Follow-up to 007: Skyfall—Severine

You will probably have noticed that I didn’t say anything about Severine in my initial review. That was partly because I did love the film and didn’t want to interrupt it with a rant and kill the mood, and partly because I wanted to take another day to think about it in more detail. My criticism runs two ways: towards narrative, and rape culture.

As a Bond girl/woman, Bérénice Marlohe did a great job—within the limited scope that the role actually afforded her. She was, literally, foil; a plot device. A means for Bond to get close to Silva, and then for target practice. The movie would have worked without her, that’s the ticket. Bond could have pissed someone off, let himself get captured, and be taken to Silva—it’s what usually happens. It’s nice that they wanted to include a female character in the proceedings, but this one missed by a mile.

That is not to say that Bond didn’t genuinely feel bad for her; but he knew that, by helping him, she’d be in danger and would likely get killed. He promised her to get her out, but what chance of that did he really think he’d have?

The big problem I have with his treatment of her, however, is the shower scene. I mean, what the actual fuck?

She froze when she felt someone step up behind her, and it looked like she had to will herself to relax. She felt she owed him, which makes this nothing but coercion.

Belonging to one of the trade houses when she was twelve or thirteen, then being “rescued” by Silva and probably being sexually and mentally abused by him to the point of self-degradation, Severine’s only form of communication of “gratitude” is through her body. It’s the only currency she’s known for most of her life, it’s what brought her here, it’s what destroyed her.

And then James just sneaks up on her, stark bollock naked, which, hello, is not ok on any given day; and has sex with her without realising that that doesn’t make him any better than Silva, and, more importantly, without realising the damage this does. He didn’t tie her down, but, really, what are the chances of her telling him to get out, with the state of mind that she’s in, completely frightened and dependent on him? James is cast in that scene as being the good guy, probably of showing her what great, consensual sex is before her inevitable demise—and that ‘restoring her with his penis’ narrative is getting really, really old, dear patriarchy.

Perhaps that is a point the (exclusively male) writers are trying to make: James Bond is a scumbag who lives in the shadows. I just wish they had considered leaving him with full respect for women’s experiences when they rebooted him. Lord knows that this is what Bond would have done in the 60s movies; but I would have thought that today’s Bond would be conscious of how Severine’s experience of self has been twisted, and would have made it a point not to sleep with her, to prove that there’s another way. She’s been treated as a piece of meat all her life, the movie did the same—hello, that dress, the male gaze likes you very much—and Bond perpetuates it needlessly and disappointingly.

The Bond films have recently done better on the women front, but if M, Wai Lin (in Tomorrow Never Dies), and Eve were a step forward, then this is two steps back.

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11 thoughts on “Follow-up to 007: Skyfall—Severine

  1. Thanks for writing this post. When I saw the movie, that scene left me completely repulsed and creeped out. Given her history, I have no idea what made the creators think that this was in ANY way okay. The people I was with shrugged it off, but I was left thinking about it long after the movie ended.

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  2. I agree. It was completely tactless. I mean, in Quantum of Solace he saw how Camille had suffered and kept his pants on. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I did like QoS. Skyfall was a good movie, but after the Severine scene on the boat and on the island, I liked the movie less and less. Because I feel like Bond let her die on purpose. He missed, then not a minute later he kills all the men and captured Silva. Why not do this BEFORE letting Severine die? Because he had a gun to the head? Gee, that’s new. In the previous movies he’d just drop or push the gun away or something. And in the metro his aim was suddenly so good that he could only hit the ladder Silva was on on purpose, so his aim was still really good and he could have hit the glass. If Severine had survived, I would have agreed on that this was one of the better Bond movies. Now this is just another good Action movie for me, but a bad Bond movie. They just can’t seem to remake the Bond we all came to love. “No, but this all was a prelogue. All of what had happened in the last three Bond movies made the Bond we know.” they say. Well, I give them one more shot in the nex movie, but if that dissapoints as much as Skyfall and Casino Royale, I am not going to see any more Bond movies with Daniel Craig as bond.

