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06.11.2015

James Bond: Spectre and Hollywood’s denial of death

I watched James Bond: Spectre yesterday. The intro was lovely, a nice tribute to death, madness and fear. It reminded me of my psychedelic trips a bit, with the tentacles and arrangements of eyes. Quite intense. The song in the intro unfortunately was very weird and seemed to lack the typical Bond chords. Probably an overly eager wish to innovate. Well, so what.

About a week back, I saw the movie 13 Assassins, which left me mesmerized. So did the movie Ghost Dog. Both share one commonality: They look forward to death, each in his own way. Samurai Shinzaemon in 13 Assassins smiles in existential joy as the cruel result of torture of the corrupt lord Naritsugu is revealed. He in no way fears death; quite the opposite: He is glad to finally face an opportunity to die honorably, in the battle against a worthy monster. This is not accompanied by orchestral soundtracks, no, it is just laid out as what it is. The honest warrior likes his enemy, because he needs him. Despising the enemy is to despise fighting itself.

A kind of maturity that can not be expected from Hollywood.

James Bond Spectre is not a bad film per se. It is actually quite fun. But I will use it as an example of a pattern that I notice in Hollywood. It is the crude reliance on the audience’s ingrained fear and alienation from death. This creates dread and puts the viewer into a mode of dissociation, waiting for the terror to stop, yearning for that final release when the evil boss is killed. There is no room for the hero to fail; it would be emotionally unacceptable for the audience.

The self-pity and alienation from death is only underscored by the orchestral score of today’s movies, as it is in the score of James Bond: Spectre. Whenever the hero is in danger, sad music makes sure that you understand that death is shameful and unacceptable. As is failure.

Emotional banalities

The whole process of putting people under tension is of course well studied in Hollywood. I read quite a few books about editing and I used to create videos myself.

The dread is similar to the dread that you put a girl under when you game her and deliberately take your time to respond to her. Such a banal emotion. But of course, it works. Make the audience afraid of something that must not happen and they will just sit there in anguish, hoping for the big release. A bit similar to Western politics, is it not? The great changes and revolutions and ah, the meaningful protests that mark some kinds of historical moments. Speech riddled with extremes and drama, first demonstrating the unbearable hell to come, then contrasting it with an equally crude image of elated catharsis.

What is the alternative? 13 Assassins. Books like the Hagakure and The Book of Five Rings.

In 13 Assassins, everything happens in the moment. Everybody knows they are on a death mission. Nobody worries about it. It is hard not to get immersed in the immense calmness and sense of peace in the warriors. It does not even matter if they will kill the evil enemy; that is beyond the point. The only thing that is relevant is that they have been given a purpose and that they can fulfill their cravings for vengeful violence. No illusions are made about it. No we are the better people. Just 13 guys happy to find meaning through a violent death against the armies of a monster.

When James Bond – at the beginning of Spectre – fights his foe on a helicopter, the music underscores how dramatic and important the whole thing is. What terrible danger James is in. Oh god, let us hope he will live! Oh god, he cannot die! He must be our hero!

We imagine James as the hero who – like us – wants to impress the whole world with his deeds. To impress is more important than to act.

Such a shame, really. When I saw the fight, I thought to myself that there are two ways to approach such a fight:

  1. Expect to live. Feel victimized by the foe who forces you into the fight. Be torn apart by emotions of anguish, sadness and self-pity. See the enemy as the devil who must be beaten.
  2. Look into your opponent’s eyes like into the eyes of a friend. Say – and mean: I am ready to die. Are you? I am glad we are having this fight. If this is my last moment on earth, I am honored to share it with you, monster. You are worthy of being fought. This is our intimate moment.

But can you remember a Hollywood movie that would allow for such emotional nuances?

I can hardly. Western movies, with their anti-dialectical approach always portray a fight of good vs. evil. Likely a remnant of Christian culture. The light and the dark side of the force. Good and evil. Et cetera.

The funny thing, of course, is that through repetition of this pattern, it becomes predictable. Since the hero always survives, the audience actually stops to expect anything else. So you need to push further and further to convince the audience that the hero may actually be in danger. More dramatic music, more violent scenes, bigger explosions. In the end, even an exploding world could not possibly excite the audience anymore, because: The hero will always win.

