‘The Rock’ a revealing window into Project 007
The idea of a Michael Bay film being open to interpretive scrutiny is, quite frankly, so fanciful that it practically defies the laws of our known universe. As his champions are so fond of adamantly stating, his flicks are popcorn movies designed purely for entertainment and occasional pre-pubescent escapist wish fulfillment. But it is a fact that any story, no matter how limited or lacking in gravitas, can be twisted and turned to resemble something else entirely. For some viewers, it is a type of defense mechanism to psychologically overcome the trauma of watching an absolute turd on wheels. Seeking a combination of this factor and a long standing theory among film fanatics, this writer has turned to Bay’s finest film, by which he means the film that he doesn’t completely ruin but could have improved by turning down – The Rock. But this week we won’t be analyzing why the 1996 blockbuster is actually a harrowing psychological study; no, a better use of time would be in discerning how The Rock offers a tantalizing avenue into the realm of Project 007.
Yes, Sean Connery is in The Rock and, yes, he plays a badass ex-spy. That is where the clever allusions end within said film, with a knowing sense of irony that the schman is portraying a sort of alternate universe Bond who has spent the last thirty years in prison. This kind of fan-service is hardly new, but it does serve as an interesting piece of evidence to be presented by a clique of over-thinkers (this writer included) who have been saying for years that James Bond is not simply one man, he is merely an identity. Not only does The Rock provide evidence, however, it also serves as a piece of a jigsaw we didn’t know we were assembling, one that goes further down the rabbit hole than an oblique explanation as to why Bond’s face seems to change every few films. Intentional or not, the Bond series has provided numerous clues suggesting that the Project 007 theory is a legitimate interpretation of the world famous franchise; in turn The Rock, not a Bond film at all, is the window into the harsh, less fanciful truth. We’ll start with his ‘incarnation’ here, the original classic Connery 007. On this occasion, he actually has a name to help us differentiate from his successors; John Patrick Mason.
Mason bears all the hallmarks of Bond#1, with a personality only differing due to a hard grit no doubt brought about by his incarceration. He has the same taste for seduction in the face of danger (he fathered a child while on the run), pragmatic but effective means of disposing of his enemies, an indulgence for car chases and a knack for one liners. He even echoes one of his previous Bond lines, when upon meeting Nicolas Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed greets the introduction by dryly replying “but of course you are”. Bond and Mason also share backgrounds in the realms of intelligence agencies and special operations (aside from the fact Mason is ex-SAS, while Bond is a British Navy Commander). Given that the Bond films tend to ignore timescale (a necessity, ultimately) it is not hard to argue that Connery’s final true-Bond appearance Diamonds are Forever was actually set in the sixties (not in 1971, when the film was made) which would correspond to Mason’s capture. Given that the ending of Diamonds placed Bond within the United States helps set up for an unseen Bond chapter which saw him attempting to recover a top secret microfilm from the FBI but ultimately fall foul. That MI6 would betray him, abandoning him to preserve friendship with Britain’s strongest ally, is hardly a stretch. This is the same organization and nation that in-universe did the exact same to Skyfall’s fallen agent Silva and the Lienz Cossacks.
So if Mason is in fact the original Bond, him being thrown in Alcatraz would explain why Roger Moore suddenly appeared with the same name despite being nothing like the first. The nationality (read accent), physicality and appearance are a given, but Bond#3 – let’s call him Moond – also bore a completely different personality from his predecessor, as well as alternate methods and style. Realists will of course say that Moore provided the producers with a different approach to the character, one more open to comedy. But the more imaginative acolytes of the Project 007 theory will state that Moond is in fact a different person. While his face changed, that of his colleagues did not: Q was still Q, M was still M, Moneypenny was still Moneypenny. Opting into the theory, Moond was actually a nameless operative of MI6 who was drafted in to replace the imprisoned and expatriated Mason, given the name James Bond and the moniker 007, as well as the same mission statement.
For anyone who considers this concept preposterous, it’s worth mentioning that MI6 have performed this trick openly in other areas. Goldeneye stated as a matter of fact that Judi Dench’s character was the “new M”, a replacement for Robert Brown’s version, who had in turn replaced Bernard Lee. Then, in the most recent Skyfall, we see Ralph Fiennes take over from Emma and are also introduced to Ben Whishaw’s version of Q, previously only played by the late Desmond Llewelyn. Same names, different people. Across the pond, the same tactic is also being employed it seems; Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend and contact within the CIA, has appeared in many forms since he was first introduced, most recently by Jeffrey Wright. Blofeld, the most famous adversary of the series, also seems to suffer from changing face syndrome, which is a keen reminder that the Bond universe is not a particularly realistic one. As a morsel of food for thought, keep in mind that in Diamonds are Forever there appear signs that Bond’s numerous forays into enemy territory have actually earned him a reputation, making him a recognizable figure among the criminal underworld he is infiltrating. Were he not locked up, Mason probably would have been replaced anyway since his face was too well known. Moond may share the name, but is clearly not the same guy and thus not a liability.
That latter theory would also help explain the George Lazenby anomaly. On this occasion, Mason departs to be replaced by the rather dull and listless Lazenbond for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service only to come back in the following outing. The timing of this is interesting, if one is to believe that Mason would be caught soon after. Mason had been ditched after You Only Live Twice, by which time Bond’s notoriety even saw MI6 fake his death in order to preserve his ability to operate anonymously. They retire Mason once Lazenbond is ready as a replacement, but the events of OHMSS prove that he is not cut out to be 007. Emotionally compromised after his wife (He got married!) dies and either retired or choosing to quit, Lazenbond’s departure facilitates the need to risk bringing back Mason. Sadly, this did not last long, and soon neither was available. Enter Moond, who would keep up the job until the 1980s and his battle with Max Zorin. By this point, MI6 had a very good reason to replace Moond; he was too old. Roger Moore was creaking just as much as his eyebrows by 1985 at the age of 58. So they choose Bond#4 – Daltbond – who is cut from a different cloth. Fans cite Dalton’s Bond as being the darkest and edgiest seen in the franchise until the Daniel Craig reboot, and this is down to Daltbond being angrier and mostly humorless.
So far, MI6 have lost three Bonds for different reasons: Mason was incarcerated, Lazenbond either quit or was fired and Moond was retired due to age. Now they would have a fourth cause to seek a new operative; Daltbond turned out to be a psychotic. After Leiter (subsequently replaced himself) is crippled by a drug cartel in Licence to Kill, Daltbond is overcome by vengeance and rage and defies his masters to mount a personal mission in the name of retribution. Although this ends with Daltbond being offered his job back, it is likely a trap to get him back into the hands of MI6 and feel their wrath. