With the casting of 50-year-old Monica Bellucci as the female lead opposite 47-year-old Daniel Craig in the forthcoming Spectre, we’ve officially transitioned from “Bond Girls” to “Bond Women.” Does that mean our culture is growing up — or just aging out?
Our beloved James Bond has always been a thing of beauty and a boy forever despite the fact that Roger Moore played the role until he was approximately 117.
The women in the Bond films, from Honey Ryder to Pussy Galore, have always offered a screen for the projection of our fantasies. And while it’s not that I believe we should inevitably funnel all the aspirations, aesthetics and desires of mankind exclusively through the narrow medium of Bond movies, right now I will.
I hesitate to attribute the success or failure of every film, song, series or commercial to a sudden and seismic shift in cultural mores, and yet imaginative playtime is necessary for all of us. What we choose matters.
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We like fantasy and thrillers; we like action movies and we enjoy familiar, engaging characters. James Bond might be more plastic figurine than intellectual icon but he’s nevertheless an enduring one and, oddly enough — given his license to kill — a respectable one as well.
Perhaps this is why many of us have grown up cheering 007: We’re enthralled by his gadgets, his charm, his daring and his attraction to — and for — strong women.
Frankly, if the choice is between the Bond franchise and the 50 Shades of Bondage franchise, I’d rather play in 007’s sandbox than in Christian Grey’s room of pain any day — or night.
Bond needs no apologist; his adroit use of sexual innuendo and his adept volleying of sarcastic rejoinders are delectable parts of his personality. He has unflinchingly been paired with powerful women.
Yes, most of them were trying to kill him — but some have actually been of help. Certainly Judi Dench, in her role as M in the last several films, has been an intrepid and unflinchingly admirable woman of the Bond world (albeit a mother figure rather than a love interest). Dench was still an enlightening and provocative choice for the role of Bond’s boss.
So what if Bond is as spiritually nuanced as a Lego figure? At least Daniel Craig is choosing an age-appropriate playmate. (I use the term playmate deliberately, so stop giggling.)
Every movie screen is presented within a certain framework, and with the casting of a woman who is on the AARP mailing list as Bond’s erotic focus, we are moving into a whole new demographic.
For one thing, Spectre will prove that 50-year-old Italian women are not what they used to be. Because when I say, “Picture an Italian woman over 50,” you probably see one of the following: You see Sophia Loren or you see my Aunt Clara.
Sophia Loren is to my Aunt Clara what Marcello Mastroianni is to Danny DeVito. Sharing the same ethnic background is pretty much where the similarity ends.
My friend, Anne Bagamery, a journalist who has lived in Paris for 26 years, tells me that Belucci has long been a sex symbol in Europe. Living in the woods as I do, I hadn’t heard of her. Anne says Bellucci has been compared to Loren and other bombshells for years. So it’s not as if Bellucci suddenly became a knockout as she got close to menopause or anything. She began life gorgeous.
It reminds me of an exchange I had with my husband about 15 years ago when we were watching a special on Tina Turner. Turner looked amazing. I asked my husband if he thought I’d look like Tina Turner at 60. He said, and I quote, “Sweetie, you didn’t look like Tina Turner at 33.”
My only worry is about those invidious comparisons. What we want to do is celebrate Bellucci’s beauty — her stamina and the astonishing genes awarded to her through her ancestors — without thinking that we, too, should be able to look how she looks. Bellucci’s been quoted as saying, “Beauty without brains is boring.”
Let’s hope she'll have lines in the script commensurate with what she brings into our line of sight — and to her 50 years of experience.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her www.ginabarreca.com.
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