NaCreSoMo #9: Skyfall and the Bond Girl Problem

I've spent a lot of time not writing this post. I haven't read enough feminist literature, I've said. I haven't done the requisite movie research. I've only seen the Daniel Craig Bond movies. But Skyfall was playing on my plane across the coasts on Friday, and it only served to remind me of what I've been not writing since I saw it in the theaters a few months ago.

From the opening credits, I was expecting to like Skyfall. I liked the two previous ones (more or less). The theme song was rich and evocative, and the credits were actually thought-provoking. The idea of a Bond broken down by wear and tear was (and still is) interesting to me. And, of course, I was expecting some pretty slick action sequences.

What I did not expect was my visceral reaction to the way the movie treated its requisite Bond Girl, Severine. (Please forgive the lack of accents--can't figure out how to make my computer do them in a blog post.)

The historic role of the Bond girl has been to provide Bond with some information for his quest, sleep with him, and then die gruesomely. Their entire purpose is to be sexually objectified by men. I don't know why this didn't jump out at me more during the last two Craig movies. (Possibly because Eva Green had a much greater purpose in the first? I confess I don't remember the second movie particularly well.) But in Skyfall, I was literally sickened.

Severine works as Silva's representative. It's implied that such representation also involves sexual favors, as she was rescued by Silva from the Macau sex trade. In Skyfall, she tells Bond that she'll help him get to Silva, but only if Bond promises to kill him. He hops a ride on her boat (not a euphemism). They sleep together (definitely a euphemism). And when they reach the secret island, Silva kills her.

On the surface level, Severine dies because she betrayed Silva and helped Bond. But I see something more underneath. Severine has spent her whole life using her sexuality for the benefit of men. But when Bond arrives, she uses her sexuality for someone else: herself. Severine dies when she dares use her body for her own gratification, rather than for her employer's.

To me that is an underlying statement in this movie, and a problem endemic to Bond movies (and the US film culture in general). Women are present to be objectified by men, to be owned by men, to be used by men--and if they dare use their bodies for their own purposes, they are to be punished. This is what horrifies me more than anything else in Skyfall.

Do I believe that the Bond movies will change? That the Bond Girl's role will be expanded, made more nuanced and complex? To be honest, no. I think the Bond movie franchise is structured such that Bond Girls will always be treated this way. It is a known formula, one moviegoers have come to expect. (And that in and of itself is deeply problematic. Want to check out the newest Bond film? Sure, what's not to like about men shooting at each other and women being objectified?)

Maybe people will say I'm reading too much into this. It's just a movie! It's always been this way! Lighten up! But if those are their only defenses, I find them disturbingly wanting.

I don't think I will ever watch Skyfall again. There were parts of the movie that I enjoyed. There were sections I thought were thought-provoking and well done. But all of that doesn't come close to balancing out the visceral disgust I felt at the treatment of Severine, and the message it implies.