“To thine own self be true” babbles the courtier Polonius to his son Laertes in Act I, Scene iii of Hamlet. It's a welcome bit of sagely advice, except that it's offered by a windbag who, we gather, keeps a one-hitter stashed in his robe, the only credible explanation for his delusion to subvert the royal court of Elsinore. Still, the line harks back to the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself,” two words etched in stone at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi and uttered by the likes of Heraclitus and Socrates, most likely during potted musings of non-material abstract forms. Hollywood, too, has offered the same wisdom in countless coming-of-age films—for example, films such as Hannah Montana: The Movie (based on a Joseph Conrad novella), where a young girl struggles to come to terms with her pop star alter ego, and Peter Jackson's King Kong, where a giant ape reaches that moment of self-recognition when he realizes he's too heavy to ice skate; and, of course, the recent trend of superhero-origin stories, which depict the main character coming to terms with his true identity as he reaches full superhero statehood.
The theme also returned in Casino Royale, the 2006 classic adventure featuring a bulldozer demolishing an embassy in Madagascar and exquisite cinematography of poker tables in a casino in Montenegro. It's all, however, mere surface gloss to the underlying character development of the hero: a young fledgling James Bond—portrayed by the prematurely aged Daniel Craig—transforms, by film's end, into full 007 superspy stature. As director Martin Campbell explains in early 2005, during preproduction:
“In the new film, Bond is essentially starting out in his career, and has just recently become part of the double-0 section,” says the man who last reinvented Bond in Goldeneye . “The idea is to put a bit of the dash back in Bond. By the end of the movie, the character will have been forged into the wiser, harder Bond we know.” (“Bond To The Beginning”)
I personally had thought that CR (as known to its fans) was a film about a geriatric bodybuilder who goes hunting for caribou with a high-powered rifle in the vicinity of Lake Como—a place of deep solitude and primal forces in nature. Man versus nature, man versus his own alienation in a hostile universe—these were the themes that I thought were unfolding on screen. I am deeply guilty of such unpardonable error. Indeed, when I denounced the movie in my lengthy review, I received a number of emails from fans admonishing me for misreading the film and for neglecting to note the character transformation that occurs at the finale. For example, somebody claiming to be a journalist in beautiful bankrupt Greece wrote to gloat that my lack of refinement is the reason why I don't understand Casino Royale:
You are unable to appreciate a fine work of art because you belong to the lowest order of moviegoers. Casino Royale is the exemplar of fine filmmaking in modern times. It easily belongs to the category of greatest films such as those from Eisenstein, from D.W. Griffith, from Welles, from Godard. This is art film. Can you comprehend what that means? I'll give you a hint: This film traces the biography of a man until he reaches his true identity to complete himself. No where has such a biography of a character been expressed as it has been in Casino Royale in recent times. This movie is not just an action film. It's a character study. The movie speaks to me and to so many others. It expresses the eternal quest for oneself. It conveys the human spirit, and its intelligence fills the void in our hearts. Now we have something worthy to carry with us. You know, I find myself dedicating most of my free time to this movie. I find myself roaming the Internet, joining forums and blogs to defend this movie against your ilk.
In a similar theme, a chap in beautiful bankrupt California expressed, rather eloquently, that Bond's character development in Casino Royale is a dramatic masterpiece:
Dude, you got it all wrong. CR is just too awesome. It's like, you know, a masterpiece, you know, like a painting hanging in an art museum. It's like light years away from all that crap like invisible cars in Die Another Day, so you got it all wrong. CR is just way too awesome, dude, you gotta wake up to that fact. Daniel Craig is just this badass and he, like, changes, you know, at the end. It's like, dude, he becomes this awesome badass like never before, and he's got an attitude, like you don't want to mess with this guy. I'm telling you, dude, that's just too awesome.
It's like, I get it this chap is a communications consultant. Nevertheless, the alleged character development is quite scant in Casino Royale: the film gives the impression that the action sequences consumed the filmmakers, requiring so much concentration, that they forgot about the Bond-Begins angle. Fortunately, they do cram something at the end to address their original intention, which we can only assume reflects the wretched efforts of screenwriter Paul Haggis—a full 5-minute contribution to the production for which he probably received $40 million, or whatever it was he got paid, and for which the film receives an awkward finale that struggles to bring the story back to the origin-reboot premise.
Let us recall the finale of Casino Royale to underscore the praise of the fans: somehow, after surviving torture and a bunch of explosions, and after witnessing the collapse of a building into the canals of Venice, the Craig-Bond—at almost age 40—undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis in the space of an instant. It is a metamorphosis that involves an existential makeover, completing his transformation into the statehood of “Bond,” which is reflected in his new but ugly suit. In this state of enlightenment, he visits Mr. White (a middleman of a terrorist organization) at a villa near Lake Como and starts the conversation with rational discourse by shooting the elderly man in the leg with a high-powered rifle. When Mr. White looks up to see the shooter, he's stunned to see that the Craig-Bond looks older than him, has a bowl haircut, and is wearing an ugly suit. The Craig-Bond strides with confidence and proudly tells Mr. White that his name is “Bond, James Bond,” implying that he has moved beyond common humanity, that in the very depths of his being he holds all the Bondian superspy powers, and that he looks forward to joining The Fantastic Four. The circle is complete. The aged, craggy but young novice secret agent has grown to be the aged, craggy, mature, experienced secret agent. We have, before our eyes, another bildungsroman in the spirit of Nicholas Nickleby. Or it's simply a movie that causes mild nausea.