A hero that always wins is not exciting. I remember reading about Game of Thrones and the death of beloved characters. Now, that is a recipe for real excitement and success. Why? Because it shows the audience: Everything can happen. You can never rely on your knowledge of storytelling patterns. We are willing to shock you, to surprise you. And thus you better be in the moment instead of boredly expecting the inevitable.

Thus Hollywood’s sensationalism may really be just a series of attempts to interrupt boredom; boredom rooted in the always satisfied expectation of a happy end. The alternative, of course, is emotional subtlety, true uncertainty, experiencing the moment, embracing all shades of emotions. Even death.

When the real James Bond in the Casino Royale book got captured and awaited torture, what did he think of death? Did he desperately hope to escape? No, that is the way Hollywood makes us feel. The real James Bond knew that that would be futile and stress him too much. The real James Bond did not live in denial, hoping for the real reality to come save him. He was in the moment. Here is what he thought:

Bond closed his eyes and waited for the pain. He knew that the beginning of torture is the worst. There is a parabola of agony. A crescendo leading up to a peak and then the nerves are blunted and react progressively less until unconsciousness and death. All he could do was to pray for the peak, pray that his spirit would hold out so long and then accept the long free-wheel down to the final black-out.

[…]

So that was the score, thought Bond, with a final sinking of the heart. The ‘unknown destination’ would be under the ground or under the sea, or perhaps, more simply, under the crashed Bentley. Well, if he had to die anyway, he might as well try it the hard way.

There is something mythical, exciting, unknown and very intimate about death. So intimate that it puts at rest all the thoughts of evil oppressors, if you let it. It becomes an ultimately personal experience. Maybe that is why meditating about it actually brings you closer to your self, makes you less caring about other people’s ideas about you.

Hollywood misses this intimacy with death. It seems ignorant of it. Death in Hollywood seems to be only something to be dreaded, feared, avoided, not contemplated.

The dishonesty and hypocrisy finds its expression in the ending of the movie. For those who saw the ending of the movie, here is my commentary on that:

 

What I want to see in a movie is a man who embraces what is to come. Who looks into the eyes of madness and suffering and says: Hello, my old friend. Who is not distraught by matters of life and death.

“Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master lttei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.”

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo

The feminine imperative

I do not like to use buzzwords, but maybe this will help in Google. Well, who cares.

James Bond: Spectre naturally incorporates a female love and sex interest.

Unlike older Bond movies, the new ones are obssessed with having James obsess over women. It is ridiculous.

I encourage you to read the original Casino Royale book. Remember one-itis Vesper? The one that James fawns over in the new movies to the point where it makes him extremely manipulable? Here is what the original Bond did when Vesper died and after he read her goodbye letter:

For a moment he looked out towards the quiet sea, then he cursed aloud, one harsh obscenity.

His eyes were wet and he dried them.

[…]

He saw her now only as a spy. Their love and his grief were relegated to the boxroom of his mind. Later, perhaps they would be dragged out, dispassionately examined, and then bitterly thrust back with other sentimental baggage he would rather forget. Now he could only think of her treachery to the Service and to her country and of the damage it had done. His professional mind was completely absorbed with the consequences – the covers which must have been blown over the years, the codes which the enemy must have broken, the secrets which must have leaked from the centre of the very section devoted to penetrating the Soviet Union.

[…]

The telephone rang and Bond snatched up the receiver.

[…]

He spoke quietly into the receiver.

‘This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It’s an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this on at once. 3030 was a double agent, working for Redland.’

‘Yes, dammit, I said “was”. The bitch is dead now.’

What a clear expression of concern towards his fellow agents and the organization. Yet in today’s movie, it seems that James is quick to abandon any loyalty and reason for random bitches. Take Spectre. The girl he meets, he knows for hardly two days, and yet there are multiple occassions on which he is being manipulated over his concern for her life.

Here is another passage from the original Casino Royale book, just after Vesper has been kidnapped after a dinner with James where he hoped to get at her:

Bond boiled at the thought of the fix he was in.

Of course. The idea was a straight swop. The girl against his cheque for forty million. Well, he wouldn’t play: wouldn’t think of playing. She was in the Service and knew what she was up against. He wouldn’t even ask M. This job was more important than her. It was just too bad. She was a fine girl, but he wasn’t going to fall for this childish trick.

[…] but if he didn’t catch up with them he would get back to his hotel and go to sleep and say no more about it.

