The Dark Hero You Grew Up Knowing
I love this movie poster for Skyfall, the latest Bond film. It’s such a stark illustration of who James Bond really is. A killer. A cold, ruthless killer. Good at protecting queen and country? Sure. But I think part of the charm of a dark hero is that when he’s done well, he makes you think ‘but for the grace of God, there go I’. He makes you believe *his* reasons for what he does are just and honorable – even when, in the normal course of a normal, civilized conversation, you and I would agree this guy is just an amoral assassin and that the ends don’t always (or even usually) justify the means.
On the surface, James Bond has it all going on – money, power, brains, and charm. He’s convinced he’s fighting for the greater good. Better, he has us convinced he’s fighting for the greater good. Too bad he’s a bit of a psychopath. That part is rarely played up in the 007 canon – or at least it isn’t admitted overly, not the way it is in Dexter (HBO’s serial killer hero). Over the course of the movies, however, you see the pattern emerge from the character. He’s licensed by his government to kill, as if he’s a rabid dog that can be kept on a leash until he can be turned loose against some idiot who decides to endanger the world, take over the world, blow up the world, or what have you. You notice 007’s hyper sexuality without intent or ability to commit. Sex? No problem. Real human intimacy? Not a chance. Any time a Bond girl gets too close, she ends up dead. Or, movie to movie, she simply vanishes into thin air and is never mentioned again. Granted, that may say more about the misogyny of Bond’s creator/writer than it does about the character. Hard to tell.
Regardless, the Bond girls are necessary in every single 007 story because they humanize the dark hero. He’s only barely capable of human emotion. The women are there to show up what Bond *might* feel but can’t express or show. They represent the warm, humane heart at Bond’s core – his shot at redemption, if you will. (And likely the reason why his handlers haven’t yet taken him out back and put a bullet through his brain.) If he could safely nurture his heart and dismantle his considerable defense system, he might be normal. He could feel. He could love. Every single time one of those women dies at the hands of the villian(s), it’s that warm part of him dying. Any chinks that had been opened in his armor by the heroine slam closed. He’s once again the chilly, remote, efficient killing machine saving the world for everyone but himself.
That’s another hallmark, I think, of a dark hero done well: The air of sacrificial lamb – the dark hero faces the big ugly so no one else has to. Noble? Maybe. But it’s also a little self-aggrandizing and egocentric – a little bit like a junky who just has to have another hit of the old adrenaline. Another mission. Another kill. Another thrill (at least *that’s* okay for him to feel). And, to my mind, therein lies the question that makes James Bond a DARK hero. Can he stop? I say dark, because I strongly suspect the answer is no.