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  3. She froze because she thought one of the guards had come down to rape her, when she realized it was Bond she was relieved, which shows in her body language. She set champagne for two, the guard came down and she was visibly disappointed, assuming that Bond did not make it because he was killed by the guards.

    If she thought Bond was dead why wouldn’t she freeze when he came up behind her in the shower, logically it would have been one of the guards. the scene was to show that her and Bond has a connection because they both have issues with self esteem and addiction.

    Bond is addicted to alcohol and women, while she is addicted to love, fantasizing that a man will come and save her, first Silva for the sex trade, then Bond from Silva. There are a lot of cues in the movie that because of Bond’s childhood he developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, as with Severine.

    The scene added depth to both characters if you can relate to the human condition on it’s lowest level, desperation for affection confused for love through the act of sex.

    When Severine is killed it illustrates that Bond could have been the man to save her if he had faced his problems after being shot in the beginning of the movie. She is crucial in demonstrating how helpless Bond is at controlling his life, he cares for her and is unable to save her life, another woman dies in front of him and he can only watch; echoing his childhood with his mother and father.

    There is a lot of content in the relationship Bond has with Severine if you want to look at it objectively, from a subjective perspective there is a lot to criticism. The brief relationship they have is not normal because they are both traumatized individuals, regardless of sex.

    If Bond didn’t sleep with her, he would have been able to save her, that’s the whole point; they shared what they little intimacy they were capable of before their approaching death. He goes to the island not knowing if he is going to return, hence why he activates the radio… not for backup, in case he dies.

    Feminist or not, you should add logic to your comments.

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    1. I have plenty of logic up there – you know why? I concede that I only gave readers the short-hand version, i.e. the conclusion I had come to, rather than the /whole/ process, so I will elaborate.
      I considered all that you’ve just told me. And I rejected it before I even started analyzing this the way I did in the post above.
      I am terribly tired of several tropes that are employed in this storyline – and tropes is really just a much nicer and academic term for cliché.
      1. We’re gonna die tomorrow, so let’s have sex.
      2. The good penis saving the girl from the bad penises.
      3. Sex is the only form of intimacy two people can share that is meaningful enough to warrant saving their lives. (Seriously, what is up with that? James could only save her because he fucked her? What? He couldn’t have vowed to save her out of, I don’t know, respect? And kindness? Are you really saying “loving” her was the only thing that could have possibly motivated him to expend some energy?)
      4. Women do not refuse James Bond’s advances, ever. No, they crave them.
      5. Because sex, abuse, and it’s consequences, are ok with being romanticized.
      6. James Bond must remain a traumatized child and must never, ever undergo character development, and thus can never break a pattern.
      It’s these tropes that make audiences accept that Severine “wants” to have sex with James.
      She was frightened for her life, and he must have KNOWN that. And still, he does not approach her from the front, does not afford her the respect and agency to say yes. He implies it. And that’s the clincher and the main problem I have with this. Sure, she put out champagne. But are you really taking that surface action as her intrinsic consent to anything James does, when on the inside, she could be quaking in her boots, thinking that she’s going to have to have sex with James, or else he won’t help her?
      They’re both cast as traumatized children, they’re both the very definition of not alright, and yet you portray this as an informed decision made by two adults. The writers could have made a statement here, could have made a point, a point that involves respect for survivors of abuse. The point being that you do not have to send an abused child back to its master, that there are other ways of dealing with this.
      Hence, I humbly submit that tropes always, always, carry the potential to be subverted and turned on their heads. Thus, I contend that the writers could have decided NOT to do this. As a writer myself, I believe that there is always another way out, and there was another way out of this situation. What enrages me is that the writers relied on these tropes to write this part of the narrative for them.
      James didn’t sleep with Camille in Quantum of Solace. He was as desperate as he is now, if not even more so, because he lost Vesper. He didn’t give two shits if he got out of Perlas de las Dunas alive, but he did not touch Camille. He broke the pattern. He underwent, oh God, character growth. He made a different decision, imagine that.
      But in Skyfall, the writers deliberately stunted him and fridged Severine without a care. She was a plot device to his man pain, end of.
      Yes, I’ve seen (and read) GoldenEye. I know all about James’ coping mechanisms. But Severine, and treating her like this, crossed a line. In For Your Eyes Only, James didn’t sleep with Bibi. In Skyfall, he practically went back in time and did.
      If you honestly do not believe that none of these tropes could have been subverted for the good of the narrative, the characters’ growth, and plot development, then I’m afraid it’s your way of accepting media tropes that is lacking in logic. You’re romanticizing their trauma into something that enables them to be characters that grow, when in fact all it does is trap them in a gilded cage of never growing up at all.

