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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skyfall: A More Feminist Bond?

Ever since I was a little girl, I've looked forward to the release of the next James Bond movie. I loved the pulse-racing action and the witty puns, but I have always struggled with the female roles. From their absurd innuendo names to their irresponsibility, Bond girls are not exactly feminist icons. Skyfall (2012, directed by Sam Mendes), I would argue, liberates its female characters to go beyond the classic Bond girl fate. (Obviously, there are spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.)
Severine, Bond Girl

The most important part of feminism is not where the characters end up -- it's about choice and agency. A woman can be a stay-at-home mother and a feminist if that is her choice. The classic Bond girl has no agency; she simply submits to the men around her, has one night of passion with Bond, and then dies horribly. At first glance, Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) falls into this trope. She escaped the horrific sex trade to become the girlfriend/slave of abusive and psychotic Silva (Javier Bardem). Of course, she also sleeps with Bond (Daniel Craig) and is quickly executed the next day. Some critics have argued that this death was totally anti-feminist and unjustified. Indeed, the death does feel cruel, as though Bond finds women disposable. However, it is critical to consider this scene within the context of the film. In the opening sequence, M must choose whether or not she can risk Bond's life to potentially stop an intelligence leak. Of course, she decides that national security is worth more than one man's life. Bond feels absolutely betrayed until he is faced with the same decision: does he rescue the girl and risk losing the terrorist, or does he sacrifice her to await reinforcements and capture his foe? Like M, he has to make the rational choice, both in order to complete his mission and to forgive MI6.

Eve Moneypenny

Let's move on to Eve (Naomie Harris), another MI6 field agent. Despite her young age, she seems to hold her own on missions; she's able to fight, chase, and shoot as well as any spy. In the opening sequence, M gives her the order to shoot at a terrorist, despite the fact that she doesn't have a clean shot. Although she hesitates, she does fire, accidentally hitting Bond in the process. Here, Eve is at a crossroads: does she continue her job to the best of her ability, or does she have an emotional breakdown because she is of the "weaker gender"? She chooses the stronger path, continuing in her duties. But this isn't the final choice that Eve faces. Near the end of the film, she must select her future path with MI6: field agent or desk job. She has demonstrated her abilities in both positions, so she has the agency to select her future. There is no shame in choosing an office job, especially when it could save her life. Of course, this leads up to the big reveal that she is Moneypenny, thereby transforming the classic secretary character in a more complicated and lively role.

M

And then there's M (Dame Judi Dench). Like the English bulldog statue on her desk, she's constantly vigilant, fighting for England as the head of MI6. Consider that for a moment: as a woman, she is in charge of a critical national security division. Few female characters in films occupy such positions of power. In the face of controversy and political discord, she would rather go down with the ship or be terminated than retire. Of course, her power also makes her the target of the terrorist Silva's plot to destroy MI6 and kill M. Even as Silva is en route to execute her during a Parliament meeting, she refuses to run; she would rather face the judgment of the government and a terrorist than lose her dignity. Truly, she is a feminist character if ever there were any in a Bond film. This makes it all the more devastating when she dies of a gunshot wound near the end of the film. Is this an anti-feminist move? I dare say no. Her death highlights her strength and composure -- and, ultimately, it has nothing to do with her gender. This also paves the way for Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), head of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to step into the role of M. This reorients the Craig Bond films to fit within the classic series. Thus, her death allows us to come full circle, completing a 50 year journey that hopefully ends with a little more female empowerment.

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