I know that groups starting to read and study my new Bond Bible study are likely to disagree with me somewhere in the course of their study. Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass is based on Ian Fleming’s stories, not the movies. In the “Study Guide” that is included in our Bible-study book, you can read about the many conflicts between the Bond of Hollywood movies and Ian Fleming’s Bond as depicted in the novels and short stories.In some ways, the Hollywood Bond is returning to Fleming’s more serious themes—and moviegoers seem to appreciate that. Quantum of Solace set an opening-weekend box office record for the long-running Bond-movie franchise! Though it certainly is fun to speculate on the many-faceted public image of this character, don’t get hooked exclusively on the movie versions of Bond.Here’s my own review of Quantum of Solace.
Visions of Solace aren’t as different as they seem
Before viewing the new 007 film, Quantum of Solace, I read Fleming’s short story, Quantum of Solace to my wife. We wanted to have the original story fresh in our heads when we viewed the new film. All of the film trailers had led us to believe the only thing the two have in common is the title. That assumption was not correct. The short story’s young husband and the Bond character in the film are—after losing their lovers—in the throes of “inconsolable rage” and primed for revenge, as one of Bond’s colleagues puts it. Both good men go rogue; they approximate the Devil they pursue.
Fleming’s short story is unique in many ways. It is a stunning parable that provides a mirror into which many of us can look to see ourselves when our relationships fail—whether the relationships may be husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child, or nation and nation. At the core, this is a tale of unrealistic dreams that are broken, deep wounding of a loved one, failed grieving, lack of confession and forgiveness, then violent, cruel revenge.
In the short story, Bond is not in action. Bond, like my wife, sits and listens to a tale being told. Here is how the story unfolds: Bond is invited to dinner at the home of the governor of Nassau where he sits next to an attractive, verbose woman and is bored by the evening. After the guests have departed, Bond provocatively comments that if he ever marries, he would choose an airline hostess. The governor ignores the bait and offers Bond a drink and a story. His tale is about a young Foreign Service officer who is hard working but has few social skills and no experience with women. When flying from Africa to London on his way to a new assignment, he is pampered by a beautiful airline hostess who leaves him besotted by her beauty, charm and caring manner. He asks her for a date and a month later they marry and are off to Bermuda for his next assignment. Within six months, she is bored with her new life so he buys a membership at the country club so she can play golf. She becomes consumed with golf and soon a torrid affair results that devastates the young husband’s dream. His heart is “broken slowly and deliberately.” His work fails, and he attempts suicide. “And Providence stepped in to lend a hand,” says the governor. A five-month assignment sends the young man to the United States. Pressure is put on the young wife and her lover to end the affair. She is certain that she can get her husband to forgive her upon his return. But—not so!
The young husband’s dream of love has died. He no longer has any concern whether she lives or dies and he is now cold and indifferent to her. His basic instinct of self-preservation had been threatened by her actions and his Quantum of Solace—the amount of concern for her humanity and well-being—has disappeared!
All of the ingredients of accidie that I describe in my book are present. This slide toward a joyless indifference in the face of evil—toward an inability to feel joy in life—begins with idealization (his besotted dream that he would have heaven on earth with her), the loss of the dream, the failure to grieve, then cold indifference for the other, leading to cruelty and revenge. It is a dark story of a marriage dream that dies because the Quantum of Solace between the two was at zero. The young man divorces his wife and leaves her, destitute and hopeless, as he goes off to another assignment. His revenge is cold and complete.
As Bond is leaving for the night, the governor says, “Providence again stepped in and decided she had been punished enough.” She gets a job, meets a millionaire, marries, and lives a comfortable, pleasant life that includes dinners such as the one in which she was Bond’s dinner partner. Bond acknowledges that the story is from the “book of real violence…where Fate plays a more authentic game than any Secret Service conspiracy devised by governments.”
It is obvious that the plot of the new film is radically different from the original tale by Fleming, but the underlying themes in both versions of Quantum of Solace are rooted in the violence of revenge. The film attributes Bond’s actions to his deep desire to avenge the death of his lover, Vesper, who was murdered in Casino Royale. Both Bond in the film and the husband in Fleming’s tale respond to the loss of a dream (a loved one) with intense grief that is not properly grieved, but turns to accidie and then to cruel, revengeful rage.
The filmmakers kept a powerful similarity of motivation from the original tale.
The use of the opera Tosca as a center piece of the movie is brilliant. Filmed during an actual performance at the summer opera festival in Bregenz, Austria, are two scenes from Puccini’s Tosca, staged on a surrealistic set with an enormous blue eye at the center as a metaphor for the police-state feel of the operatic tale. We have a play within a play; both tales are driven by revenge for lost lovers. Two scenes are incorporated in the movie. Baron Scarpia, a Devil to be sure, sings during a church service that his physical desire for Tosca has made him forget even God. The eye opens at this point and Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, is shown being led away in chains. The second scene of the opera is an instrumental section played after Tosca has stabbed Scarpia.
Quantum of Solace is a dark film for our dark time. Fleming wrote “parables of evil people,” giving us mirrors into which we might look to examine our own moral well-being. The new film is a parable, a mirror, as well. These temptations are everywhere we look today around our world. There are some who say that the only reason President Bush went into Iraq was for revenge against Saddam Hussein for attempting to kill his father. Many believe that the constant unrest in the Middle East is rooted in endless acts of violent revenge. In countless ways, from family ties to international ties, revenge drives the violence that is mirrored in the world and in the film. This is a vicious cycle with no apparent end in sight.
Forgiveness is, at its core, an act of grieving. It is giving up the hope of a different past so that we can live into a new and hopeful future. If our Quantum of Solace—a basic concern for the well-being of our fellow brothers and sisters has bottomed out at zero—we shall continue to live in violence, always seeking revenge for our last hurt.
One footnote to this somber review. Providence entered the scene again—in my own life this time!—toying with me when I checked my coat at a restaurant, immediately after watching the new film. As a coat check was slipped into my hand, I glanced down to find—007!