James Bond and the Gospels

David Lose
12/13/2012


I should probably admit up front that I’ve been a huge James Bond fan ever since my older brother took me to see "Live and Let Die" at the age of 9. (I’m still not sure if my parents ever knew that.) So over Thanksgiving weekend, my wife and I planned an evening out and caught supper and the latest Bond flick, "Skyfall."

I should probably also admit that I think Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery created the character 50 years ago. Along with most critics, I thought "Skyfall" was terrific, one of the better films in the franchise. No small part of that was the evolution of Bond. As in "Casino Royale" ("Quantum of Solace," unfortunately, was fairly forgettable), we were treated to a more three-dimensional portrait of Bond. We saw some rare displays of emotion and were given hints of his past that help explain how he became the man he is. In some ways, in fact, "Skyfall" went beyond "Casino Royale" -- and light years beyond earlier Bond films -- in the depth of emotion Bond expressed and the dimensions of a more complex character it revealed.

"Evolution," however, is probably the wrong word to use to describe the Bond of this film. I was delighted early on in "Casino Royale" to realize that the filmmakers had decided not simply to update Bond for the 2000s, continuing the story but in our own time. Rather, the first Daniel Craig Bond-film was a complete reboot. It started from the beginning and built outward. And this third installment in the trilogy (yes, there is supposed to be a fourth, but given the trouble to bring this one to the screen we’ll just have to wait and see) completed that reboot. These films are origin stories -- not, however, taking us back to understand the original Bond but to offer a new and different Bond, one that speaks to the complexities of our lives and worldview.

In "Skyfall" in particular, you see an almost complete reconsideration of Bond and his significance. "Skyfall" doesn’t have the predictable Cold War themes that were the mainstay of earlier Bond films to fall back on. Nor is it content to explore the far-out end-of-the-world scenarios of earlier films. And while "Skyfall" isn’t the first Bond film made after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is the first to question the need for spies like Bond at all.

Daniel Craig’s turn at the helm of this franchise introduces us to a whole new Bond that, while variously paying homage to, alluding to, and playing with the main themes and expected conventions of the series, also seeks to address the concerns of our day.

This newest James Bond movie reminds me of the Gospels. Matthew and Luke, for instance, are not simply updating, let alone correcting, Mark. Rather, they seek to address the main themes of the earliest Gospel and, one supposes, Paul’s preaching to different realities, realities shaped by, among other things, the fall of the Temple, the death of eye-witnesses, and Jesus’ delayed return.

We sense this perhaps most strongly at various key turns in the story: Jesus’ time in Gethsemane, for instance (which is only called "Gethsemane" in two of the accounts and a "garden" in one). Or in Jesus’ words from the cross. Or in the Christmas story, where Luke and Matthew construct very different stories focused on distinct characters (Matthew on Joseph, Luke on Mary) not merely to update the stories of Jesus but to offer a full reboot, a new attempt at considering who Jesus is and what he may mean for our day and age.

Having said that, we probably also recognize that some of those nuances are lost on us. Truth be told, the version of the Christmas story -- and, indeed, the larger gospel -- that dances in my head is a mishmash of various elements from the distinct Gospels that, taken together, create a sense of a unitary and meaningful whole. And, quite frankly, I think that’s just fine. There’s a time to notice Luke’s focus on Mary and a time to hear the whole glorious, if not always continuous, story. When I think of James Bond, after all, I don’t only think of Daniel Craig but also of Sean Connery, Roger More and even Pierce Brosnan.

While I realize it may seem a little irreverent to compare Jesus to James Bond -- though no doubt somewhere some desperate preacher has done just that -- that’s not really my intention. Rather, I want to lift up the versatility of certain storytellers -- daring artists, whether filmmakers or evangelists -- who are not content merely to continue or to update but who work to help us see the story and its power anew. We are enriched by that, both in the cinema and the pew.

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Originally posted Dec. 11, 2012, at ...in the Meantime. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to David Lose’s blog ...in the Meantime at Lutheran Blogs.

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