[…]

If Le Chiffre put the touch on Bond for the money in exchange for the girl, Bond would do nothing and tell no one. The girl would just have to take it.

Or can you imagine an old Sean Connery type Bond fawning over a girl? Just look at the old movies. What he did there – just going for it – many would consider rape today. But what did the girl say back then in amusement and a little arousal? Mr. Bond, please behave!

Hollywood’s sentimentality finds just another expression in this naive and unsophisticated dramatization of the audience’s emotions.

The modern Bond is a Bond whose only underlying motivation is a bitch. A dead bitch, at that. He can think of nothing else. He has no place for loyalty. No place for friendship. Right. But place for bitches, all the fucking time.

And what the fuck was that old woman all about? Monica Bellucci? It is fucking ridiculous. And they all cajole about how she defies her age and stuns with her performance. I mean, seriously, look at this article and her pictures. She oozes sex appeal? Are you fucking blind? You moronic lickspittles disgust me! All I could think the whole time was: Yuck, she is really old. It is really hard to buy Craig’s attraction to her. They just fucking press this shit down your throat: Old women are great options for a fling and more!

Conclusion

Instead of letting the audience relish the moment and the emotional nuances, Hollywood drowns them in extremes. This of course serves to – through dread and anguish – mask the fact that the movie offers little narrative depth and surprise otherwise. Practically the only excitement of the movie comes either from action sequences or the fear that James may die. Which is ridiculous in itself, because James has a job that confronts him with death all the time. What is the big deal?

Mystifying death is what Hollywood is good at. Being afraid of death. The only fucking sensation in most of today’s movies seem to be one of three banalities:

  1. Being afraid that the protagonist may die.
  2. Being afraid that the protagonist may not get the girl.
  3. Being afraid that the evil antagonist may not get punished.

They have little to offer beneath that. Why is that? Well, because that is what works.

How fucking boring and trite. And childish. How little emotional endurance such an audience must have. And at the same time, how desensitized the audience must be to need this extreme form of stimulation through visual and aural extremes.

And thus it is the only thing that stays as motivation. The audience never really does identify with James, as James must be ice cold in his mind. Ice cold and in the moment. But that is not what the audience experiences. The audience is being distraught on purpose, letting James solve the problem for them while they float in a delirium of unconscious dread. Passive are the sheep. Victims of their emotions. Somebody has gotta solve it for them. James Bond.

James Bond: Spectre teaches to be a sheep while admiring heroes, like citizens admire politicians. I want a movie that encourages to become a hero instead. By daring to expose the hero’s emotional world, in all its proposed incorrectness.

As I wrote in a comment on Return Of Kings once, I consider the modern James Bond movies to be the female perspective on the books. Seeing James from the outside and admiring him and worrying about him and hoping he will get the girl and worry about her even after 3 fucking movies (the female audience) instead of identifying with him and embracing death in every single fight and giving a fuck about the girl (the male audience). Oh, she was such a darling, was she not. Left such a beautiful scar in his life. Oh, this one important woman. Oh, what drama!

Mother is the only one-itis any man will ever have.

Hollywood literally turns you into a bitch for the time you watch a movie. The dramaturgy, the music, the visual stimulation make you experience a painful emotional chaos.

I read a word some time ago that may describe the thing I am missing in Spectre: The sublime. The shocking and the deep of an art museum.

Go watch it, though, it is fun. And the intro is great. The ending sucks balls including pubic hair, though.

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  • Micah Geni

    Intersting article. You got a view here, which I do not consider “neutral to death”, but on the contrary, the oppositing side of “fear of death”. Isn’t “looking forward to death”, mostly another way of non-accepting reality ? “Shit will happens, so better if it comes sooner than later”.. Hardly a neutral position towards “shit”. “Shit does happen”…Some things are unavoidible, others are not, but, so be it:

    What I want to see in a movie is a man who embraces what is to come. Who
    looks into the eyes of madness and suffering and says: Hello, my old
    friend. Who is not distraught by matters of life and death.

    • Not really. An embrace is not necessarily an exclusion of everything else. I am just saying: I am glad to know death. That does not mean I am not glad to know life. I like both sides. I find them equally important.

