Casino Royale and Sensibility

Sunday night, I finally got a look at the new James Bond. Having never been a huge Bond fan, I didn’t have much of a stake in watching it, but the DVD was sitting there on the coffee table, and I thought I needed a break, so I threw it in the player and sat down.

This isn’t going to be a review of the movie…there are a bazillion reviews in the world, and there’s something about reviewing a film that I don’t enjoy. (Summaries are killers.) Daniel Craig was great, a brilliant choice. The story was crafty enough, something other than the usual bubblegum of Bond. It was fine…if you like this sort of thing.

What I want to reflect on is an early reaction I had, a fairly strong sensation that hit me in the first five minutes. As the film opens, Bond is about to assassinate a man who doesn’t believe Bond, even with his new “double-O” status, will actually carry it out. The target calmly suggests that Bond doesn’t kill easily, or something like that. So the filmmaker takes us inside Bond’s mind, showing us how wrong the soon to be dead man is. We get to watch Bond kill another man in a bathroom. The fight is visceral and tough, and Bond wins by shoving the guy’s head into a sink full of water. Cut to images of the feet flailing and kicking, but the flailing lessens, and finally, the struggle is over.

Bond 1, bad men, 0.

And I thought, “Why am I getting less and less interested in filmic death? Why don’t I want to watch nobodies getting killed anymore?” Odd as it may sound, I wondered about the bathroom victim’s family, his funeral, and how they’d take the news. Obviously, I had leapt out of the story world and had completely missed the point. Ah, irrelevance, thy name is Jeff.

In Bond movies, and in most heroic journeys, people get killed. Fine. But in this season of Lent as I roam my world with my digital camera looking for beauty, those gritty images throughout the film (Bond’s torture was both amusing and dully disheartening) struck me as odd candidates for sources of pleasure. Even the bad guy at the end crawling across the gravel with his legs shot up and bleeding…I thought, “I’m supposed to be glad about this? Get satisfaction that this guy is groveling and suffering?”

I’m going soft, I guess, but I don’t really want to see 300. A good friend of mine who is way smarter than me calls it pornographic violence, and though I’m not going to comment on the truth of the statement because I haven’t seen the film, the mere notion of seeing various disembowelments performed by what apparently is a legion of oiled, near-naked Mr. Universe contenders…well, it just doesn’t whet my appetite.

Which leads me to my larger reflection, and maybe this takes place over days or this post will be way too long. But why do we need this visceral assault in our story telling? It’s not so much that we’re surrounded by sex and violence–it’s that we are surrounded by sex and violence experienced in this particular way. The sensory detail grows more and more nuanced, particular, and explicit.  And isn’t how we experience a subject in our thought life–in our imaginations–at least as important as the subject’s presence there?

I don’t want to be labeled part of the prudish ranting right (though if I must, I must), so let me say up front that sex and violence don’t put me off per se: I’ve seen lots of things on film, rarely walk out of movies, and though I’m ashamed of some things I’ve sat through, I want very much to not be about knee-jerk objections to foul language, nudity, portrayals of sex, and the ever-present killings.  But the old saw about how much muck we’re willing to dig through in order to get the so-called diamond of the story keeps tugging at me.  I just wonder what it means that we like to see this stuff.  And not so much that we like it, but that it seems to be required for a story to supposedly be “real” or “authentic” or “truth-telling.”  I don’t want the golden glow of idealism, the smarmy or the unnaturally warm fuzzy.  But must I live my imaginative life with violence and sex so sharply and viscerally drawn?

I used to feel bad when I had to look away.  Perhaps its telling that in Pan’s Labyrinth, when the Captain worked the poor shepherd over with the broken bottle, I looked away after the first couple of hits and after it was done, I didn’t feel badly at all that I’d missed the gruesome visual.  Story well-told–we needed the Captain’s cruelty, but is this what it takes to stoke our imaginative fear?  (I loved that film, by the way…don’t get me wrong.  A beautiful, beautiful film.)
It’s the world we live in,  you say.  Okay, but for those of us who follow Christ, who are sold out to truth and reality, the question remains: how do we best construct our imaginations, our sensibilities so that we are constantly moving toward the mind of Christ?

…if the light inside you is dark…

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