The dead are alive.
Those ominous words are what first greet you in Spectre, the latest entry into the world of Bond, James Bond.
And they are definitely intentional.
Directed once again by Sam Mendes, Spectre picks up the action soon after the events of 2012’s Skyfall as Bond (Daniel Craig) is left dealing with the events of his past. Driven by a mysterious message from his beloved former ‘M’ (Judi Dench), Bond sets out on a mission that even he doesn’t fully understand in the outset. As he continues his investigation, Bond soon learns of an evil criminal organization called SPECTRE, led by the villainous Fritz Oberhausen (Christoph Waltz). With revenge on his mind, Bond also must also protect the beautiful Madeline Swan (Lea Seydoux) as he unravels how far their crime syndicate stretches.
One of the most interesting things about the two Mendes entries into the Bond canon is that, unlike many of the films in the franchise, he seems intent on seeing growth within 007. Whereas Skyfall looks at the ravages of time on our hero (and the franchise), Spectre seems intent on delivering the opposite: where do we find new life? From the spectacular opening long take (I found it reminiscent of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil) during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, Bond has fully immersed himself in the role of the ‘assassin’. His heart hardened by the losses he has suffered over the years (M, Vesper Lynd) and the villains he has left in his wake (LeChiffre, Silva), Bond seems to have accepted his role as a trained killer (and, as Craig reminds us, misogynist). However, through his encounters with Madeline Swan, Bond begins to wonder if he’s missing something.
“What would you do if you weren’t an assassin?” she pushes.
“I don’t know,” Bond replies.
Here, we begin to see that Bond has become so immersed in his brokenness that he can’t imagine life separate from it. While he remains effective at getting the job done, he has lost his way. As he clings to the guilt and shame of the events of his past, Bond seems as though he’s trying to fill a void through alcohol, sex and violence. Even Oberhauser mentions that he has lost his soul.
Is it possible that 007 is having an identity crisis?
Whereas Bond may be suffering from being shaken (not stirred) both emotionally and spiritually, regrettably Spectre isn’t quite sure what the solution to his problem. By the end of the film, we see that Bond may have regained some sense of control over his life, which does bring a sense of fun back to the character. Maybe he just needed to lighten up? Take a vacation? (Incidentally, this commentary works on a meta-level as well when one considers that darker, more serious tone that the Craig films have taken. While proving immensely popular for today’s culture, the films have departed greatly from the more playful entries that came before.)
But is driving off into the sunset with a beautiful woman enough to bring the dead to life?
Bond certainly has the premise right. Though our world puts emphasis on what we do and who we’re with to give us life, Scripture tells us that we may not be as healthy as we think we are. In Revelation 3:3, God claims “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive but you are dead.” Even though we can ‘make a name for ourselves’, we prove time and again that this isn’t what experiencing life is about. Despite his accomplishments, Bond clings to his past in a ways that keeps him trapped by his own guilt and hurt.
Where Bond fires and misses, though, is where he finds his hope. Finding life in the arms of a woman or taking a vacation are good ways to catch a breath but, ultimately, they don’t offer the depth of healing that we need. As a Christian, I recognize that hope doesn’t lie in our experiences, relationships or stuff. We need something—no, Someone—more powerful. In Colossians, Paul speaks to this when he says, “When you were dead in your transgressions… [Christ] made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgression.” (2:13) Because of Christ, we can actually receive new life, forgiven of what we’ve done. Because of Christ, we really can be free of our past and begin again.
Because of Christ, the dead are alive.
In Spectre, Bond may have accepted his role as an assassin but Swan helps him to see that there’s more. She helps him to recognize that he’s missing something; that there’s something more. Ultimately though, his pursuits can’t possibly fill the void he so desperately seeks to satisfy.
Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz
Dir. Sam Mendes
**** (out of five)