[NB: This post contains lots of detailed spoilers about No Time to Die (2021)]
This essay is about a vapid elitist culture that believes it has the right to tell us how to feel, regardless of whether objective facts support that emotional response. By attempting to manipulate us into feeling certain emotions, when the facts of their stories do not genuinely add up to the desired reaction, the entertainment industry has betrayed the public. The pertinent moral issue is this: this same tendency to make emotions decisive regardless of whether those emotions are grounded in the facts of reality.
Although some movies stir thoughtful emotions, since Dr. No, released in 1962, the James Bond franchise has produced a steady stream of cotton candy films, which are pure entertainment with little nutritional value. This is not a criticism. I believe that one service movies provide is to provide some distraction from thinking about the world’s problems. I have little sympathy for the “it’s not realistic when the hero just wins” critique because if I wanted real life, I would spend two more hours (or so) on either mine or that of a member at my church. 007 fills a place in the market for those who—if we may overlook his moral faults—like the idea of the hero who saunters bravely into face whatever danger confronts the world yet walks away from it with tie still well knotted and enough wits about him to crack a joke.
The newest 007 flick, No Time to Die, broke the Bond-movie mold, attempting to fill the film with emotional significance, ending with a supposedly moving and thoughtful finale. After twenty-five (canon) movies, James Bond dies, blown to smithereens by a missile strike raining down on his head. I wish to explain how this turn of events represents the vapidity of elitist culture, which believes you should feel however they tell you to feel based on rhetorical tricks rather good writing and consistent storytelling.
There are two problematic layers built into No Time to Die’s manipulative betrayal of Bond fans. The first, and arguably less substantive, is the film’s abandonment of the 007 formula. Movie critics have praised the decision to depart from the standard format of find the villain, defeat the villain, get the girl, get away with a dryly humorous quip. This praise, however, is precisely what reveals the elitist nature of the modern entertainment industry. There is a necessary question: If twenty-five movies (plus the novels and a few video games) have had immense commercial success for sixty years while abiding by the same formula, what suggests that the audience wants the films to depart from the formula? Quite obviously, it seems that we continue to pay money to watch Bond movies because we want the formula. If we wanted something else, we would see a different movie.
No Time to Die’s abandonment of the Bond formula, by killing off the hero, represents the production company’s refusal to give the consumer what they want. They are no longer content to provide the same superficial entertainment. Rather, they find it more important to feel as though they have flexed their artistic muscles than to continue rendering the service expected by their customers. Whereas the movie industry should exist to entertain us as we please, the trend, represented in No Time to Die, inverts the relationship by thinking that the consumer exists principally to appreciate their artistic skill. Mastery and depth in one’s craft should no doubt be appreciated. Still, the industry should adhere to genre rules. They should not perform a “bait and switch” on their audience as though we should love whatever they put in front of us regardless of what they suggested they were selling. Steak and lobster are both wonderful foods. If I am craving one, however, I do not wish to be fed the other. Likewise, if I am looking for a 007 movie, I am not looking for a soul-stirring emotional lesson. The company has betrayed their role of providing the expected product.
Now, perhaps you think that this first point has been a bit of a stretch, the rant of a significantly disappointed fan. There may be some truth to that but the point is grounded in more substantive reflection about how the movie used rhetorical tricks to try to make the film’s tragic end meaningful when that significance is not truly grounded in the writing and previous storytelling. That leads us to the second layer of the movie’s manipulative betrayal.
No Time to Die betrays its audience by trying to manipulate us into feeling that its finale has emotional importance within the story, even though it does not. Earlier in the movie, Bond was reunited with a woman whom he had truly loved years ago, the heroine from Spectre (2015), discovering along the way that he had a daughter with her. As missiles approach the island where Bond is stranded and we slowly realize that he is not going to escape before they strike, the film employs subtle music, whispering, tearful dialogue, and closeups on the actors faces to convince you that this is a meaningful moment as the world’s most famous spy meets his end. The problem is that this suggested emotional significance does not match the story.
First, the film tries to make Bond’s death meaningful by supposedly making it impossible for him to be reunited with his love interest and his daughter. The main crisis of the movie is that the villain had created a virus from special plants that can be programmed to target specific people according to their DNA. Someone can put this virus discreetly on his palm or somewhere else and then infect the target by then touching the person whose DNA was programmed into this dose. There is then the added feature that the virus can never be removed from the skin of the person who first put it on their hand.
