The Shower Scene
During a break in the high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale, James Bond and his companion Vesper Lynd are attacked in the stairwell by a pair of African terrorists/freedom fighters, one brandishing a machete. In one of the film’s many expertly executed action scenes Bond manages to dispatch with both men after a multi-story struggle. He conceals the bodies, cleans himself up and returns to the card game. At the next break – which, if consistent with the last, is four hours later – he returns to his suite. Upon opening the door he is immediately uneasy. He notices a broken wine glass on the table, and hears the shower running. He pushes open the bathroom door to reveal Vesper, fully clothed, sitting and shivering under the shower. Without saying a word he walks over and sits beside her, the water from the showerhead soaking through his tuxedo. Clinging to his arm, clearly in distress, Vesper evokes Lady Macbeth. “It’s like there is blood on my hands. It’s not coming off.” In a symbolic act of cleansing, of absolution, he takes her hand, places her fingers in his mouth and sucks them clean. Asking if she is cold, he reaches above his head to the tap and warms the water, a simple yet incredibly tender act. And then they sit together in silence. Backed by David Arnold’s beautiful Vesper theme, the majority of the scene is captured in one continuous shot, allowing the moment to sit and those emotions to hang in the air.
When I say there is a great shower scene in a Bond film, this is hardly the sort of scene you are likely to imagine. Its significance comes precisely from the fact that it is so unusual within the context of the Bond series. This is not a great scene because it is sexy. This is not a great scene because it is exciting. This is a great scene because it shows us something we have never seen in a Bond film before and does it with such beautiful simplicity.
In a series of films where a near death experience or the dispatching of an enemy is traditionally accompanied by a witty quip and quickly forgotten, this scene marks possibly the first time we are presented with actual psychological consequences. Vesper is not a field agent. She is not even a spy. She is a Treasury representative who has just been attacked with a machete, has seen two men killed – one thrown over a railing and another choked to death in front of her. She is not trained for or accustomed to seeing that sort of thing and is understandably traumatised. Over the course of the preceding twenty Bond films we have taken our emotional cues from the stoic protagonist. In this moment, we see a realistic human reaction to a horrific event, and seeing her reaction draws attention to how abnormal Bond’s responses to these situations are, and how damaged a character even this new Bond is.
But on top of that, what makes this scene stand out is that it beautifully captures a genuine moment of human compassion from Bond. This most misogynistic of heroes, who over the decades has treated his women as entirely disposable, recognises the emotional distress of another person and makes time to tend to them. By simply sitting alongside her he shares her burden. He offers her emotional comfort through the symbolic cleaning of the blood, and physical comfort through the warming of the water. He does not rush her, nor does he dismiss her emotional response. It is a short scene, but an incredibly significant one in this bold reimagining of Bond as a character. It demonstrates the care he has for this woman, a love that goes beyond simple physical attraction and lust. It shows a dropping of his emotional guard, and in doing so it informs the cold, stoic, un-trusting character he will force himself to become after her perceived betrayal at the film’s climax.
Casino Royale is a superbly crafted film, one of the best action films of the last decade and arguably the best in the Bond franchise. It marked an intentional re-invention of the character. “The world has changed a lot,” explained producer Barbara Broccoli. “It is a more serious world and we expect our heroes to fight the battles with better judgement, more responsibility and less frivolity.” These new Bond films are darker and more brutal, but more importantly they give a psychological and emotional depth to the character that was largely absent from earlier screen incarnations. Nowhere is this change in the franchise and in Bond as a character more evident than in this short moment in the shower.
By Duncan McLean