A spectre is haunting Spectre—the spectre of James Bond. All the powers of reason have entered a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre, but it is a haunt that rests in the fabric of this franchise, a totalising essence that cannot be shaken, only stirred.
It is apt we open with the out of context quote from Daniel Craig, “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.” for this meta-narrative pervades Spectre. It is clear in the interview that he is still playing Bond, looking out into the audience to hint at the subconscious machinations of Bond’s mind.
The lights dim. The crowd falls into a hush of anticipation. A stray popcorn lands on your lap, maybe a gummy bear. A late arrival hurries past you, knocking your soda over. It splashes on your sweater, the one grandma gave you last Christmas. You knew sitting on the edge was a risk. You knew.
Bond sits awkwardly at the back of a helicopter as it flips multiple times in the air. He is patiently waiting for the ride to finish, but his body shoots into motion and he accidentally kills the pilot. He now must pilot it on his own.
“Can’t you see I am in grieving?” a woman asks Bond at her husband’s funeral.
“No.” he replies. She turns her face awkwardly, stares into the distance for a few seconds, before walking off. Bond is left not knowing what to do. He proceeds to fuck her in the next scene.
Bond says to Q, “Make me disappear.” Q stares at Bond, confused at such a request, for Bond disappeared long ago—subsumed into the greater spectacle of sex, alcohol and violence.
The title Spectre clearly refers not to the shadowy organisation Bond is after, but rather to Bond himself. Like a ghost, he is caught in a cycle of despair, repeating time over the same motions to the same dissatisfying conclusions. In Casino Royale his hopes exist in the transcendental ideal that is Vesper Lynd. These hopes turn to despair with her death; yet in each subsequent film he begins the cycle anew. It is as if he is trying to relive the past through empty movements alone.
By Spectre, he is no longer even chasing after the transcendental ideal of Vesper, for he has displaced them onto all the actions that had led to her—fighting, drinking and fucking. He seeks reasons to simply fight, drink and fuck, because that is all that keeps him going, anymore. He does not do it out of pleasure, but out of habit, for if he ever stopped he would fall into despair from the realisation that there is nothing left within him but an unceasing void and the sweet whispers of death itself.
There is an emptiness to his seductions, a hollowness in his eyes and cheeks. His fists swing but they are muscle spasms of a younger self. He lines his targets with a wild precision that screams of soul-crushing nihilism. He is a walking ghost, running on memory.
There is a scene near the end, where Bond is tortured by a small, precision drill. The obligatory villain explains that if he targets the right area of his brain, he will lose the ability to recognise faces. He then proceeds to drill the right area of his brain.
The scene ends with Bond striding out of the facility, shooting a dozen guards, before stopping at a helicopter to watch the base explode multiple times, each one larger than the last. Though absurdly self-aware and strangely entertaining, there is the unexplained case of why a drill to the brain did not affect his ability to function.
There is a region of the brain called the cerebellum, which is responsible for learned movements such as walking, grooming and eating. Bond needs nothing more than this to function. The hollow void of existence has reduced him to a philosophical zombie, whose learned movements of fighting, drinking and fucking are regulated solely through the cerebellum. There is no intent, no thought; only sense input, motor output, and action so self-aware that the title of the film alone spoils the entire arc and conclusion of Daniel Craig’s Bond.
We know Bond is merely a vessel for unfettered masculinity. He is himself a transcendental ideal, set wild across the fields of absurdity. Bond embraces this role, first through desire, then necessity, then reflex. His masculinity is proven impotent by the overwhelming absurdity of the world, and at the end of all things he is reduced to a quivering absence. It is as apt a commentary on masculinity as I’ve ever experienced.
Hope, to despair, to desolation. It is a natural progression for all who attempt to find meaning in the absurd; But to lose one’s mind and still embrace it? This is an authenticity only the inauthentic spectacle could truly capture.