Monday, December 2, 2013

James Bond - Patriot or Psychopath?

James Bond is a Christmas tradition in my family. As kids, we'd sit with Mum and Dad and watch two or three Bond films every year. At a minimum, the BBC played one on Christmas Day itself, and one on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.

So I was thrilled to see that over the Thanksgiving weekend, a string of Bond movies were playing on some obscure channel. I recorded four of them.

Also over the weekend, I worked on a new novel, one that delves into issues of psychopathy and sociopathy. No wonder that the question popped into my mind halfway through CASINO ROYALE: is James Bond a psychopath?

Shall we see?

Just to define a parameter or two, and slide in the usual disclaimers: I am not a psychiatrist. My analysis is for fun. I don't know any psychopaths or sociopaths. At least, I don't think I do. I am treating those terms as the same for the purposes of this blog post. My analysis is based on my recollection of the Bond movies, as I've not read the books. I'm also aware that different Bonds come across quite differently - Roger Moore is high on slick charm, Daniel Craig is more of a (sexy) brute, and Sean Connery is... well, the best all-round Bond. There, I said it.

Excellent. So. How does one diagnose a psychopath? The professionals use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is a 20-item inventory of personality traits and recorded behaviors.  Each of the items in the checklist is scored on a three-point scale. A value of 0 is assigned if the item does not apply, 1 if it applies somewhat, and 2 if it fully applies.

And just so you know, a score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy.

Shall we begin?

  • glib and superficial charm 
Absolutely. No question at all. Score: 2. 

  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self 
One might think so, although it strikes me that it's easy to confuse his glib charm and self-confidence with being grandiose. Also, look at how darn good he is at everything - fighting, shooting, shagging... if he's actually good at everything, he's not really exaggerating when he boasts, is he? That said, he does occasionally value his worth higher than those around him. The best example of this is in CASINO ROYALE when he breaks into M's flat. It's made clear that this was a gross invasion of privacy, utterly inappropriate, and yet he's cocky. It seemed to me he was showing off to M, trying to impress her by demonstrating how clever he is.. Score: 1.

  • need for stimulation
 Oh, yes. Bond can't keep still for two minutes, he's always killing bad guys or blowing up secret nuclear silos. Or shagging. Score: 2.

  • pathological lying
He does lie, but it's for his job and not for his amusement. Now, one could argue that he went into that profession in order to channel his deceptive nature but I can't think of any direct evidence of him lying a great deal in a way that's not related to his work. Of course, he and I don't hang about it bars when he's off-mission. Score: 0.

  • cunning and manipulativeness
He is. Again, it's job related but whereas pathological lying is a behavior, I see cunning and manipulativeness as traits. Which he has in spades. Score: 2.
  • lack of remorse or guilt
Given the number of people he kills in a two-hour period, I can't imagine he has any room for remorse or guilt. I certainly don't see much evidence of it. Score: 2.

  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
To me, this means insincerity. I don't really see that in him, he doesn't fake emotions. He beds a lot of women but I don't see him tricking them into bed, he's pretty up front with all that charm. Score: 0.

  • callousness and lack of empathy
I'm torn on this. As I said before, he kills a lot of people and seems fine with it. No regrets, no PTSD. In fact,tThe bad guy in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is Scaramanga, and he seems to recognize this coldness, this ruthlessness. He even compares himself, a paid assassin, to Bond. Bond responds: "When I kill, it is on the specific orders of my Government.” But does that just mean he gets paid less to kill? Bond adds that, “those I kill are themselves killers,” but in CASINO ROYALE I'm not sure that's true -- the opening sequence has him shoot an unarmed man who stole from the Government. And he does it with a witty remark on his lips. Pretty callous.

On the other hand, check out the final scene from ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, when Bond's wife is killed - he cries (but there is a cop watching, maybe he's faking it so he doesn't get arrested?!). And in CASINO ROYALE, he seems to empathize with a hot accountant when she's distraught over seeing her first killing. Of course, his way of showing empathy in that movie involved sitting in a running shower with her, so maybe it was a callous ploy to bed this very stand-offish woman?

One also has to take into account his patriotism. He does an awful lot, risks an awful lot, "for England." I don't think a true psychopath would give a hoot about his country, he'd care only for himself. Is it an act on Bond's part? Somehow I don't think so.

Here's where I come out: Score: 1.

  • parasitic lifestyle
Well, he does suckle on the teat of the government pretty hard. All those gadgets, cars, clothes, trips to the Bahamas. In Casino Royale he's pretty quick to lose ten million pounds at the poker table, then expect a refill from his (beautiful, naturally) accountant. Score: 1.

  • poor behavioral controls
 I have to split the baby on this. His job requires him to do outrageous things but sometimes I get the feeling he uses the job as an excuse. Shooting people willy-nilly, and bedding the bad guy's wife, come to mind. Score: 1.

  • sexual promiscuity
 Shame I can't give him a 3 on this one... Score: 2.

  • early behavior problems
Hard to say because his background, his childhood, remain shrouded in mystery. Pretty much all we know is that he was orphaned at age 11, when his parents died in a mountaineering accident. Some more tidbits here, but no indications of setting fires or torturing puppies. Score: 0.

  • lack of realistic long-term goals
This isn't really addressed in the films, of course. I've not seen his five-year promotion plan, but he does acknowledge that double-0s have a short lifespan, so I'd understand if he didn't have one. Maybe he took the job so he didn't have to bother with planning his own future? Makes sense to me...  Score: 1.

  • impulsivity
 Yes. Again, he has to be for his work but it does seem to be in his nature. Score: 2.

  • irresponsibility 
Given all the stuff he blows up, the gadgets he destroys, and the stress he gives Q, and various comments by M ("I knew you weren't ready to be promoted"), there's a case to be made for him being irresponsible. On the other hand, does he get that job if he's totally irresponsible? Probably not. Score: 1.
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
In YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE Bond offers to resign as a result of his screw ups. Is it a genuine offer, though? And when he breaks into M's secret flat and is told, quite chillingly, not to do it again he just gives that wry smile. In the same movie, when he shoots someone he's supposed to bring in for questioning, he justifies it by saying, "There's one less bomb maker in the world." A close call, so I'm saying: Score: 1.

  • many short-term marital relationships
Just the one marriage, though it was certainly short-term. Not his fault, though. (I will point out that he tells Vesper Lynd he doesn't date single women, just married ones, so he does have short-term relationships with married women...) Even so: Score: 0.

  • juvenile delinquency
 No evidence of it, as noted above. Score: 0.

  • revocation of conditional release
 Not that we know of. Score: 0.

  • criminal versatility
While most of Bond actions are contra-law, because of his job they are essentially legal. Even required. This might be another case of him channeling his desire to commit harmful acts into a safe space (the job) but there's a nobility about James Bond that indicates to me that if he spotted a wallet of cash he'd return it to the owner, not steal it. Score: 0.
And the verdict? According to my estimation, James Bond scores a 19 on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, making him a interesting dinner-party guest but not a psychopath.

I don't know about you, but I'm rather relieved.

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