Film: 007 Franchise, Casino Royale
Featured Characters: James Bond and Vesper Lynd
To have the kind of power where you don’t show up until an hour into the film, yet you still haunt the man until his dying breath. Plenty of women have come and gone in James Bond’s life, and though Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) remains in the end, none hold the kind of mark that Vesper Lynd does. To fall in love unexpectedly—reservations elevated and armor in check, where the story leads James Bond and Vesper Lynd instead lies in the small details.
Once you’ve tasted it, that’s all you want to drink. It’s already a sentiment we sing its praises for tirelessly in our Character Deep Dive for Vesper Lynd, identifying all the ways in which she’s the driving force of Bond’s actions and the reason for the agent he becomes. She’s barely in the films, but a looming presence throughout as the one woman who’s stripped him from his armor—the one woman who’s responsible for a part of his heartbeat in spite of the darkness that arises from her string of betrayals. She tears him open in ways no one else accomplishes and latches him impenetrable in the same way.
In a world of spies and agents, no matter MI6 or the CIA, treasury or undercover, trusting anyone will always pose a threat. Still, with the two of them, it was clear, even after Vesper’s betrayal, that if they had more time, if they could talk things through—if this were any other genre, they’d be together in the end. Because the fact remains, Casino Royale is a love story. It still is. It will always be, and even with everything that Spectre and No Time To Die establish, a significant part of James Bond will always belong to Vesper Lynd—in the beaches of Venice, that’s where they’ll always be.
Sometimes, it starts as nothing but an assignment. It begins as a means to protect somebody else—a means to an end, except in those quiet moments of fabricating a relationship, something more prominent materializes. Something even more profound, something, in this case, that’s worth dying for.
Bond and Vesper and The Arrangement
From the moment Vesper sits in front of him on the train, nothing is more apparent than the detail that both their worlds are about to change. She’s the only person he doesn’t bewitch, the only person who cannot be charmed by what he stands for—she’s here to do a job she’s good at, and she’s here to put him in his place. But it’s in those early conversations where the audience knows something insurmountable is about to happen because the cards are open for us to see. Uncertainties are through the roof, trust is convoluted, and the vast bridges between them are full of vicious threats.
On the one hand, this is a road that won’t lead to a good place for both of them, but on the other, it’s the one thing they both need more than anything else. Thus, in the moments of conspicuous hostility—in the banter and the attempts to uncover tells, it’s clear as a win that James Bond has not only met his equal but, perhaps even, his superior. It’s painfully transparent there that if nothing else, their means of challenging one another will remain unmatched, which is undoubtedly the case.
The Challenges and The Steps Further
Bond is no rookie when we first meet him in Casino Royale, but he’s certainly not the 007 we know in later films either—he doesn’t understand balance or heart or, ultimately, why he’s even doing this. He has plenty to learn, and the most important of those lessons requires a deep dive on its own. The sole detail that an agent of his rank couldn’t identify a poisoned martini says plenty, and it’s a scene that marks the fact that he needed Vesper. He needed her to understand why he should not trust and why he needed to look under his nose for the signs the enemy would not show.
Sure, he’s cunning, but something is missing—something that doesn’t quite feel right until everything transpires. Vesper isn’t just the money but rather the heart of the entire franchise and the driving force that makes him better and stronger—she’s the reason he sees women as meaningful pursuits. She is the reason he understands even a minuscule percentage of what love means, how it works, and what to do when you’ve indeed discovered the magic within it.
One of the best parts of the film is the unexpected quiet moments of intimacy where you realize just how brilliantly they fit. It isn’t in the staged kisses, but rather the moments of longing that are so inherently discernible they could burn a hole through the floor, sink them all in at once. The moments where Bond does, in fact, lose himself in her eyes, the realization that starts to dawn on him that he can’t get enough of her—he can’t stop looking at her. It begins as a rouse for the other players to catch themselves in spells of distraction, only he’s the one who takes the bait. He’s the one who loses himself in every part of her.
