the waters of life. Various Bond scholars have explored the link between women and water in the series (see my article with Klaus Dodds for instance). Bond often meets, woos, and sleeps with women under water. But this element is reclaimed and associated with Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale (2006) when he, and not Vesper Lynd, emerges from the sea in a bathing suit. This scene is an homage to Dr. No (1962) and recalls the introduction of quintessential Bond Girl Honey Ryder. As I have argued elsewhere, Craig’s Bond is positioned through the iconography of the Bond Girl and presented as a Bond-Bond Girl hybrid in the film. It is Solange Dimitrios and later Vesper Lynd who watch Bond emerge from the sea and the audience shares their POVs. These scenes effectively establish a female gaze in the film.

Casino Royale (2006)

In Casino Royale, there is a shift in heroic model away from the British lover literary tradition. Instead, Bond is presented through a more hard-bodied model of masculinity popularized in Hollywood blockbusters. As the heroic model changes, so too are the ways in which Bond’s masculinity are tested and confirmed (i.e. a shift from libido-based challenges to more physical ones). This in turn alters the relationship between Bond and the elements. Bond’s mastery of water as a Naval Commander becomes less about seduction (e.g. wooing Domino Derval underwater in Thunderball) and more about physical survival (e.g. opening of Skyfall).

Thunderball (1965) and Skyfall (2012)

The icy imagery in No Time To Die also recalls the underwater scene at the end of Skyfall. While ice can contain and obscure (i.e. keeping the truth hidden and below the surface), water is also associated with the process of rebirth. Skyfall offers a fitting end to the orphan origin trilogy – Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall – with Bond emerging as a (super)spy at the conclusion of the film. Is Bond 25 suggesting another ‘return’ or ‘rebirth’ of Bond in the Craig era?

In The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), the doppelganger Charly resurfaces during the torture sequence in icy water. She embodies Freud’s theory of the “uncanny” – that which should remain hidden is ‘scary’ when it reemerges – and appears monstrous upon her return. Her skin not only turns blue (suggesting a hardening of her body in the freezing water) but she also appears colder emotionally and more focused on vengeance.

Will James Bond be presented as dangerous and threatening upon his return to the service/field in No Time To Die? The imagery and symbolism in the trailers especially with the prevalence of the color blue in both costuming and promotional materials suggest this is a strong possibility. Will the color blue be aligned with the loyal servants of MI6 as in Skyfall (see my book with Klaus Dodds for a discussion of this), the waters of life, or even the hardening of Bond emotionally? We will soon find out.

No Time to Die (2020)