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      1. Thank you for this detailed response. I’ve been having problems putting this in perspective and need to see it argued out. Will bookmark.

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    2. Thanks for saving me the time. People see what they want to see. It’s why facts are so important vs objective opinion. (I mean, she thought he was dead for god’s sake, why would she immediately think it was Bond).

      I found this site, because after watching this movie for the 3rd or 4th time, it still irks me that she “had to die”. I mean, she never overtly defied Silva. She could have argued that she brought Bond for him. He wasn’t hiding on the boat. I am definitely angry about her death, as I also was with Casino Royale’s murder. It’s not pointless, because it’s there to inflame Bond and make us hate the villains that much more. However, if a writer is going to depart from the “most natural course” it should be for good not evil outcomes.

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      1. Yes, people see what they want to see, that’s becoming very clear. Bond must have known she’d think he was dead, and he’s intelligent enough to know not to sneak up like this on a victim of abuse. He should have announced himself and asked for her consent. He didn’t do that, and it was unkind and insensitive at best, and utterly creepy at worst.

        A narrative like Bond’s is always bigger than the individual movie, and in conjunction, the patterns become very clear. I really loved Skyfall to bits, still do, but the shower scene was a disaster. (And I’m already worried about the news that Purvis and Wade were called back in to rewrite Logan’s original draft for the next one.)

        One thing: in my view, the clincher isn’t whether a death is ostentatiously pointless, it’s what explicit purpose it serves. Yes, Severine dies to make us hate Silva, but we should already hate him by default. If the writers manipulate us into hating Silva for personal reasons, we assume the role of Bond. But Bond is/should be doing his job, and killing a woman to give the male lead man pain is a trope for a reason, a cliché. The reason for her death isn’t to drive the plot, it’s to make Bond angry. And that’s not enough anymore, not in the big picture of women’s function in this (sub)genre of fiction.

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  4. this is a late response obviously but I’ve only just come across it. I have to say that you have read something into the shower scene and got completely the wrong end of the stick. As a woman I did not see Sevrine freeze when Bond touched her at all. I saw that she was disappointed when the knock at the door was a crewman instead of Bond. Did you not notice the two champagne glasses and her excitement when there was a knock at the door? She was waiting in anticipation for him. She probably knew she was about to die and what the hell one may as well have a night of passion with a hot guy. There was an obvious attraction and she flirts with him when she realises she can trust him in the casino. Yes Silva knew bond was looking for him and was there but she definitely wanted him to join her on the boat. She turns around in joy in the shower, it was her invitation and was clearly the only consensual encounter since her slave days.
    You really need to watch it again and examine the boat scene and her obvious disappointment when the knock at the door is not Bond.

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    1. The writers frame Severine as feeling joy at Bond’s intrusion because they want her to. I’ve watched the film dozens of times now, and I still feel that the way he just walks in on her in the shower, presuming that she wants him when the only reason she’s flirted with him is because she has to keep up appearances and is desperately hoping that he can help her escape, is infuriatingly insensitive. Yeah, she’s disappointed when it’s not Bond, because that’s convenient for the narrative. The narrative that even sexually and emotionally abused women want nothing more than a night with a hot guy. She knows nothing about him, he could be God knows what kind of a sexual predator (which he kind of is). There’s no way that single scene encodes all her reasons for wanting him to join her on the boat. So I’m afraid we’re doing to have to agree to disagree on this one.

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