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In a sense, being a Bond fan is kind of like having this enigmatic friend or acquaintance. You know, that type of person with whom you always enjoy hanging out with but—outside the time you've spent together—don't really know much about. Sure, you might get curious from time to time but you usually just leave it be, as it's clear that for whatever reason, this person likes to keeps things close to chest.
However, the thing with curiosity is that you can't really turn it off. So, watching a Bond movie can often turn into a game of spot the character behind the icon. And, well, let's play a bit of this game, as we take a look at six small but fascinating moments of character reveal in the Bond franchise.
6. Bond And M's "Interesting Experience" ('From Russia With Love')
You can tell a lot about a person by their friends. Of course, the problem with Bond is that appart from a few notable exceptions, he doesn't really have any. In fact, the closest thing he has to friends are the MI6 regulars (M, Q, Moneypenny, etc.). Yet, we almost never get a sense like Bond would hang out with them outside his job. Well, almost, which leads us to this fun little interrogation scene in From Russia With Love.
During the scene we find Bond questioning Tatiana Romanova—a cipher clerk at the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, who wishes to defect to the West in exchange of a decoding device called Lektor. So, the purpose here for Bond is to establish whether she tells the truth, as the MI6 staff (including M) listens on via a radio connection. Of course, rather expectedly, it doesn't take long for things to take a flirty turn, thus leading us to the following exchange:
Tatiana Romanova: Am I as exciting as all those Western girls?
Bond: Once, when I was with M in Tokyo, we had an interesting experience.
[M quickly cuts the feed]
M: Thank you, Miss Moneypenny.
Now, aside from it being a nice piece of levity in one of the more serious Bond movies, what makes this scene great is that it let's us see that M is more than simply Bond's superior. Granted, we don't know the specific circumstances but what we do know is that at some point Bond and M found themselves in Tokyo and decided to have what must have been a rather memorable bachelor night out. Now, considering that this version of Bond seemed to have the most matter of fact relationship with M, this speaks volumes about how 007 views his closest colleagues. He sees them as friends.
5. The Three Magic Words ('On Her Majesty's Secret Service')
I love you.
While these three simple words are not exactly underused in the world of cinema, they're a real novelty when coming out of Bond's mouth. Therefore, the rare occasions when he has uttered these words, do deserve that extra bit of attention, thus leading us to the memorable scene above where Bond proposes Tracy.
Here's the thing, this is perhaps one the most important moments in the franchise's history. Within these 60 seconds, there's nothing left of the icon. There's just a guy acknowledging his one shot at true happiness determined not to let it pass him. It's a side of Bond that obviously can't be explored too often, as it conflicts with the character's cool aura. However, it's essential for us to know that it's there. To know that there's a human lurking underneath that escapist fantasy.
4 Scramanga Finds A Chink In Bond's Armor ('The Man With The Golden Gun')
Whichever way you look at it, Bond is a killer. However, this dark side of the character rarely gets explored and, ironically enough, one of the most fascinating instances of it comes from the most lighthearted of Bond's. So let's enter the villain's lair and join agent Goodnight, Bond and Scaramanga for a nice lunch and some small talk:
Francisco Scaramanga: At a million dollars a contract, I can afford to, Mr. Bond. You work for peanuts, a hearty well done from Her Majesty the Queen, and a pittance of a pension. Apart from that, we are the same. (raises his glass in a toast) To us, Mr. Bond. We are the best.
James Bond: There's a useful four letter word... and you're full of it. When I kill, it is on the specific orders of my government. And those I kill are themselves killers.
Francisco Scaramanga: Ha! Come, come, Mr. Bond, you disappoint me. You get as much fulfillment out of killing as I do, so why don't you admit it?
James Bond: I admit killing you would be a pleasure.
Francisco Scaramanga: (smirks) Then you should have done that when you first saw me. But then, of course, the English don't consider it sporting to kill in cold blood, do they?
James Bond: Don't count on that.
