James Bond has bedded dozens of women over the decades with barely a mention of any of them when the curtain comes up on the next film. I used to think Bond girls were mostly virginal to make it clear the super spy is not riddled with STDs. But I now realize that that’s a superficial byproduct of a larger issue. The reality is that they needed to be conquests, not mere exploits. Bond would come across as a phony sexaholic if he bedded any old woman he met. No, his conquests had to be attainments. They needed to demonstrate his profound ability to tempt even the most virtuous woman to make an exception for his eyes only.
What Does Sex Say About Us?
Before I talk about Bond as a fictional character, I’d like to address a few things about sex. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we want to feel a deep sense of pride in who we possess (i.e., our spouse). We want to believe that the person we give ourselves to not only deserves us but is someone special because what we give them is special. Sex is not just a means of procreation, but a statement about how we value ourselves.
If a man sleeps with the first woman who shows any interest in him, that shows a serious character flaw in him. He’s seeking to gain self-respect through sex, but he won’t find it. Sex is the final product of a person knowing his or her true value and deeming someone else worthy of them. Trying to gain self-respect through sex is like trying to be a veteran employee without even interviewing for the job. We can pretend all we want, but going through the motions won’t change reality.
Goldfinger’s way of demonstrating James Bond’s sexual prowess is by giving him not one, but two conquests. These two beautiful women work for the villainous Auric Goldfinger, though they make it clear that Goldfinger has never gained their affections. Jill Masterson quickly falls for Bond while Pussy Galore takes a bit more persuasion. In Ian Fleming’s novel, Pussy is a lesbian, so that makes it even more incredible that she surrenders to Bond’s charms in the film.
By sweet-talking his way into the hearts of these two women, Bond shows his superiority over Goldfinger. He does something the villain couldn’t.
Love Them and Leave Them
In The Spy Who Loved Me, Agent Triple X is the Soviet Union’s top secret agent, and she starts the film in bed with another Soviet agent whom she loves. But by the end of the film she is in Bond’s bed. Bond killed her lover and replaced him. In the end, he’s the only spy who matters to her, hence the title refers not to “The Spies” who loved her, but only to Bond as “The Spy.” This makes his conquest of her even more significant because she was able to look past his murder of her first lover and still give herself to him.
The film’s title is very telling about Bond’s character. Notice that the title isn’t The Spy Who Loves Me, but The Spy Who Loved Me, past tense. That is Bond’s MO – he gets the girl and then forgets the girl. Triple X is a super spy who proves she is worthy of Bond through her wits and performance in the field. But in the end she’s just another pretty face for Bond to kiss and then move on from.
The only woman who was able to drag Bond to the altar was a Countess. Tracy di Vicenzo is a free-spirited young woman who only Bond is able to tame. He saves her life at the start of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and then slowly convinces her that he’s the only man for her. Bond even finds himself falling for her, to the point that he wants to marry her. But she gets kidnapped by Bond’s nemesis, Ernst Blofeld. Blofeld wants to be made a Count by royal decree, and marrying a Countess would be icing on the cake for him. But she refuses his advances. Bond rescues her and the two are married. Unfortunately, the spurned Blofeld kills her as she and Bond are beginning their honeymoon.
It’s a similar situation to the one in Goldfinger. A strong-willed woman chooses Bond over his rival, though in this case Bond actually chooses her as well. The fact that she could tame Bond places her in a higher category than all other Bond girls.
A Man with a Purpose
Much of James Bond’s mystique as a sophisticated killer comes from his ability to woo hard-to-get women. This is what separates him from Jason Bourne. From Honey Ryder to May Day and beyond, Bond has seduced just about every woman he considers useful to him or otherwise worthy of his attention.
Notice that he doesn’t spend the night with the young, female gymnast in For Your Eyes Only. In one scene, she gets naked for him and practically begs him to sleep with her, but he plays the part of a gentleman and politely refuses. It’s not because of their significant age gap or because she’s not attractive enough. It’s the fact that there’s no challenge, no sense of conquest in it for him. He would just be taking advantage of a naïve young woman, and his moral status would go down in viewers’ minds if he hadn’t refused. The fact that he can say no to a proposition demonstrates he’s not a sexaholic, but a man with a purpose and standards.
His sexual adventures seem to demonstrate his profound sense of self-worth. If he wasn’t such a confident man, he would never be able to make so many noble women violate their virtue for his sake, right? Actually, no. It’s just a façade – a clever sleight of hand to trick us into believing he has so much value. He isn’t really a cultured gentleman. He’s simply playing the part in order to get what he wants, and he’ll do whatever it takes to complete his missions for king and country – even fake passionate love, as he confesses in Thunderball.
Bond can never be tied down to one woman. He has to keep moving on in pursuit of new conquests, just as he needs to keep moving on to the next mission. If he had to deal with all the baggage of previous relationships, he wouldn’t be as straightforward a character. Of course, this is completely unrealistic, and it would lead to nothing but frustration and sadness if practiced in real life. But that’s part of the fantasy of Bond films.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Outstanding post and amazing insight into Bond’s character, Robert! I was huge Bond fan when I was younger, as I’ve mentioned in comments on your last Bond post, and I also think your points are spot-on with very accurate examples from the films. Although one of my favorite Bond-girls was Kara in the Living Daylights, I think Tracy (Teresa) is my favorite today, mostly because of the depth of her character in the novel. From what I remember, she never has anything to do with Blofeld in the novel but is just the woman to be rescued from her depression by Bond (with coercion by her mafia-leader father, bribing Bond to help her). She does become a conquest for him, but you get the sense in the novel that he truly falls in love with her and his feelings had never been and never will be the same toward any other woman. From a romantic perspective, it’s pretty cool. But yeah, when it comes to sleeping around, Bond is all about conquest, purpose, and mission. Great post!
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I liked the article, but I wish you had gone into the Daniel Craig Bond and how he was different, especially in Casino Royale. He even carried on the baggage of losing his love throughout the next 3 films. It will be interesting if we are seeing Bond’s regard for women evolve of if these 4 films were an anomaly. He certainly still used women for information even in those films, so I think we may have our answer.
I know what you mean. I thought about talking about other Bond films, but I felt like I was just reiterating my first points when I started talking about them. The most interesting thing I left out was talking about Mrs. Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies. That’s an example of Bond actually confronting a woman he had used and discarded on an earlier mission. It starts to delve into the pain she experienced when he left and he even shows genuine pain at her death. But she dies too quickly for their relationship to fully play out.
Daniel Craig is definitely more complex than other Bond performances, but he’s still detached or at least never letting his feelings bubble too close to the surface after losing Vesper.
Very interesting topic. I could talk for hours about it.
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