NB: Those who have yet to see Quantum of Solace might find aspects of the following to spoil the film’s plot.
James Bond has long been considered to represent and promote many of the worst aspects of the dominant culture of the West: patriarchy and misogyny, crass materialism (of the non-Marxian kind), and gratuitous violence, to give a few examples. What is more, his job in Ian Fleming’s novels as in the twenty-two films in which his character has played is among the most offensive that exists: as a British spy, he mindlessly defends and advances the imperial interests of the British state—it is not for nothing, indeed, that his operations are designated O.H.M.S.S., or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
These considerations notwithstanding, the latest two films starring the blonde-haired Daniel Craig as Bond—Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2009)—could be said to be somewhat different—even, perhaps, more legitimate—than the bulk of historical Bond-related productions. In the 2006 film, for example, Bond’s character forms a relationship with Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green) that is arguably unlike any other engaged in by Bond in the film-series; one could perhaps even characterize it as something approximating inter-human love, as alien as such is to the traditionally cold, sexually exploitative assassin. It is to the consideration of director Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace, however, that we turn in the following, given the rather surprising—at times, even left-wing—perspectives advanced in the world presented by the film.
Quantum of Solace is remarkable for the honesty with which it portrays many of the power-relations extant in the contemporary world—in this sense, it breaks dramatically with the profound mystifications advanced by much ‘cultural’ production today. The plot centers around the efforts of the shadowy oligarchical organization Quantum to instigate a coup d’etat in Bolivia that would install as president a general who would enable the group to monopolize the majority of the country’s water supply. The CIA is shown in Quantum as lending its support to this plot, for its agents are led to believe that Quantum’s fake-environmentalist front-organization, Greene Planet, have found hydrocarbon resources in Bolivia’s Atacama desert and are willing to provide a “share” of such to the U.S. following the carrying out of the coup. Dominic Greene, director of Greene Planet, discloses at a certain point in the film that his organization had “facilitated a change” in Haiti after elections brought to power a populist priest who, in demanding that the national minimum wage be raised from $0.38 an hour to $1 an hour, “upset the corporations” exploiting Haitian laborers for profit—a clear reference to the case of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, although he goes unnamed. Furthermore, the taxi driver who transports Bond and his associates to their lodgings in La Paz mentions (in Spanish) that the country’s glaciers are retreating at alarming rates and that rainfall patterns have come to be erratic—the driver finds extant water shortages in the country to have resulted from global warming, says Bond’s assistant—while the British foreign minister is shown, in a scene in which he converses with M, head of British intelligence, to openly declare that if the British government “refuses to do business with villains,” it would have “almost no one to trade with,” as well as to state that, because “the world’s running out of oil,” “[r]ight or wrong” must be jettisoned as standards by which to judge state policy, so as to give way to considerations of “necessity”—or “expediency,” in the horrifying calculus of elites in the 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green,1 or of those “principal architects of policy”2 who have in recent memory overseen the appalling torment of he Iraqi people.
Besides its critical—and rather accurate—take on several alarming contemporary power-dynamics, Quantum of Solace rather starkly presents the institution of the state as classically interpreted by many revolutionary theorists. “The first thing” that one must know about Quantum, one of its operatives confesses, is that the organization “ha[s] people everywhere”—on its payroll, for example, is M’s personal bodyguard, who betrays her at the beginning of the film. For its part, Quantum’s inner circle is portrayed as being comprised of a number of state officials—a former Russian minister, now owner of lucrative mining concessions in Siberia; the head of a telecom giant who was once a member of the Israeli Mossad; and an assistant to the British prime minister counted among the latter’s “closest advisers.” The identity of Quantum’s members, together with the foreign minister’s comments on dwindling hydrocarbon reserves, presents in the world of Quantum of Solace a dramatic illustration of the phenomenon of “state capture” by the interests of private, oligarchical power-groups—an academic term for a contemporary reality that entails irrationality and destructiveness on a scale that should not be underestimated. Government in Quantum, indeed, is not far from Marx and Engels’ take on the matter; for them, the state under capitalist conditions represents “a committee for the management of the common affairs of the bourgeoisie as a whole.”
