Of all the scenes in the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, there is one that everyone is going to be talking about. In fact, they're already talking about it. No, it's not the motorcycle chase across the roofs of Istanbul, it's not the fist fight in a Komodo dragon pit, and it's not the explosive ending. Yes, all those things are awesome, but the part everyone is going to remember is James Bond being outrageously hit on by the villain Silva.
For those who haven't seen the movie yet (first I must say: you better go now, and second: I'm gonna be talking all about it, so if you see a spoiler, you've been warned), the first time we meet Silva is when he's on his deserted island in the South China Sea and his henchmen have Bond strapped to a chair with his hands behind his back. Silva approaches him and starts talking about how he can take over the world with just a computer. But there's something in his voice that is sexually charged. Then, he starts making double entendres, and gets closer and closer to Bond, eventually unbuttoning the agent's shirt, caressing his face and body, and putting his hand perilously close to Bond's gun (not the Walther PPK). The scene ends with Silva telling James Bond there is a first time for everything... meaning, you know, doing it gay-style. Bond replies, "What makes you think it's my first time?"
Of course the kicker is brilliant and turns this scene, and our ideas about Bond, on its head. While Daniel Craig (a favorite of gay men ever since he walked out of the sea in his blue bikini) has said there will never be a gay Bond, that the character would even allow his sexuality to be put into question is revolutionary. Of course we all know Bond is notorious for bedding everything with a vagina and a pulse in his path. But could he be so sexually voracious that he has been with a guy? No one in the audience even blanches at the fact that our hero could have kissed a not-girl and liked it, and that says something positive about the continued rise in gay acceptance.
Skyfall's gay screenwriter John Logan told The Hollywood Reporter that he wrote the scene to be like the classic confrontations between Bond and his nemeses, but wanted to find a new way to do it. This is Silva's "sexual intimidation," where he does something that he thinks will make Bond remarkably uncomfortable. The truth is, being so overtly hit on by another man would make many with a Y-chromosome squirm in their seats. In fact, the exchange is similar to another homoerotic Bond encounter in Casino Royale, where he is stripped naked and placed in a chair with no bottom, and has his nuts hammered by a mercenary. This is a similar scene, but Silva is more cerebral in all of his tactics. He has Bond strapped to a chair, but his ball torture takes place in Bond's mind.
But there is no torture, and that is the great thing. Bond may or may not have experience with members of the same gender, but he certainly doesn't mind arousing one (he knows who looks at him when he wears those bikinis) or being touched by one. That is a message that has never been transmitted before, which is why it gets cheers at screenings.
My problem with this scene is Silva. There is a long, sad history of gay villains in Hollywood movies where the effete or effeminate are driven to do awful things and then are punished for being different. We see this in everything from Silence of the Lambs and Braveheart to Zoolander and Talladega Nights. It appears that Silva is the same type of tired stereotypes. Though Javier Bardem plays him as a man with a calm depravity whose manic tendencies often break through in unexpected ways, in that initial scene, we're lead to believe that Silva is crazy because he's gay.
At this point in the movie, we don't know that Silva is a former protegee of M's who holds her accountable for his winding up on the wrong side of the law. We know nothing about him other than that he's bad and gay. In fact, we never quite learn what drove him to evil in the first place. We do discover he views M as a withdrawn and unloving mother figure, something that is badly equated with creating gay men in movies. Again, it's the stereotypical formulation of a crazy queer.
On his press tour, Craig has been fond of saying he doesn't think Silva is gay. He says he'll "f**k anything." Since the character's sexuality doesn't really crop up again, it's entirely forgotten about. Other than a throwaway line before he assassinates one of his female operatives (who slept with Bond), we have no cause to speculate Silva might be attracted to, as Craig says, everyone. I would also like to think that Logan, as a gay man, didn't intend that soon-to-be-famous scene to say that being gay makes people evil. Maybe the intention was to say that Silva is more interested in making Bond uncomfortable with homosexuality (a trick that triumphantly fails) than he is in exploring his orientation in any direction.
These mixed messages seem especially painful because there are no positive gay role models in the Bond world. While his boss has been played by a woman, and the MI6 of the Craig era includes people of color and badass female agents (not to forget Michelle Yeoh kicking ass and taking names in Tomorrow Never Dies, which even predates Craig), I can't think of one positive gay character in the franchise's history. The new Q is played by gay actor Ben Wishaw, so why not give us a little nudge that he'd rather prefer the company of Bond than Miss Moneypenny? The same could go for Ralph Fiennes, who steps in as the new head of MI6. I'm not asking for him to have a big gay wedding with Liza Minnelli performing (thanks for ruining that fantasy, Sex and the City 2), but maybe just acknowledging he has a boyfriend would go a long way. Until then, at least I'm stirred that Bond seems to be a friend of the gays, even if his opponent's tactics leave me a little shaken. Maybe the next time around Bond will go from being our friend to being our hero.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures]
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