James Bond as Statist Tool

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Lew, in Goldfinger Bond is not merely a government assassin — his conventional role, of course — but he’s also the embodiment of the privileged, inept government functionary. Perhaps as a result of his incessant drinking, not to mention his self-intoxication, Bond is consistently out-maneuvered by his adversary. Within the first ten minutes of the film he seduces Goldfinger’s mistress and gets her killed. Later in the film he is largely responsible for the death of that poor woman’s sister, as well. He is tricked into wrecking a priceless, gadget-laden Aston Martin through a gag that plays like something out of a Three Stooges movie.

After the crash, Bond finds himself tied up and helpless, escaping death only by essentially begging for his life. Apart from being captured while carrying a tracking device, and then somehow getting Goldfinger’s chief hench-woman to change loyalties (in more ways than one) through what amounts to a sexual assault, Bond does nothing to defeat Goldfinger’s plot. For some reason, Bond’s peripheral involvement in this whole affair is rewarded with the dubious privilege of flying on a specially chartered jet to meet the U.S. President — and during that flight Goldfinger quite thoughtfully manages to kill himself.

Throughout the proceedings, Bond is little more than a boozy, bumbling womanizer. It’s tempting to say that he was a less witty version of Maxwell Smart, but this is unfair: Agent 86 (until the character degenerated into facile caricature) was a competent spy who was comically over-confident. He didn’t use women and would never even think of hitting one, as Bond consistently did in both the Sean Connery and Roger Moore incarnations.

My favorite Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which the game but over-matched George Lazenby portrays 007 as something of a knight errant who actually resigns from his job as a paid killer and attempts — with tragic results — to settle down, start a family, and find honest work. That same theme is woven into the similarly tragic last act of my second-favorite in the series — Casino Royale, in which Daniel Craig’s version of Bond makes the entirely appropriate comment that his chosen career, killing on behalf of the state, is destroying his soul.

5:18 pm on February 20, 2013