With the premiere of Spectre nigh upon us, and with the increased and more than justified focus on women’s roles in the film industry, the once-frivolous Bond Girl has become a political issue.
Thank goodness then that at the center of this new media storm is a trio of honest-to-God adults, from the man himself, Daniel Craig, to his two new counterparts—Blue Is The Warmest Color actress Léa Seydoux, and Monica Bellucci, more confident than ever at 51 and somehow only now making her first Bond appearance.
In cinema, there are great actors and there are great images. If you’re lucky, like John Wayne or Bette Davis, you might be blessed with both at the same time. But no one should assume that being one is better than being the other. From the moment she arrived in film, Monica Bellucci has been a great image, complete in every way. With her full features and her deep voice, she is woman with a capital “W,” erotic and whole and powerful. Bellucci is never innocent of her own image, and she’s never ashamed of it either.
Bellucci has proven herself to be an accomplished actress over the years in films like Irreversible or A Burning Hot Summer—capable of great sensitivity to match her immediate imagistic eroticism. But if she has given us glimpses of her humanity, just as often she has shown an interest in showcasing her own power as an icon of womanhood.
Bellucci’s filmography is littered with roles that are only superficial if you consider the historic symbols of womanhood to be superficial: the Mary Magdalenes, the Persephones, the Dracula’s Brides, and the Mirror Queens. These supposed caricatures echo throughout her career alongside more flesh-and-blood characters, and each time are rendered with a unique combination of irony and sincerity.
But is putting an actress as self-assured as Bellucci in the role of “Bond girl” a step back for women? The feminist narrative around women’s power in Hollywood has shifted over the last few years as wage equality, hiring practices, and directing jobs have come to the forefront of the conversation. If we are now rightly skeptical of the balance of power behind the scenes on film sets, does it follow then that the images we see of women onscreen deserve our skepticism as well?
I watched many a Bond film growing up, and while I cringe now to think about the arm candy presented as characters in movies like Transformers, I have no such reservations about Bond’s many conquests.
Not every Bond Girl was a great character, but then not every Bond was a great Bond. I’m not worried about making sure to call Monica Bellucci a “Bond Woman” because the iconic Bond girls were always Bond women—and if Pussy Galore is a ludicrous name for a woman to live up to, well, secret agent James Bond is a ludicrous role for a man to fulfill, too. Bond is a man’s adventure fantasy, but it’s also a fantasy of the ideal male self. It’s not just the women who cut an impossible figure.
It’s perhaps a sign of our culture’s insecurity that when we see a woman who is confident and beautiful at 51, we assume that her confidence comes from the continuation of her beauty—and not that her beauty comes from the continuation of her confidence, irrespective of age. But that insecurity is for us to work out—all appearances considered, Monica Bellucci is doing just fine.
In the end—and for once!—it’s Bond himself who best put the specter of sexism to rest, as this week Daniel Craig answered to some of the age gap hysteria that has gripped the Bellucci-stunned public.
It was Red Bulletin who broached the topic, making the all too familiar insinuation that Craig’s Bond is somehow effecting great progress for succumbing to the advances of an older woman.
“I think you mean the charms of a woman his own age,” Craig responded. “We’re talking about Monica Bellucci, for heaven’s sake. When someone like that wants to be a Bond girl, you just count yourself lucky!”
Maybe this once, with Bellucci in tow, the reality of Bond has managed to exceed the fantasy.