This past Tuesday was Valentine’s Day. One of several 007 fans I follow on Twitter (@bond_azoozbond) published a poll asking who Bond loved more between Vesper Lynd, Tracy Di Vicenzo, or Madeleine Swann. When the dust settled, voters deemed that Vesper Lynd is 007’s one true love, with Tracy not too far behind. Lagging in 3rd place, some would say deservedly so, was Madeleine. Now, the argument between Vesper and Tracy can rage all night long and until the proverbial cows come home, but I for one wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn about Swann’s poor finish, nor would probably many other 007 diehards.
Nevertheless, the poll question and its results did encourage me to ponder the question aboutMadeleine’s place in Bond Girl lore, especially when it’s been argued by the filmmakers themselves that, at the end of Spectre, she and Bond do in fact ‘drive off together,’ thus adding fuel to the fire about 007 actually retiring from the secret service. That should make Madeleine an important character, one worthy of a place in the Bond Girl hall of fame. And yet, that is evidently not the case. Precious few fans sing her virtues as they do the two characters that finished 1st and 2nd in the poll. In fact, it feels reasonably safe to say that there are many other Bond girls not mentioned in the poll question that would quickly garner more recognition than Madeleine. Conversely, having perused critic reviews and of course some fan sites, few state the opposite; that she is a terrible character, a complete letdown.
Given her relative importance in Spectre in relation to where Bond is in his life and his possible future, why is Madeleine seen as such an average character: certainly not bad, but not that great either? It seems foolish to land the blame on actress Léa Seydoux, one of the more highly regarded, in-demand thespians of the past few years. What’s more, the film provides her with the much sought after independent spirit and bravery that is considered primordial for the modern leading lady in a 007 adventure. To top it off, Spectre’s plot makes it so that the two seemingly fall in love by the climax. So what’s the problem, so to speak?
A few elements can be discerned that direct us to a better understanding of Madeleine’s lukewarm consideration in the Bond cannon. One of the more obvious factors is that this most recent love story happens so shortly after the previous great one. Unlike the 37-year hiatus between 007’s genuine romantic entanglement with Trace in OHMSS and Vesper in CR, SP came out only 9 years later. When CR was released, movie goers were either witnessing Bond fall in love for the first time ever because they hadn’t watched, or didn’t know about, OHMSS, or hadn’t seen such an occurrence in, well, decades really. Time is a funny, intangible reality that can have disparate, unpredictable effects on all sorts of things. While 9 years seems like a lot, it should also be considered that within that time span audiences have only seen this iteration of Bond 4 times, which makes that period feel much shorter.
Compounding matters all the more is the fact that the 2nd of those 4 films, QOS, is directly impacted by the Vesper tragedy from CR. The very final frame of Craig’s second outing is, what looked like at the time, closer to the Vesper storyline. It was therefore only by Craig’s Bond’s 3rd adventure that Vesper was not referred to any longer…until Spectre, the very film in which 007 is supposed to fall for Madeleine. Vesper is alluded not once but three times (by Blofeld himself, as a photograph in the basement of the defunct MI6 building, and as the subject of a VHS tape in Mr. White’s secret room at the L’Américan hotel). Vesper made such an impact on serious and casual fans alike, calling back to her numerous times makes it all the more difficult for someone else to suddenly swoop in whoo our hero.
Yet another reason why the love subplot in Spectre fails to completely stick its landing has to do with the structure of said love angle. Despite that Vesper, much like Madeleine, is introduced relatively late CR, the filmmakers ensure that many key, emotionally delicate scenes are included to enhance the blossoming bond between them. Little moments when the two share looks go a long way, but so does the now famous shower scene, as does the moment in Switzerland when Bond tells Vesper she knows what he can do with his little finger. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a big moment in their relationship. To top it off, and this argument will certainly be mocked by some, is the brief montage before the couple travel to Venice. Montages are frequently looked down on as an overly simplified storytelling technique, shorthand, lazy. On the other hand, there are virtually no montages in 007 films, save 2. They are: the montage showing Bond and Tracy dating several times in OHMSS, the other being in CR between Bond and Vesper. Shorthand perhaps, but surprisingly effective all the same.
I know that saying the lack of a montage hurts the Bond-Madeleine love story in Spectre, but in some ways it does. There are no other scenes in the movie that really indicate that the two characters are falling in love. They have a level of chemistry, there is a level of playfulness, they aren’t a bad pair as far as one’s typical Bond ‘love’ interests goes, but falling in love as the film tries to sell it in the final stages? Doubtful. Maybe not doubtful as to what the filmmakers want us to believe, but certainly doubtful as to the film’s organic impact is concerned.
Readers rest assured. I’m not publishing this to change the minds of those that really fell for the romance between Bond and Madeleine in Spectre. For those that did, I actually envy them a little bit. If that’s what director Mendes and company were hoping to accomplish, I’d have loved to be a part of that emotional ride as well. This blog post is more of a speculative, lightly researched thesis as to why Madeleine’s presence does not resonate as strongly among the fanbase as do Tracy and Vesper, despite that she is, apparently, supposed to hold similar or identical significance as far as we know at this point.
Léa Seydoux is still awesome though.