I’ve been working from home today, writing a few articles for my copywriting job. I enjoy it. It’s a fun output for my writing and, through research I inevitably have to do on the subjects (like granite countertops, limo services, LASIK surgery), I learn a lot.
I was looking through some old documents when I came across a job application. Fresh out of the MFA, I was applying to everything I could find that had anything to do with writing. Whenever they asked for a sample, I sent fiction. After reading an excerpt of my book, a guy got back to me and asked me to submit some essays. “They can be about anything,” he said. “I don’t care what.” He claimed to be too busy with his company and needed someone to write articles that would appear on Huffington Post and Business Insider.
So I sent him the following essay on James Bond:
In a Hollywood gristmill inundated with machine gun wielding brutes, wooden one-liners and sagging, steroidal relics of generational insecurities, James Bond endures. The everyman of action heroes, his is a shadow every man may project upon himself and the great cultural compass of masculinity. From Connery’s classier, more subdued 60s Bond to Dalton’s angrier, violent 80s Bond, the character has survived through a constant evolution of personality the evolving societal idea of masculinity. However, no departure has been as severe as Daniel Craig’s contemporary Bond; wounded and naïve, a Bond capable of emotion, of sadness and regret. Six years after Casino Royale, Craig returns in this year’s Skyfall, and in what way has the character further evolved, further exemplified the masculinity of our culture?
As Skyfall begins (without the accompaniment of the iconic turn-and-shoot intro) it laboriously posits the central theme: in a society sardined with ICBMs and plagued by cyberwarfare, of what consequence is one international man of mystery? We watch Bond ‘die’ (though there is never any true fear, because Bond cannot possibly die) as he is shot by a sniper round off the roof of a speeding train. We see Bond nearly drown, cut scene, to suddenly reappear intact and killing time in a bungalow with a beautiful bungalow woman, apparently retired. But he’s bored. He wants a reason to return to duty, and finds it when MI6, his always base of operations, literally explodes. But does the role he has filled through scores of 007 films still exist in this modern world? This theme is carried baldly in the film’s dialogue. In a scene in which the jaded Bond meets the new, young, and hipper Q, he asks: “If you’ve got all these gadgets, why do you still need agents?” To which Q bluntly replies: “Sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled.”
The blunder of Skyfall is this: after Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace redeveloped Bond’s character, created from a trope a sensitive, real human being and gave him a supporting cast of equally fragile and beautiful allies and villains, it attempts to raise themes related previously in character and dialogue and apply them to the entire world through a forced plot. This method of tackling larger questions without quality dialogue and focus cheapens Bond, cheapens his pursuit of the meaning of his existence; it flattens him and so flattens our interest in the filmed world, ultimately removing Bond as our hero and the everyman we see in him. The conflict here is not between Bond and himself, but between Bond and plot.
Skyfall concludes with a simple proclamation on the occasion of the franchise’s 50th anniversary: James Bond Will Return. Of course he will. But where, exactly, did Bond go? Where was the Bond who developed through two previous films? Where, exactly, will he be returning from? And who will he be when he gets here?*
*As a maybe interesting aside, I realized after the writing and revision of this that I was completely wrong. My disappointments with the film stemmed mostly from a lack of what I might call “Bond moments,” as in when Bond does something exciting and his music plays. The limp feel of the narrative, the looseness of it, I realized after writing this, comes from the lack of masculinity of the character. The conclusion of the film fits perfectly when this realization occurs. The lack of Bondness was intentional in this film, and is a further complication of his character. I can’t say too much more without spoiling the film. As I said, I don’t have much experience writing non-fiction, and this exercise was rewarding because I realized the strong but flawed confidence of opinion I sometimes carry out of my first understanding of something, and the need to give more time and thought to alternate viewpoints before deciding on my opinion with absolution.
Of course I never heard from him again. This is faux-academic writing at its very worst, by which I mean that it’s someone very self-consciously writing at a level the subject does not demand. So intellectual it’s stupid. Making no real points. Grasping for elevated language. And grossly inappropriate for what was asked of me. Yes, embarrassingly, the asterisked paragraph was included.
It’s been a weird transition from writing creatively to writing in a manner fitting a marketing department, but I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer and my prose outside of work is cleaner, more direct, and more concrete. In a workshop I had once, Aleksandar Hemon advised all of us to find a job, any job, writing. Do it. But be smarter than me. Don’t write like that.