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.