Why Do We Love James Bond?
Why Do We Love James Bond?
by David Gulbraa (November 13, 2006)
With Casino Royale opening on November 17, the James
Bond movie franchise now encompasses 21 films and 44
years. Considering how much the world has changed
since Dr. No in 1962, what explains the longevity and
Obviously, a journalistic answer will not do. Bond’s
appeal stretches across two generations and 6 different
actors. The easy answer is that Bond is a hero. This is
true enough. But what kind of hero?
James Bond is a work of art, which means that in
essence, he is a concept brought down to the perceptual
level. What concept do we see in James Bond?
Let’s catalog some of Bond’s characteristics and see if
we can find a common denominator.
Bond is a good guy, fighting on the side of freedom and
Western values. He is competent, professional, and
knowledgeable. He manages to look good under difficult
circumstances. For example, one of my favorite small
touches that communicates the essence of Bond’s
character is from The World is Not Enough, when a
fastidious Bond straightens his tie after being briefly
submerged while racing a power boat along the Thames
Bond is willing and able to do whatever it takes. He can
fight, shoot, drink, make love, drive fast cars, ride
motorcycles, fly airplanes, helicopters, and even the
space shuttle. He can diffuse missiles and bombs of all
varieties, including nuclear. Throw him out of an
airplane without a parachute, he doesn’t panic, but
calmly surveys his options and then proceeds to
survive, as he did at the beginning of Moonraker, by
forming his body into an arrow and flying himself into
the parachute-wearing villain, wrestling the parachute
away, then strapping it on himself and deploying it in
time to drift gently and safely down to earth.
Then there is the mountain climbing sequence in For
Your Eyes Only, which had Bond literally hanging by a
thread in mid air, forced to save his life and win the
mountain by using his shoe laces to hoist himself up the
side of a cliff.
Start cataloging all of Bond’s incredible escapes, last
minute rescues, spectacular fist fights, martial arts
showdowns, car chases, bomb diffusings, snow and
water-ski runs, scuba diving adventures, skydiving
mishaps, and just plain garden-variety “tough spots”
the villains put him in, and it adds up to quite a tally of
one special quality, something that appeals across time,
across generations, across the sexes, across political
and religious lines. So what is it?
Art is an actual need of human consciousness because
of its ability to bring our highest abstractions down to
physical reality. The values to be found in art are
metaphysical values, by which I mean, values that
pertain to every aspect of existence, to every man and
woman in every age, in every country. So what
metaphysical value do we see in James Bond?
Ask yourself this: is there some one quality that every
human being drawing breath needs to live a normal
Yes. What we need can be termed “metaphysical
competence.” Or put simply, the ability to live
Are we capable of living? Can we deal with what reality
throws in our way? Can we overcome the obstacles that
lie between us and the values we want to achieve?
In the character of James Bond, we experience the
answer as “Damn right we can—and how!” James Bond
is a stylized vision of what metaphysical competence
means in reality.
What gives human beings the ability to live
successfully? Our rational faculty. Our ability to
understand how reality works allows us to control
reality in ways not possible to other living organisms,
such as plants and animals. James Bond doesn’t use
magic or faith or supernatural powers to get out of his
jams. He is always focused on the facts, always applying
the power of reason.
True, none of us will ever have to turn off an atom bomb
in under ten seconds, or fall out of an airplane without a
parachute, or have to ski backwards down a mountain
on one ski while engaging in a machine gun battle with
ruthless villains. But contemplating a hero like James
Bond gives us the example, inspiration and confidence
to exercise our own metaphysical competence in normal
daily life. Can we survive graduate school and get our
degree? Yes. Can we undertake a challenging career and
succeed? Yes. Can we win the heart of the person we
love? Yes. Can we raise a child to be a rational, self-
confident, independent person? Yes.
And some of us even drive fast cars, fly airplanes, climb
mountains, ski, scuba dive––and stay calm when
muggers wave guns in our faces.
We’ve all got a little James Bond in us.