Now, what we have here is essentially a case of Scaramanga managing to hit a bit of a soft spot for Bond. Granted, he does use the old "doing it for the Queen and country and I only kill killers" retort. However, as Scaramanga presses on, it becomes apparent that Bond really doesn't have anything meaningful to get back at him with, thus indicating that he probably does get some enjoyment out of killing (despite his refusal to admit it).
Yet, perhaps more importantly, Bond's refusal to agree with Scaramanga can also be viewed as Bond acknowledging that doing so would lose him whatever humanity he has got left. Too dark for a Roger Moore Bond flick? Well, judging by the way how uncharacteristically straight good ol' Rog plays this scene, perhaps not.
3. Bond's Adaptability ('License To Kill')
It's funny how Bond going rogue is always treated as this big thing, while in reality this plot device tends to be used quite a lot. However, for a good reason, as not only does it present a brilliant opportunity to explore the character's difficult relationship with authority, but it also offers us a wonderful display of his adaptability. Something, which is perfectly demonstrated in Lisence to Kill, as Bond begins his infiltration into drug lord Sanchez's operation by using a rather novel cover—a rogue agent looking to make a buck in the criminal underworld:
[Asked why he has a gun]
James Bond: In my business you prepare for the unexpected.
Franz Sanchez: And what business is that?
James Bond: I help people with problems.
Franz Sanchez: Problem solver.
James Bond: More of a problem eliminator.
Now, of course, Bond's real motivation here is bringing down Sanchez's operation from the inside (along with Sanchez himself) to fulfill his private vendetta. Yet, just by looking at how comfortable he is in the middle of what is essentially a job interview with a drug lord, let's us know that if Bond actually did turn to the life of crime, he'd have no problems with fitting in.
2. Too Close For Comfort ('Tomorrow Never Dies')
As previously touched upon, the reason why it's so tricky to find moments of genuine character reveal in the Bond franchise is that he's a bit of a cold bastard. And, while it undoubtedly plays a huge part in 007's appeal, there might be more to this cold exterior than the simple cool factor. For that, let's explore this underrated little scene from Tomorrow Never Dies, as Bond meets his former flare Paris.
Now, initially this exchange does come across as rather melodramatic and not really revealing anything. And, well, it would be a fair assessment if not for a little blink and you miss it moment. It's the simple 'yes' along with the reaction Bond gives to Parise's question whether she got "too close for comfort" to him in the past. Thing is, this short moment enables us to see Bond as this broken person afraid to let anyone get emotionally close to him. Furthermore, it also displays Bond's relief of finally admitting it out loud to someone.
1. A Dinner With A Character Study ('Casino Royale')
As we enter the Craig era, finding moments of genuine character reveal does become much easier, as the filmmakers have managed to explore Bond's psyche on surprisingly many occasions. However, perhaps never quite as stylishly as in this mesmerizing scene form Casino Royale, where Bond meets the woman who would end up defining him — Vesper Lynd.
So, what makes this dinner on a train such a great piece of character analysis? Well, because that's literally what we have here, as Bond and Vesper measure each other up with some playful banter. Therefore, a lot is given to us straight through dialogue. We learn that Bond is an orphan, that he was an outsider during his school years because of it, and that he still carries a chip on his shoulder as a result. We also learn that he has a knack for reading people (something he immediately proves as well).
However, then there's also what is left unsaid. Namely, just how much Bond seems to be enjoying himself here. The guy is clearly savouring meeting an intellectual match in Vesper, which is a nice way to show us that however many one night stands he has had, he's still far more intrigued with the prospect of meeting an equal. Furthermore, we can also deduce that being an outsider must be a pretty big deal for Bond, as it's one of the first things he latches onto while evaluating Vesper.
Now, add to that the excellent chemistry between the leads and this simple banter deservedly takes it's place among the most memorable moments in the entire franchise.
Obviously, trying to disect Bond's character is mostly not really necessary. He's whatever the story (or the era) needs him to be. However, it should be noted that Fleming did actually create the orignal Bond stories as a way of exploring his own inner demons. So, in a sense, character exploration lays in the very DNA of the Bond franchise. Despite the fact that you often have to use more imagination to engage in it than Hugo Drax did for planning an amusing death for Bond.
Sources: IMDb, The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond by Philip Gardiner