That said, something about the shower scene will perpetually be challenging to put into words. A man who’s callous and cavalier, who doesn’t flinch after a kill, thus finds himself sitting beside a terrified woman, comforting her through the darkness that follows a traumatic experience. It’s one of the most brilliant moments of intimacy because part of it is the detail that in the hands of less-skilled actors, we wouldn’t get the plethora of emotions that we do.
From the second Bond hears the running water to the moment he opens the door, Daniel Craig conveys a full range of emotions with a single expression that’s harrowing and breathtaking all at once. Bond has no clue what to do or how to be of use because he’s never been in a situation like this—and yet, he does the best he can.
He walks over to her quietly and sits beside her despite the cold running water, and he waits. He waits for her to speak. He gives her the agency to vocalize why she’s here, sitting by her with the sense that she could use someone to lean on. He lets her draw closer to him, and then he acts—he does the one thing that’s symbolically healing, profoundly intimate, and achingly innocent at the same time as he vows to take the blood off of her hands. And then once she says she’s better, he cradles her head and lets her cry in his arm, thus stripping all his armor in that very moment where it dawns on him that her life is more important than anything else.
There’s also something to be said about David Arnold’s “Vesper,” the character’s theme, playing at this very scene, which heightens the heart that much more. The focus brings to light the detail that there’s no going back after this. They’ll be here for as long as need be because she is his priority now.
It juxtaposes what we see from Le Chiffre’s (Mads Mikkelsen) treatment of Valenka beautifully by showing that what was once a rouse is more real than anything else. If Vesper’s life were in danger, Bond would protest to it—he’d object, he’d kill, he’d break, and he’d do whatever it takes. No amount of money or debt is worth losing her. He’ll sit with her for as long as she needs him to because the draw towards her is more magnetic than anything else he’s ever known in his empty life.
There’s substance now—losses and wins matter because of the person by his side, and so much of this is a direct result of Craig showing us how much love Bond is capable of giving. Of all the scenes in the 007 franchise, nothing comes close to the intimacy of the shower scene. The vulnerability they both bring to that point adorns both pain and strength through the kind of foreshadowing that’s both liberating and haunting.
Water represents life—rebirth, cleansing, and stillness in more ways than one. In Bond’s life, it’s the essence that constantly gives and takes from him. It’s a fascinating shadow to think about that stands behind and ahead of him throughout the films. The shower scene gives him a new beginning with Vesper and the chance to do right by her by allowing himself to be another’s strength. And through her death, water takes her from him by freeing her from the betrayals. Water also takes away Felix. The pools in No Time To Die are all means of give and take, washing away the blood while consistently standing as a barrier and a form of absolution.
The world is full of people in casts of armor they don’t even realize they have. Armor that people discern from the moment they lock eyes with them—people, in this case, being Vesper Lynd. She understood it better than anyone else because it’s the same kind of armor she recognized in herself. Armor that she later put back up and carefully tucked away. Vesper’s armor doesn’t fully dissolve, much of it is washed away in his arms, but the betrayal and her own demons are details too deep to uncover with the short amount of time we had. Time, once again, is the thing they both could’ve used more of.
It’s worth bringing back these parts from our Character Deep Dive for the sake of this argument.
One aspect that adds to the complexity of Vesper’s character is that she has a string of betrayals—to her country, to her boyfriend, to Bond, and to Mr. White and Quantum. Each betrayal is her adaptation to changing circumstances. Believing herself to be in love, the ambitious Vesper betrays her country to save her boyfriend’s life. She in turn betrays her boyfriend by falling in love with Bond and making a deal with Quantum for the money in exchange for Bond’s life. Of course, she betrays Bond by handing the money to Quantum, but she also betrays the organization by leaving her cell phone and providing James the number for Mr. White.
Each betrayal was motivated by where Vesper Lynd believed her heart belonged most. She was placed in an impossible situation, or at least she felt she was. It was a battle of survival that eventually turned to protecting the person she loved most. Whether she gave the money or not, she understood that her own life was doomed. She had been involved in too much, and there was not much left to gamble with in her own life. Instead, she chose the guaranteed outcome, the outcome that Bond would live while sacrificing herself. The great sadness punches you in Quantum of Solace when you learn that her boyfriend was never in any danger at all. Vesper and Bond were robbed of their happiness.