      • Micah Geni

        one more about the topic.

        look forward to death————————————— fear death

        Lets call that one for a dimension. Why spend your life on that dimension ?
        I have another suggestion

        fear death ———————————————– be grateful for life

        • You fail to see that that gratitude is only the counterpart to the fear. A complementary color. Why not absndon the fear completely?

          • Micah Geni

            Depends on what’s next, I’d say.

            Your suggestion “to embrace the opposite”, isnt mine.
            Can a person Appreciate people, things, nature without being fearful ? Good.
            Respect or guilt ? Is guilt what such a person get, if disprecting ?

            And what if he cannot feel “guilt” or respect ? Hollywood maybe. Not sure.

          • I do not understand.

            Embracing the opposite is a concept that only exists in your head because you are focused on what has been declared as ‘good’. Thus when I say to embrace death, you hear: Abandon life. Because this black-white thinking, this false dichotomy is in your head.

            If I say embrace ice-cream, will you assume that I want you to disregard steaks and salad?

            There is no conflict between life and death. They coexist.

  • Micah Geni

    Hollywood is a lot about paranoia. If I didnt know better (which I dont), one might be tempted to wonder if the scene is dominated by paranoia-pscyhoes

    • A bit abstract idea. How do you define that? How do you check that?

      • Micah Geni

        Exactly.

        One can only search within one’s own mind, I think. Because “there really isnt anything new out there”. I believe we all have most traits, within us, in our DNA or whatever one prefers to call it.

        Fear mongery, have often proved “profitable”.

  • Wald

    Good analysis. Unfortunately, Hollywood movies are all to predictable. Eventually you have to go back to books where you have no idea what will happen.

    Life is not a movie. By (hollywood) definition, life ought to be the antithesis of a movie, for how unpredictable it is.

    Wald

    • Micah Geni

      Kind of funny, bizarre.

      First we exploit “you” and your life, at the staple-production table, and then we make you pay to view “your” anti-life :)

      I know a guy who was pretty good at this explotaion-play. He used to buy things. First negotiating to get a low price on them. And later, find some dubious thing that was possibly wrong with them (but actually did not bother him at all), to even lower the price further. By a deal or by court.

  • Can’t help but notice that escapist stuff sells best in bad times, when everyday life is beating most people down. Look at the trend of pulp heroes during the Great Depression.
    Darker, edgier material is perhaps the luxury of a more affluent society?

    • Thanks for passing by. It makes sense that you would like my article.

      That is an interesting observation. On the other hand, I recall learning about Industrialism and many works of art that depicted quite the suffering that people were feeling. Maybe pulp heroes are just one of two coping mechanisms – overcompensation, the other one being despair. I wrote an article called ‘Culture of heroes’. You may like that.

      I wonder if that is true, about an affluent society. But I think it is, if anything, a coincidence. Rather, I consider art to be an expression of the self. That is, of the parts of the self that are most important to the artist at the time, for whatever reason. Possibly there is some interesting pattern to be observed on a societal level, I do not know.

  • Smokingjacket

    Fear of death in modern societies has often been depicted on screen in a cartoon like manner where “characters” who’ve no defining “character” are exterminated in same way as chickens are in a food processing factory. There’s no sense of anything of worth being extinguished, and, it’s quite remarkable that even the evil characters seem as devoid of “character” as the heroic characters.

    This is why the musical scores on these films are so essential, as without the cloying, bathetic, self-evident mood music in the background, it’s likely the audience wouldn’t have any real sense of who’s the good or who’s the evil person as they’re both equally devoid of the character that gives either its defining definition.

    Hollywood haven’t made movies for decades. What they’ve made instead are cartoons masquerading as movies. No one dies on the Hollywood screen anymore as cartoon characters as we all know from Tom and Jerry, characters can be exterminated, only for Tom to miraculously arise and walk again. This is the way we like to deal with death in our societies nowadays, there’s no shame or honor in death, because strictly speaking beings without character are already gone, long before they physically shed their mortal coil.

    • Thanks for reading!

      I agree. To illustrate your point, here is the opening crawl from the original Star Wars movie:

      It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

      During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

      Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….

      Now, take away a few adjectives and rephrase the part about saving her people and restoring freedom:

      It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the Galactic Empire.

      During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

      Pursued by the Empire’s agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can bring victory to the rebels….

      How does it sound now? More like a rebellious brat, right?

