Written by Elizabeth Kobayashi
Ah, Vesper Lynd. The smart, sexy British Treasury employee from Casino Royale who becomes the love of James Bond’s life. She is the ultimate Bond girl—witty, beautiful, and driven by an obfuscated backstory that Bond can’t quite crack. Her mysterious allure, while alluring and oh-so-mysterious, is also the tragic side result of irresponsible (or ignorant) writers feeding sexism in the media.
I know. Shocking, right? Let’s take a closer look.
The problem with Vesper is not as obvious as the problem with, say, Agent Fields, whose only function in Quantum of Solace was to sleep with Bond and die for no apparent reason. Vesper has a more coherent storyline and she is sharp and intelligent, instantly and accurately sizing Bond up, bantering with him, rebuffing his advances, and refusing him more money when he loses his hand to Le Chiffre.
And then she falls in love with him halfway through the film. Did she really just swoon before his display of testosterone and alcoholism? At first glance, that’s inconsistent and unfounded.
Maybe. We discover in Quantum of Solace that her Algerian (former) lover Yusuf is a Quantum agent who seduces high-ranking women in the government and is then ‘kidnapped’ to blackmail them into becoming double-agents. (If ever there was a sexist plan for world domination, this is it.) From this piece of information, we can conclude Vesper is quietly desperate for love and as soon as she believes a man loves her, she will reciprocate wholeheartedly.
Or can we?
That is the danger. We can only conclude. Her entire character is a construction of conjecture; she exists more in the mind of those around her than she does in her own right. We learn almost nothing from Vesper herself. Every piece of information and backstory is speculation between Bond and Mathis, unconfirmed assessments by Bond, and explanations from M. The audience is brought into this—come, speculate about Vesper, her backstory, her motivations, her inner life.
It fits the aesthetic of the movie quite well, but it brings viewers to the brink of objectification. Because the veil on Vesper is never really lifted, Vesper remains only what we made her in our minds. She’s a forceful, perceptive woman with a discernable motive. She is weak-willed, gullible, and ready to throw away her beliefs for love. She’s loyal, a passionate lover, hell-bent on her purpose. She’s contrived and inconsistent, a character of convenience.
The evidence is much thinner than the pictures we paint.
In many ways, this makes Vesper the quintessence of Bond-style sexism (which is really just classic sexism, particularly rampant in action movies that appeal almost exclusively to testosterone; i.e. James Bond). Who she was before Bond is less important than how she interacts with his character arc. She is incomplete on her own because no part of her revealed backstory hinges on her own agency. Yusuf takes advantage of her, Quantum manipulates her, she falls for Bond too readily, and when she tries to buy their way out of danger, she fails, which sets Bond up for the next movie.
She is an image to be admired, protected, and pursued, but she cannot be known. She is so obscure that she is barely a real person. And when someone is no longer seen as a real person, we call that objectification.
As with all objectification, the primary responsibility lies with the viewer. It is your duty, as a part of the human race, to always remember that humans are people. Take care that watching films does not cultivate a habit of seeing real people for their entertainment value. Stories are not passive amusement; they show us something and we can absorb it without examining it or learning from it.
Responsibility also lies with the writers, who must portray characters, especially major characters and women, as people with real thoughts, feelings, and will. An audience does not have the opportunity to get to know a character outside of the film. They are limited by what is exposed onscreen. If you, as a writer, paint characters as incomplete, the audience has no choice but to accept them as-is or to invent an inner life that matches with their personal ideas.
Of course, it’s more difficult to write secondary characters as fully-fledged persons than it is to paint with vague strokes and leave the rest up to the masses. But good things are rarely easy, and we should not underestimate the power of the media.
With his tailored suits and classy drinks, Bond is a male icon. He gets the job done. And he has a clear disregard for human life. We certainly don’t want our children to kill without a thought, and we don’t want them to “think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits.”
Vesper’s assessment of Bond is accurate, and it’s tragic irony that she delivers that line. By inviting the audience to join in the speculation on Vesper, Casino Royale runs the risk of inviting men to be more like Bond: quicker to see the appeal of a woman than her humanity.
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