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The Manic Maniac: Ian Fleming Turns 100..
..and James Bond is the loneliest guy in the world
By Joe Crosby
November 13, 2008
Ian Fleming would be 100 years old were he alive today. He's not alive, but his greatest creation--Bond, James Bond--is very much so. Friday’s Quantum of Solace will mark the 22nd time in 46 years of celluloid adaptations that 007 will likely:
1. Introduce himself last name first.
2. Order a martini (and you best not stir that).
3. Seduce a leggy woman with a ridiculous name who may or may not want to kill him.
4. Drive a cooler car than you.
5. Definitely drive a cooler car than me.
6. Play with guns and/or gadgets we've tried to recreate a million times, probably by attaching fishing line and a lighter to our watch, only to find out the fishing line won't hold our weight from the second-floor balcony and that fire actually melts the rubber wristband on a Casio.
7. Blow shit up.
It's not hard to be envious of Bond. His job is cool (he's an effing spy!), his women are beautiful, his perfectly tailored suits are expensive and his toys are plenty. (And, again, he gets to blow shit up.) He's a man's man, but he's a woman's man, as well. He's vulnerable, but he survives. Given the opportunity to meet him, however, we probably wouldn't like guy. But we’d still love him because behind the job, the women, clothes and toys, maybe we realize just how ordinary James Bond is.
The reasons as to why you might not personally like Bond are many:
He comes from a certain degree of wealth, which alone isn't a reason for animosity. But as a youth, he managed to get kicked out of the prestigious Eton College, an act of squandered opportunity that hints of a person who might easily take such life advantages for granted.
The way he greets people seems at once telling and mysterious, but it sniffs of elitist exasperation. His introduction is brief, a mere three words. But it says so much more: "I’m going to lead with my last name first because, one because I think it sounds cool that way, but two, you should really already know who I am. And then I’m going to reinforce my last name with my first name and, then, wait for it … my last name again, so you make sure you won’t forget it. If I have to waste my time introducing myself to you again because you forgot that—which you won’t—then I’m going to kill you, but only after sleeping with your girlfriend/business partner, all of which I’m liable to do anyway.”
His confidence is little more than thinly veiled cockiness, and he definitely thinks he's better than you. The way he goes through women you'd want damn sure to keep your wife far from his libido, not to mention your sister and your mother, too. (I hope you don’t have a dog.) And he orders his drink like a dick from some poor bastard who's working for tips.
All of this, and the worst part is, it's taxpayer dollars that fund his lifestyle--not just his salary and a $100K vehicle with a million bucks in after-market add-ons, but also the cleanup of the multimillion-dollar demolition derby that it is job.
But even if that conjecture is true, and he’s little more than a rich prick, it’s easy to read between those lines to see that even rich pricks have the unavoidable destiny of being ordinary schmucks, too.
James Bond has no special powers fueling his global dominance. He's not a mutant or otherwise genetically altered. He might have come from money, but he also suffered the death of both of his parents when he was just a grade-schooler, a tragedy for any person (who isn’t Damien from The Omen). Bond is smart, but the villain is many times smarter. His sexual conquests might seem impressive, but they're fleeting and often without substance. He can't possibly maintain a relationship with anyone because he doesn't have time, and if he did, they'd probably end up dead. Given that, it's no wonder he drinks so many damned martinis--he's the loneliest guy in the world.
Yet despite his loneliness (read: vulnerability), he still manages to kick ass (read: survive). But he isn't just a survivor because he MacGyvers his way out of trouble on a daily basis. He's a survivor because despite a life of utter anonymity, where the biggest name in the world barely exists at all, he pulls himself up by the Oxford-straps, slips into his Italian-made tux and goes off to be repeatedly shot at, physically tortured and psychologically maimed. And he does it all with so much swagger, you'd never know he goes home alone to microwave dinners and the cold contemplation of solitary darkness.
Daniel Craig's decidedly less quippy, more emotionally strained take on double-0 was the first real glimpse we’ve had of Bond’s emotional turmoil. But you understand that it was there all along, through Connery and Moore, Dalton and Brosnan (and especially George Lazenby, that forgotten bastard), just repressed further into his psyche with each mission. That anguish was even the subtext of the numerous Miss Moneypenny euphemism-driven exchanges, his transparent need for something lasting in his life, something durable. (Why the two never consummated the thing is another, endlessly frustrating story. Mommy issues, I’d gather.)
And maybe all of this is why Craig is being dubbed (by some) as the best Bond ever. He offers new insight into why Fleming's venerable Bond is alive as ever nearly 50 years after his creator's death, and maybe new insight into Fleming’s life, as well.
Fleming's own upbringing in many ways parallels James Bond's: son of a wealthy Scottish father, kicked out of Eton and dabbled in foreign affairs and civil service. And Fleming even broke off his engagement with the first woman he loved, Monique Panchaud de Bottomes, for fear of losing his "allowance." Like Bond, a rich, lonely prick. But maybe that afforded him the opportunity to create what we seem drawn to in the character. Fleming once said of James Bond, "Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department." See, Fleming didn't create a hero, extravagant and enviable. He simply created an ordinary schmuck working for the government. And we can’t get enough of it.