So the film's finale, with all its farrago of nonsense, might bear some scrutiny. As my humble contribution to Craig-Bond studies, I contacted Professor Avenarius Basescu, a literary expert renowned for cataloging the imagery of horse flies in post-modern Romanian literature. Unfortunately, our brief phone conversation revealed that the great man was too avant-garde in his interpretation of Casino Royale, leaving me even more befuddled. “In the casino scenes,” he explained, “the poker cards represent the horse fly fauna of Montenegro.” He offered to recite the 62 species belonging to ten genera, but I had a plane to catch.
At Basel University, Switzerland—where Nietzsche served as Chair of Classical Philology at age 24—I consulted Professor Otfried Götz. A senior lecturer of Dialectic Over-Inflated Linguistic Analysis, Professor Götz is highly respected in his field, considering that he was appointed Lucasian Facility Operations Chairman in 2008, the post originated by the janitor who occupied the office next to Nietzsche's in 1877. The professor's office was decorated with Bob Marley posters, and a collection of colorful glass bongs graced his desk. He leaned back in his chair and explained the ending of CR:
“James Bond shoots Mr. White, and their conflict symbolizes the breakdown of communication in modern life. We can conclude, from an ontological perspective, that their conversation is based on violence, suggesting the alienation of man in a violent society. Also, the conversation suggests a deeper mystery, the enigma of the individual's concrete presence in the world. Mr. White attempts to discern The Other, asking him to clarify his identity--to which the man in the suit, clutching the rifle, responds by declaring his presence in the world: ‘Bond, James Bond,’ says The Other.”
The professor was about to reinforce his thesis from the perspective of logical positivism, but he spilled some bong water on his notes and spent the next 15 minutes questioning whether the spill was accidental or something preordained yet detectable only in patterns of fractals in nature. Of course, I had a plane to catch and left the venerated intellectual with his bongs.
Undeterred by the frazzled style of Professor Götz, I traced the next expert who could offer elucidation on the ending of CR. She was none other than Madame Aurélie Tussaud-Leveque at the University of Jena, yet another professor—nevertheless, a professor noted for her groundbreaking work on something about international relations, but even more renowned for remaining on campus since Napoleon's invasion of Jena in October 1806. Now preserved as a wax figure (she had inspired her sister, Madame Toussaud, proprietor of the famous wax museums) and mechanized by built-in animatronics, Madame Aurélie, ever political, gave a succinct interpretation of the film's ending in relation to the war on terror: “Mr. White represents Santa Claus, and Daniel Craig's Bond is analogous to Homeland Security, which shoots down Santa from the sky.” She closed her eyes, reminiscing the night Napoleon marched into the city, and offered to read her account of that glorious event in history, but I had a plane to catch.
Upon arriving at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, I received a text message from alert Bond fan Wendell Fahrkenour, which suggested that an inquiry into the finale's location would clarify Casino Royale's ending—in particular, a hotel in the Lake Como area, the Grand Hotel di Red Barchetta, and that its doorman, a certain Licio Lucchesi, would be an ideal source. This most fortunate of men had the privilege of seeing the Casino Royale shooting script, complete with director Martin Campbell's handwritten notes scribbled along the margins. It all happened when, late one night in early 2006, director Campbell got drunk in the hotel's bar and made paper airplanes from pages of the script. Fortunately, Mr. Lucchesi had the foresight to donate the paper airplanes to the aviation museum in Dimock, South Dakota. Pressed for time and faced with logistical matters, I was unable to visit the glorious museum, so the next best thing was to track down the elusive doorman. In a striking coincidence, he now resides in Lake Como, New Jersey and happily works as a snowplough operator.
During a snowstorm earlier this month, I caught up with Mr. Lucchesi on Route 71, and he offered some insights into the finale of CR:
It took three weeks to film. From what I saw on the director's notes in the script, the idea was to capture the change in Bond at this stage in his life—that is, to show him as the Bond we've all come to know. The problem was, they couldn't come up with a way to do this. So they had a life-size animatronic puppet of Roger Moore, molded in the way Sir Roger looked in Moonraker, roughly in the late seventies, I would think. It had an opening at the back so Daniel Craig could stand inside and operate the controls. For some reason, Daniel thought he was in the Aston Martin and panicked at having to drive stick-shift. He lost control of the figure and got it to run into the lake.
Mr. Lucchesi mentioned that Martin Campbell's notes were quite detailed. He recalled that on page 78, the director jotted hardware specifications for adding special effects to Daniel Craig's voice. As the former doorman explained:
The other tactic involved a small voice device inserted in Daniel's shirt collar, which played back the sound of Sean Connery's voice—and all Daniel had to do was lip-sync the dialogue. The idea was to give the illusion that Daniel sounded like Connery when he said, “Bond, James Bond” at the very end. But somebody at the lab mistakenly sampled Julie Andrews' voice singing “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music. At first, Daniel was perplexed when the device played the song; but he got into the part quickly, skipping along the shores of Lake Como and waving his arms to the rhythm of the song.
Feeling dejected and still lacking a solid understanding of Casino Royale's ending, I returned to my hotel room, fell on the bed, and had a bizarre dream: I was at the temple of Apollo in Delphi, under the guise of Polonius, the great windbag; and Professor Otfried Götz, who was now convinced he was Plato, confronted me at the entrance and demanded that we discuss the ending of Casino Royale in a series of dialogues. Let this part, then, be apropos of a winter dream.