Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Humiliation At Crab Key Island or: A Dr. No You Can Touch - Written By Zach Frances

Dr. No: I'm a member of SPECTRE
James Bond

Dr. No
: SPECTRE. Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world.

James Bond
: Correction. Criminal brains.

Dr. No
: The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.

Seniority has nothing to do with it, Dr. No is one of the best Bond movies ever. Much is written about the James Bond series, but not much is actually said. The fans of James Bond fit into what I like to call a bandwagon following, meaning that they go with the popular trend of the character. Goldfinger used to be heralded as the best Bond film ever made. Period. Then Skyfall came out and the critics praised it. Suddenly the fans learned a different tune. Me? Never. Dr. No was one of the best when I was five years old and its still one of the best today. The titular character is the reason why.

"East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other."
Dr. Julius No does not appear until nearly two hours into the film, and by then he is more than an enigma, he's a goddamn ghost, and that's exactly the way actor Joseph Wiseman plays him. The name 'Dr. No' is ushered repeatedly throughout the film. Almost religiously. Truths, lies, and mysteries are all spun before the crux of the film makes his entrance. The film defines Dr. No by what people say about him, rather than what he actually does, by mysteries rather than facts, by his absence and not his presence. Dr. Julius No is defined by the dangerous measures the hero goes through in order to face him and not the actual confrontation that expels him. As it happens, Dr. Julius No is the most fleshed out and fully realized character of the film, regardless of having such a small amount of screen-time. He is an unseen and hauntingly sinister shadow, a nightmare, a mad man, a God, and then he appears... and Joseph Wiseman does not disappoint.

"Unfortunately I misjudged you, you are just a stupid police man..."
The scene where Bond comes face to face with No and joins him for dinner is, bar-none, the greatest scene of its kind. Ever. In any film. The way Wiseman approached his character was flawless, understated, and unsung. To say he was emotionless would be insulting, he oozes insecurity. A man who has awaited defeat since childhood, No had been dealt one embarrassment after another in a series of painful blows throughout his lifetime, and he has welcomed every one of them with his... hands open. He's fashioned himself a God but never defines the purpose of his Kingdom nor does he particularly identify himself with it. He speaks loathsomely of those who have rejected him his entire life, of the humiliation he suffered that repels him from being accepted, and  the jealousy and sadness that all of that humiliation creates. Sadness can be mistaken for emotionless very easily, which is a mistake most people make when they watch Dr. No.

Make no mistake of it, No is a tragic character. He sits with Bond, both orphans, both unwanted, both are being used by a secretive organization for their own devices, and yet only one of them is ruined because of it. Dr. No offers his companionship to Bond and Bond laughs in his face. Bond humiliates him. Just one more person in a long line of people who have rejected No and have laughed in his face. Just another humiliation.

Dr. No's final humiliation is death. He fights knowing he cannot win, he never wins, and he doesn't deserve to. His own master plan betrays him, his Kingdom consumes him, and, ultimately, he suffers the greatest humiliation of all: fighting for your life and failing to save it. No was a wonderful villain, and the best villain ever crafted for a motion picture. Most people think that since its a Bond film, there isn't anything lurking between the lines. I assure you that these people are being foolish. When you look at Dr. No, at the way he carries himself and if you actually listen to what it is he says, a portrait of an unloved, heartbroken, and vicious man appears before you. Whether you choose to recognize his dilemma is a decision entirely of your own choosing. You just can't ignore the humanity of Dr. No. It is impossible for me to accept the final confrontation as anything other than it truly is: humiliation. I'm not saying No did not deserve death, just the opposite. What I am saying is far more important: No deserves to be viewed as the villain he really is. No is complex, multi-layered, and tragic. Dr. No is an enigma.

There are several other reasons as to why Dr. No is my favorite Bond of them all, but none of them are as important as exploring its titular character. Well... maybe this deserves some attention:

Smoldering hot.

There you have it. One of my favorite Bond films of all time, and one of my favorite movies ever made. A strong sense of nostalgia accompanies this film when I watch it. A strong sense of nostalgia and an overwhelming feeling of adventure. I am a huge Bond fan and this is the first of many essays I plan to write about the series. I saw it fitting that the first essay I wrote was about the first installment in the franchise. Thanks for reading.

-Zach Frances

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