We need to talk about Spectre
It’s a classic movie cliché, right? The heroine swoons and gasps while the hero is involved in a gun fight, they somersault off a moving train, walk through the desert for what has to be a really, really long time and she still somehow arrives, not only looking freshly made up and not at all sweaty (a bold lie), but also dressed in some kind of brand new, amazing floaty white outfit and fashionable sunglasses.
I honestly have so many questions. Like, where did she get that outfit? Was it before or after she somersaulted off the train? How is it so clean? How come she can wear those fashionably shaped sunglasses but when I wear them my face looks ‘like the moon’? And of course, the big question, what is she doing in this movie at all?
Oh that’s right, she’s here for purely ornamental purposes. Like a vase. Or a bonsai tree. Nice.
Yes, it’s time – we need to talk about Spectre. If you haven’t yet seen the latest Bond film, directed by Sam Mendes and featuring fourth-time Bond Daniel Craig, don’t worry. There’ll be no spoilers here. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened because it went on forever and I was too busy laughing, and then crying, and then loudly whispering ‘are we in the nineteen-fifties?!‘ because this movie, well, let’s just say that this movie probably thinks ‘Bechdel‘ is some kind of delicious pasta sauce.
This is not to say that you won’t enjoy the film. You probably will. There are loads of explosions, a high speed parkour pursuit which inexplicably ends at the top of a crane (why would you run upwards? Where were you expecting to go?) and loads of iconic Bond coolness, dirty martinis, one liners, all that stuff. Probably a car chase. I don’t really remember, but I’d be willing to bet that there are at least two car chases.
The film has received great reviews, and honestly I think that if I wasn’t the kind of person that pays attention to these things, or perhaps if I wasn’t a woman, or perhaps if I was more caught up in the stunts and gadgets, I might not have found Spectre at all problematic.
But I do, and I think that you should too, because I am honestly sick to death of women in films being presented as accessories and ornaments, incidental to the needs and motivations of men. It’s 2015, we’re adults, can we stop already?
I definitely don’t have a problem with Bond girls being attractive, and sexy, or with James Bond being sexually attracted to them (often within the first five minutes of meeting them, but whatever, he’s a smooth guy), I honestly think that’s great. My problem is with the fact that being sexually attractive and available to men often seems like the only thing that these women have to offer. Which maybe, maybe suggests that being kind and intelligent and strong and capable of forming words into a complete sentence just isn’t quite as important as, you know, looking nice in (and quite possibly out of) a floor length dress. In the world of Bond, you can either be pretty, or you can be intelligent (and all villains seem to have some kind of facial deformity – which is presumably really convenient for Bond when he’s trying to figure out who the baddy is – but also says something about the social value of good looks in these films).
‘M’, for example (the female incarnation), is intelligent and strong but, and don’t tell Judi Dench I said this, I don’t think Daniel Craig considers her a potential sexual partner. Only Vesper (a girl Bond actually seems to really like in Casino Royale) and Moneypenny (in Spectre) seem to be allowed to be both young and pretty and intelligent and capable. Vesper betrays Bond and then dramatically commits suicide, and Moneypenny seems to have escaped James’s bed only by dint of the fact that she is literally in someone else’s (completely irrelevantly) while she assists James over the phone and he’s busy seducing somebody else and beating up a huge Swedish man with a tire iron, or something. Honestly, given that both M and Vesper are now dead, if I was Moneypenny I would be sleeping with one eye open (and a taser under my pillow).
To be fair to Mendes, he controversially cast Monica Belluci, an actress three years older than Daniel Craig, in Spectre as a widow who Bond seduces at her husband’s funeral (classy). But this doesn’t do a lot for Bond’s treatment of women either. Frankly, he seems like he’s in a bit of a rush to leave and do some more parkour, and, according to a review in The Guardian, ‘there’s then something rather mechanical about the sex that follows, like Bond’s ticking a box without much desire or interest in the box being ticked.’ Romantic, seminal, groundbreaking. Not.
In fact, despite Daniel Craig’s own claims that the Bond franchise has evolved and can now ‘cast great actresses and make the parts as good [as possible] for the women in the movies’, the lacklustre scene between Craig and Belluci seems to emphasise how limiting Bond’s reputation as a ‘ladies man’ has become. They seem to be going through the motions to give the viewers what they expect, and literally nobody is enjoying it.
None of Craig’s Bond films pass the Bechdel test (which would require them to include a) at least two named female characters who b) talk to each other, about c) something other than a man). There is some debate about the validity of this test in certain contexts (isn’t it understandable that in a film with a male protagonist, the supporting characters will mostly talk about that protagonist, etc…), and many critics of the test will remind you that it’s perfectly feasible to have strong female characters who don’t necessarily talk to any other women. But the failure of a Bechdel test demonstrates a not only a lack of robust female characters but also a devaluation of female relationships. That’s not the kind of thing I want to pay to watch.
We all go to the cinema to see ourselves represented up there on the silver screen, right? Films are such a relaxing escape from everyday life because for a couple of hours we can not only watch superheroes and comedians and Erin Brockovich, but we can imagine that we are that cool, or having that much fun, or able to climb cranes just as well (or maybe even better) than they can. Men (for the most part) watch James Bond films and relate to Bond – cool, charming, successful with women, a rugged bad boy with specific taste in cocktails – nice. But women are presented with a view of their own gender which ignores female friendships, devalues intelligence and makes a frankly insulting parody of an aspirational woman.
I wanted to go to the cinema, buy overpriced popcorn, eat it all in the first five minutes and then enjoy my film. Instead, I sat in the dark for two and a half hours being told that I am not valuable, not independent, not interesting. Not what I call value for money. This film could so easily have been so, so much better. We’d still enjoy Bond without this cliché of weak ornamental women. Just stop it, it’s annoying.
If you still want to go and see Spectre, don’t let me stop you (because I will try). For more favourable opinions of Bond’s latest adventure, check out more reviews (both written by white men, #justsayin’) here and here.
‘Why Spectre fails to sell Bond as a convincing ladies’ man’
Daniel Craig’s comments on Bond
The Bechdel test
Why the Bechdel test is important
The Bechdel test tester