This point that the virus could never be removed from someone’s skin seemed odd even when it was introduced earlier in the movie. At the end, however, we discover that the main function of plot device, which was always artificial, was to make Bond’s death acceptable. In the final battle, the main villain strikes Bond with a dose of the virus that targeted for his love interest and daughter.
Normally, I am very willing to overlook wild plot points or even massive plot holes in 007 movies, and this aspect of the plot is arguably standard ridiculousness within a Bond film. I am willing to overlook these things, however, precisely because I know these movies are meant to be mindless entertainment. No Time to Die, however, has attempted to become meaningful drama, making me far less accepting of its storytelling inconsistencies. In this case, a wildly artificial aspect of this virus is supposed to make Bond’s death the only acceptable outcome because it suggests that he can never be truly reunited with his loved ones.
Is that the case though? Earlier in the film, the person carrying the virus had to touch the targeted person to infect them. Since the villain had slapped Bond’s face with the virus, it seems that as long as he does not rub his one cheek on his lover and daughter, everything should be fine. Certainly, this would come with some terrible difficulties. Still, since Bond’s death scene robs a girl of her father, deprives a mother of fatherly partnership, and depicts a man being stoically peaceful in the face of death as he contemplates leaving his newly discovered loved ones without his contribution and care, it seems contradictory to the meaningful demise it means to suggest. Indeed, as Scott Swain suggested, the scene might more condone the modern irresponsible male’s desire to escape caring for his children than it provides any sort of emotionally significant moment at the end of Bond’s life. It is then not the moment of 007’s personal growth that so many of his politically correct critics may wish they could read into it, even if that is the reaction the filmmakers would like to provoke. Afterall, my point is that they improperly try to load meaning into the scene that is not truly supported by the story. They have used movie magic to manipulate you into feeling a certain way when the facts do not truly support that emotion.
I anticipate that many evangelicals will be quick here to claim that Bond’s death teaches about the Christian theme of self-sacrifice for others’ good, since he died while saving the world. Again, we must ask whether the story supports this sentiment, although it is certainly what the film aims to make you feel. The question is: Did Bond die because he was saving others although he obviously died while saving others. In other words, are these events causally or circumstantially related? The answer is that Bond died for a very different reason than saving others, removing any way to see his death as having that positive self-sacrificial value.
The actual events of the story reveal that Bond’s death was meaningless. During the film’s climactic moments, he had to open some bay doors so that the planned missile strike would be able to destroy the virus-causing plants, which would otherwise be protected by the concrete shields. As he raced to the top of the fortress to access the controls for the bay doors, Bond himself ordered M and Q to initiate the missile strike then. Their first response was that they needed to wait until he had cleared the island. Bond insisted that begin the strike then, notably before he had been infected by the virus that would supposedly keep him from having contact with his loved ones. At the time, it seemed like a plot device simply to increase tension in the story. They easily could have destroyed the island after Bond left it, even before the approaching ships from other nations could reach the island to be able to obtain any of the virus plants. Nonetheless, they listened to Bond and launched the missiles before he escaped.
So, we need to recognize that Bond made an impetuous mistake and died because of that. He could have saved the world and survived. He could have had some contact with and given some support to his new family but he was impulsive and impatient and suffered a meaningless death because of it. In other words, a man died because of his sin. Put in theological terms, this is law, not gospel. So, the idea of a lesson about self-sacrificial love is another artificial edifice emotionally imposed on us through manipulative cinematic tricks when the story does not support that affective response.
Now, why is this rant and critique of a misuse of movie magic important beyond being bothered by a poorly constructed Bond flick? Because No Time to Die’s use of manipulative rhetorical tricks to produce in us a specific emotional reaction, when the facts do not support it, reflects a broader cultural problem. The woke movement, exaggerated political correctness, and the LGBT agendas rely on exactly the same strategies. Facts do not support many of the premises on which the agendas of these movements rely yet we are supposed to sign on unwaveringly because the movements use rhetoric that tugs at our heartstrings. There is a wider culture of betrayal beyond the producers of the Bond franchise that has infected the outlook of the entire western world. We are expected to shape our beliefs in accord with how the cultural elites tell us to feel through their various media tools. Bond is but a symbol of the betrayal culture blatantly battering us.
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