The first hiccup? All of the meaningless sex with people who are about to die. First things first – this is really gross. It is one thing to have a bunch of meaningless sex in the middle of your job – which is like sort of important Mr. Bond – but to know with near certainty that the woman is going to die in 5 minutes? There is something very necrophilist about that. In Skyfall he exhibits greater annoyance when his car is damaged than when his mistress is shot. When I pointed this out to my boyfriend, he responded with some degree of incredulity: “But he’s James Bond! He doesn’t care about that woman.” He then went on to “explain” (we disagree about whether I was sitting next to him for the preceding Bond efforts) that this seeming callousness is due to his heart being broken following his betrayal by his one true love. Add this to the long list of things I simply do not understand.
In the older films, Bond’s various mistresses were less likely to get shot in the head – but his character can seemingly not survive without a never ending parade of exquisite young women ever ready to drop their robes and evening-wear in his presence. I envision the writers being told that the character is sort of like Keanu Reeves in Speed, except instead of driving fast, he must be presented with a never ending buffet of bond-girls (bond-women?) in order to defeat death. The point is this: could a woman pull this off? Sure, she could be written into the part, but would an audience buy it? Would they come out in droves? And would she still be the ‘hero’?
What about the people close to him? Bond’s cohorts are always being placed in danger. This film is no exception. The doddering old innkeeper from Bond’s youth? Given a weapon in the face of certain death. His beloved M? Used as bait, despite her advanced age, and many years behind a desk. She’s wearing a tartan shawl for Pete’s sake!
Also, he’s drunk (not Flight drunk but Mad Men drunk) all the time. Women drink in movies, but do they get drunk while saving the world with any regularity? Not really. Taking shots at the bar, having a martini affixed to your hand while mulling over how to take down generic crime syndicate number 8, downing a beer while indifferent to the naked woman kissing your chest, women just aren’t written that way.
How are women written? Angelina Jolie has been one of the most successful badass heroines of recent years – starring in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, Wanted and the Tomb Raider series. She takes down evildoers with aplomb, and she typically manages to do it sober and without mounting Naked Man #5. [Other formidable cinema heroines include Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs, Natalie Portman in The Professional, Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita.]
She-Bonds are gorgeous, sexy and scantily clad. However, when She-Bonds actually have sex, it is reserved for their husbands or male-leads. Occasionally they also use sex to gain a tactical advantage, but this is more often the hallmark of the villain, succubus or traitor – and if a heroine pulls this move she flirts, but doesn’t go all the way. The female of the species is just much less likely to have anonymous sex for no plot-driven reason.
Jolie is also much more likely to care. Care about her responsibilities, her safety, her loved ones or her cause. Salt, for example, goes so far as to ensure that her dog is cared for in her absence, and remains celibate – as her husband’s murder becomes her raison d’être very early on. Female heroines are very rarely callous to those to whom they have a personal connection – even as they ruthlessly take on their enemies.
It is easy to identify what Ms. Bond cannot be – but it is extremely difficult to pin down why. Why do women have to care? Why can’t we get drunk and screw around and still wear the white hat? What is it about women on screen that makes them fascinating when they kill, and repulsive when they have casual sex? I am loath to pin down a single reason why this may be the case, because the answer is likely complicated and subject to change. But, I suspect, that it has much to do with the inexorable misogyny that bridles and binds us: glorifying the cinematic portrayal of promiscuity as male privilege and demonizing female emulation of that privilege.