Confessing to Bond: a Review of Spectre

Confessing to Bond: a Review of Spectre

There are some powerful themes that touch upon religious ideas in the 24th James Bond movie Spectre. In this review I would like to explore three themes that struck me while watching the movie the other day with my some of my Dominican brothers.

Spectre opens with a scene in Mexico during the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) that is celebrated on the 2nd of November, All Souls Day. On this feast day, the Mexicans remember friends and family-members who have died. We enter the scene with dancing skeletons in a large street parade. They are, of course, being animated by living people inside, one of them being James Bond (played by Daniel Craig). However, the theme of the memory of the death being animated, and manipulated, by the living is a powerful line through the whole movie. What do we remember? What would we like to remember of our friends and families? How do we honour that memory? Are we willing to discover the truth behind the memories?

Another theme, that was touched upon briefly, is Bond’s Roman Catholic background. This background first came to light in the previous movie Skyfall. When asked why he became an assassin, he replies: “It was either that, or the priesthood. I had no choice.” Obviously, there are many ways in which we can contrast the life of the professional assassin and that of a priest. Bond kills people in order to protect others from evil, but this comes at a great personal cost. He has lost the very few people who loved him.

A priest, hopefully, gives life to people through the good news of the Gospel, but cannot protect anyone against evil. 

Yet, at the same time, I realised that there is one thing that James Bond and a priest have in common: they both hear confessions. This might seem a bit odd, but think of it. When Ernst Stravo Blofeld (Christopher Waltz) believes he has OO7 at his weakest, he shows him his evil plot against modern democracies. Indeed, every time a Bond-villain thinks he has disempowered the secret agent completely, the villain makes a confession to Bond. Evil, in its pride, can’t lie, so it seems. It is eager to show its ways and tell us all about it. 

It reminds me of the temptations of Christ by the Devil at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the world (Matthew 4). Bond, however, like Christ, is not tempted to join the evil side. And the Bond villain is never remorseful after his confessions. This is cinema, not a confessional box. And so we swiftly move on into another spectacular race against the clock and huge explosions along the way. 

And that brings me to the last theme that struck me. Bond mentions that he had no choice when having to choose between becoming an assassin and the priesthood. But Dr Madeleine Swan (played by Léa Seydoux) tells him that there is always a choice. And at the end of the movie, this comes back in a very powerful scene that has strong echoes of the Cain and Abel story. But who is who? One of the characters has to make a moral choice, while being observed by someone who loves him. I couldn’t help hearing the words from the book of Deuteronomy while watching that scene: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose….’. Then a dramatic choice is made. And we realise that it was motivated by a greater good. Now I wonder, how often do we make our own moral choices in the realisation that God is constantly watching us in his infinite love for us?

fr. Richard Steenvoorde O.P. from the Netherlands undertook his novitiate year in Cambridge and his pre-ordination studies at Blackfriars, Oxford, as part of a collaboration between the Dutch and English provinces.