      Hollywood used to produce very fine movies. A few days ago, I saw the movie Bambi and it moved me to tears. It is the most beautiful and nuanced piece of art that I have seen in a long time. Steven Spielberg also directs his movies in a captivating manner – something I used not to be able to appreciate due to a lack of connection with my own emotions.

      • Smokingjacket

        Good article which I enjoyed reading. I suppose these movies are a bit like fast food, predictable standard good quality fare, no surprises. They’re nothing more than a bit of distraction and amusement with no real message beyond what you literally see. They have a purpose in that they are pure entertainment and I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything more engaging.

        I agree about Stephen Spielberg. I think some of his movies were extremely well crafted, intelligent and genuinely magical and transformative. Movies like ET, Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters, War Horse are brilliant movies that allow audience engagement while also being very entertaining. I must admit that I actually think the Jews have contributed so much positively to the movie industry, in fact, Hollywood was at its best when the Jews ran it in the 60/70/80s, but not anymore. I must admit, I get a bit tired of all the knee jerk unthinking antisemitism on the ROK site these days.

        I have to say the most moving film I’ve ever seen was the Elephant Man with John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. I remember watching it as a young teenager back around 1981 and whatever it was about Hurt’s and Hopkin’s tender performances, the smokey black and white light effects that were used during the production, combined with the haunting score, and the story in which Merrick is eventually accepted by society in the end, has always left an inedible mark in my mind (or soul). It still moves me to this day.

        • Thanks. Yes, that is a good way to say it.

          A great thing about Steven Spielberg and other noteworthy directors is that they never seem to drown you in the extreme emotions, only glance at them for moments. For instance, if fear is to be presented, it is incorporated into the real world and presented as a part of the experience instead of as one big layer of oppression. A horror film may very well have its truly happy moments in between, letting the feared danger be a challenge, but not the defining characteristic of the world.

          Artificial Intelligence is great. Once watched it with a girl and fucked her afterwards, so I have a great memory about that movie!

          I will check out the Elephant Man.

          • Smokingjacket

            Artificial Intelligence is great. Once watched it with a girl and fucked her afterwards, so I have a great memory about that movie! I like your style!

          • Unfortunately, that is the only girl I ever fucked.

          • Smokingjacket

            Are you serious? If you are, well, I’ll just say that’s quite usual, but, perhaps it’s something based upon your experiences in life thus far. Anyway, it’s none of my business.

          • I do not understand. Do you mean my use of the word ‘unfortunately’?

          • Smokingjacket

            No, it’s not that word. It’s just the fact that you’ve been so abstemious in your sexual encounters throughout life. I think that’s usual.

          • It was not a voluntary choice. Or was it? Probably depends on how you define it. But I know I always desired more.

            What values does the word ‘usual’ carry for you?

          • Smokingjacket

            That was a typo. I should have said unusual!

            If you always desired more…it seems difficult to understand why you’ve decided to then voluntary abstain from such interactions. However, it’s none of my business, but, I’ll just say that this can be a very difficult and arduous path to travel. Although perhaps it’s best for you at the present.

            It’s good to have solitude up to a point, but, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra we all have to return from the mountains at some point, until perhaps we finally definitively decide to resolve the issue and make a choice. It comes back to free will, chance, experience and insight once more.

          • Just watching the movie Troy. Achilles is asked why he chose the life of a glorious warrior. He answers: I did not choose it. I was born and I am what I am.

            Depression, emotional abuse resulting in trauma, no father. I wrote an article about it. I think it is called ‘Fear of rejection? No, fear of shame and guilt.’ In a sense, it was as little a choice as I choose to breathe. I believe in determinism and I do not think it could have gone any other way. But as soon as I feel healed, I will pursue all the hedonistic pleasures I missed during my youth. It tears my heart apart to have missed them, but it is what it is. Please, do not feel ashamed for your curiosity; if I did not want to talk about it, I would let you know.

            Nietzsche’s writings remind me of myself. It hurts to read them. I read accounts of a woman talking about Nietzsche; a woman who rejected him as a lover. It is not how I want my life to continue; good, that I can learn from a dead man’s experience.

          • Smokingjacket

            You are a spiritual warrior. The hardest warrior to be.

          • I think that that is more pride than appropriate. There are many who are more spiritually apt than me. Frankly, I consider myself to be quite a spiritual simpleton – although that may not be a bad thing necessarily.

            Not planning to keep suffering.