Villains and Heroes

While James Bond’s body recovers from his brutal torture, his mind is sharp and at work in the next chapter of Casino Royale. Mathis is in his room, and they’re talking about Bond’s rescuer, and how he managed to cross the iron curtain and get into France. Then they discuss the mark that the killer left on Bond. It has the appearance of “a square M with a tail to the top”. Bond explains:

Well, I only got a glimpse before I passed out, but I’ve seen the cuts several times while they were being dressed and I’m pretty certain they are the Russian letter for SH. It’s rather like an inverted M with a tail. That would make sense; SMERSH is short for SMYERT SHPIONAM – Death to Spies – and he thinks he’s labelled me as a SHPION.

Bond next drops a bombshell. He declares that he intends to resign once he gets back to London. He explains that he likes being alive, and Le Chiffre’s phrase about “playing Red Indians” has stuck in his head. He says that as you get older, it’s more difficult to pick out the villains and heroes. He outlines the two times that he has had to kill in the line of duty to this point of his career. The first time took place on the 40th floor of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. (pictured to the right) Bond was part of a two man team that killed a Japanese cipher expert. They got a room across the street from the building, and the first man shot a hole in the thick glass of the RCA building, and Bond shot through that hole, killing the cipher expert. The second time wasn’t so clean, Bond killed a Norwegian double agent with a knife, and adds that the man “didn’t die very quickly”. These are glimpses into Bond that help us define the character. Because of these missions, he is awarded a Double O number by the Secret Service.

Bond starts talking about how the villains and heroes are mixed up. Is Bond a hero or a villain? What about Le Chiffre? He goes on a bit of a modern sounding rant.

‘Of course,’ he added, as Mathis started to expostulate, ‘patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date. Today we are fighting Communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.’

As I said, this is very modern from Ian Fleming. A full 15 years before Vietnam, and Bond, or more accurately, Fleming is saying that this “country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date”. He’s got Bond questioning his country before even the hippies were challenging Vietnam in the late 1960’s. After this Mathis jokingly wonders if Le Chiffre had been battering his “head instead of” his …’

After a few minutes Mathis has a reply of his own, noting that “Englishmen are so odd.” He compares them to a nest of Chinese boxes. He indulges Bond and asks him to continue, joking that “There may be something I can use to my own chief the next time I want to get out of an unpleasant job.” Bond goes on further to show sympathy for the Devil in relation to God. He says he likes to be on the side of the underdog, which he paints the Devil as, noting there is no book of evil, no ten commandments of evil, “no team of authors to write his biography.” He then connects Le Chiffre to the situation by asserting that the Russian served the noble purpose of “creating a norm of badness by which, and by which alone, an opposite norm of goodness could exist.”

The conversation goes back and forth for the rest of the chapter, with Mathis mostly laughing at Bond, knowing that he will not actually resign. He knows that Bond will continue to hunt the evil men of the world, to protect himself and he people he loves. He tells Bond:

‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’
He laughed. ‘But don\’t let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine’

And with that, before Bond can reply, he is out the door.

Note: This report indicates that the upcoming movie Casino Royale will be an “updated but faithful” adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel that is being reviewed on this very site.

One comment

  1. Anonymous · March 26, 2005

    I have to take issue with Bond\’s views on the PR God and the Devil get.He claims that we have a clear enough picture of God to be able to count every last hair in his beard, but nobody really knows what the Devil looks like.Hang on one cotton-pickin\’ minute, there, Jimbo!We have a _much_ clearer picture of Old Scratch than we do of God! Red, saturnine face, nubby little horns, spade-tipped tail… You know the guy.God, though, is an amorphous, ill-defined entity, whose true face is a complete unknown to us.


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