Quantum of Solace also presents important criticism of many contemporary ‘environmentalist’ processes. Addressing himself to a crowd of wealthy potential investors in La Paz, Greene correctly asserts that humanity is today is faced with a “spiral of environmental decline”; he goes on to state that some 17 percent of the Earth’s vegetated surface to have been “irreversibly degraded” since 1945. Whether this latter claim is supported by evidence or not, Greene’s expressed vision for “rejuvenat[ing] the world on the verge of collapse” is what he calls the Tierra Project: buying up large amounts of land and setting them aside as “eco-parks.” Though we soon find out that such schemes are largely fradulent—a similar initiative launched by Greene elsewhere in Bolivia resulted in the preserve being sold off to a multinational corporation that subsequently clear-cut the forest to be protected by Greene Planet, while the ‘eco-park’ in the Atacama allows Greene to assert control over nearly two-thirds of the country’s water supply and thus demand of the future president-general of the country that Greene Planet be recognized as sole utility provider for the country’s people—the Tierra Project by itself is in theory not an entirely irrational concept, however problematic its dependence upon materially wealthy investors and its pyramidal nature are. Indeed, Greene and his Greene Planet may well be taken as a simulacrum for much of prevailing ‘environmentalism’ today—that is, concern expressed for degraded ecosystems, threatened animals, etc., that is coupled with the actual shoring-up of support for social classes and economic systems that are entirely responsible for the present environmental crisis—just as the more general imagery of Quantum’s yacht-dwelling plutocrats deciding the fate of entire societies reflects similar anti-social processes in the real world today.
In addition, Quantum of Solace could indeed lend itself to reflections on the question of violence—ones not terribly different from those advanced by Georges Sorel in his Reflections on Violence.3 The conclusion of the film sees Bond working together with Camille Montes, a Bolivian agent, to break up a meeting in the Atacama at which Greene hands over control of Bolivia’s government to a power-hungry general in exchange for the latter’s recognition of Greene’s control over much of the country’s water supply. Though both Bond and Montes seem to be motivated principally by revenge—Bond for the death of Vesper and the attempted killing of M, Montes for the general’s murder of his family—the fact of the matter is that their actions amount to the assassination of fascist-capitalists whose vision for Bolivia would entail a dramatic increase in human suffering, as alluded to in passing images of indigenous Bolivians who find themselves without access to water as a result of the creation of drought conditions resulting from Greene’s damming-up of the region’s water-sources. Their violence, then, is cause for celebration; it is “justifiable coercion,” in Dussel’s formulation.4 The relevance of such violence vis-à-vis similar meetings at which are conjured-up plans that by necessity entail massive historical negations—the 1942 Wannsee Conference, for example, or similar contemporary meetings of world-import—is surely not easily dismissable.
There can be no doubt that Quantum of Solace, for all its importance, remains a product of the culture industry,5 or what Debord refers to as the spectacle.6 Among other things, it presents such absurdities as Aston Martins, Range Rovers, luxury hotels, and casual air-travel in rather uncritical fashion; as a money-making mechanism, the film demands that the unconscious solidarity-rebellion exhibited by Bond in the plot not be similarly directed against his own employer: the intelligence apparatus of the British state. (When, at the film’s end, M tells Bond that she “needs him back,” Bond replies by telling her that he “never left.”) It should be very clear that cultural products other than Quantum of Solace can more effectively and directly “displace and estrange the world”7 as it exists so as to demonstrate its severely compromised nature. For those to whom such characterizations are not entirely self-evident, however, perhaps experiencing Bond’s most recent adventures can in some way provoke perspectives approximating such in the viewer.
2Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010)
3(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999 )
420 Tesis de Política (Siglo XXI: Distrito Federal [México], 2006), p. 123
5Cf. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, California: Stanford Univ. Press, 2002 )
6Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995)
7Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, trans. Edmund Jephcott (London: Verso, 2005 ), §153