Did she actually love Bond? She may not have intended it, but slowly and surely, she found herself more in love with Bond than with Yusuf. As Bond is recovering after Le Chiffre’s interrogation, Vesper exclaims that if all that was left of Bond was his “smile and [his] little finger, [he] would still be more than any other man [she’d] met.” In that moment, you can see the pain and heartbreak in her face as she realizes how much this man loves her, how much she loves him, and the impending betrayal she knows will happen. She continues to wear the love knot Yusuf had given her until her final moments, signifying that her love and her actions are for James.Vesper Lynd Character Deep Dive by Alice Sarkisyan
She didn’t want to hurt anyone. She didn’t expect any of this with Bond, and that’s the pain consistently worth remembering. (Maybe there’s something important about writing this now while listening to Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time”—it wasn’t right, but it was right on time.) Their meeting, falling in love—all of it. Stripping her armor for him meant it would all be worth it. And to say that Vesper doesn’t choose her own path, to die for love would be stripping her of the one thing she kept intact the entire time—her agency.
When she realizes that the password is Vesper—when she takes note of how he looks at her, it all brings her to a place she’s never been. A place where she realizes she can’t carry on from. It’s too late to go back on those feelings—to the moment they met where her walls were up and armor in check. She’s seen his kindness in a way no one else has, and though she’s afraid his armor is back up, she believes it to be something worth noting. Something he objects to. Something he counters.
“I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me…Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours.”James Bond, Casino Royale
The tears she fights back is Vesper’s way of telling him she loves him. Her way of authenticating how much she respects him—how this has all changed for her, and the fact that it’s more overwhelming than anything else she’s faced, which Eva Green’s performance is an utterly gut-wrenching of a woman torn beyond repair. Because when his words make her tears impossible to hold in, that’s where it becomes clear that they’ve wrecked each other. They’ve both done the unthinkable.
Vesper stripping Bond from his armor equates to making him a better man. It’s that simple. It’s about how the story plays out that works so brilliantly for the entire franchise. It’s brilliant in the fact that he then falls in love with Mr. White’s daughter in the end, which is largely because Vesper left him with the contact information knowing well enough what she was doing and why, but loving him enough to leave him with the means to move forward. To know that these moments and this woman result in the man he chooses to be is a beautiful thing always worth mentioning.
The betrayal hurts because the love is real and beautiful. It hurts because missing her is beyond anything he can comprehend, and the emotions Daniel Craig capsulizes into telling her so in No Time To Die will perpetually haunt me. Because throughout the films, Vesper’s presence indicates his capacity to love and the lengths he’s willing to go through to make someone else happy. If he could’ve saved her, if only he understood all of it. Because even as M explains it, his love for her is so achingly strong that it doesn’t matter. It won’t change a thing because she’s no longer there to prove it to him. Much of what “the bitch is dead” results in is the necessary birth of 007 and the death of a man who knew profound, life-changing adoration.
Casino Royale gives and takes the most from James Bond by crafting him into the kind of agent MI6 needs acting as not only the best film in the franchise but proving the importance of romance and the impact it has on people. It all comes down to love at the end of the day. It comes down to the detail that in spite of everything, deep down where it matters, Bond knows he was loved by her too. He knows that when she kisses her hand submerged in water, it’s her way of leaving him with all that she’s got. Vesper chooses the path that she believes is right, but she doesn’t leave the world without showing him how fervently she also adores him.
Betrayals and remorse, grudges and persistent suffering, Bond’s happiness, and the ability to move forward relied heavily on not only forgiving Vesper but understanding how profoundly they both loved each other. So much of that is what we can grasp with the unspoken words throughout the entirety of the franchise.
In the same way that Vesper leaves her mark on the fans, she effortlessly etches pieces of her into the most impenetrable corridors of Bond’s heart, making their love story one of the most tragic and beautiful romances of all time.
Bonus Content: Listen to the Lady Geeks’ Society Podcast episode of Casino Royale for more on Bond and Vesper’s relationship.