Getting Bond right

30 September 2021

The new James Bond film, No Time to Die (NTTD), has had a difficult journey to the screen. Repeated date changes had whispers circulating it was struggling. I have no time for lies. It is a thrilling, engaging, and bold end to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. A swan song seldom afforded to actors, least of all those in the Bond role in the enduring franchise. From a psychological perspective, the film touches upon some key themes, such as sexism, gender disparity, power, racism, grief, and time. 

Sexism, gender disparity, and power have a complicated history in the Bond franchise, let alone life. Damsels-in-distress clamouring for an attractive but destructive saviour has been much discussed in multiple arenas, in addition to the women in Bond having had difficult trajectories of power. However, in NTTD, the women are complicated, funny, and powerful. There are moments in which their deference to the leading men can grate, despite it reflecting organisational hierarchies. However, their power is nonetheless tangible, and it spans the generations. From the ferocity portrayed by the child actresses, through to the young agents’ resourcefulness yet irreverence, and up to former M, who appears in portrait for mere seconds but makes her mark. The inclusion of Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the script writing likely underlies this renegotiation of power to challenge the sexism. NTTD is all the better for it. 

Racism and NTTD has been largely centred around the backlash to the character, Nomi, who is a Black, female 007. Actress Lashana Lynch has spoken about the backlash her inclusion has received. Psychological research into intersectionality has demonstrated the factors underlying the complexities. However, Lynch herself has a great attitude to these keyboard warriors and their trolling: she lives her life, they can live theirs. More importantly, Lynch is only the fifth Black woman to have played a major role within the franchise. The 25-film franchise spanning several decades. In NTTD Lynch’s Nomi and Naomie Harris’ character, Eve Moneypenny are integral to the story. As is said in the film by both Nomi and Bond regarding the old and new 007s, “it’s only a number”. There are far more concerning numbers needing change in the Bond universe. Harris and Lynch are leading the charge.

Grief, loss, and how it impacts a person’s life and psyche is a dominant theme in NTTD. Respecting #NoTimeForSpoilers of not ruining the film, this is a factor requiring caution. However, its ubiquity among the franchise, especially during the Craig tenure, is fascinating psychologically. Craig’s five-films have all featured grief in myriad ways such as his Bond’s grief and guilt from his debut, his journey with another’s grief and revenge in his second outing, and childhood traumas in three and four. NTTD is Craig’s last Bond film, so its sense of loss is perhaps heightened within the audience for this reason. Grief has been foregrounded during the pandemic, and psychologically, there remains the complex trauma from these experiences. NTTD’s portrayal of grief and loss will not be experienced in a uniform way: individual differences will mediate its impact. (Although, note that psychological investigation into trauma and media is mixed and may be more impactful with non-fiction media.)

Finally, the issue of time in NTTD was remarkable. It's a franchise with an extensive history and wide catalogue, and I'm a big Bond fan seeing the midnight premiere of an anticipated film, so I could be projecting… but there seemed to be an astonishing number of references, winks, and homages to previous films. There were frames triggering strong familiarity, such as a collapsing wooden structure a la Quantum of Solace, a cavernous structure a la Tomorrow Never Dies, and the use of a beautiful song from a previous film which was used in an extraordinarily effective manner. 

No Time to Die will stir debate, derision, and dissection of its every element. NTTD could benefit multiple viewings in the cinema as it is so densely layered. For example, the psychological takeaways and its delicate splicing of Bond nostalgia with its own narrative. The Craig era was met with contention from beginning to end such as No Blond Bond through to no female Bond but has included significant threads moving the Bond story forward. What comes next remains to be seen. 

This may well be, No Time to Die.

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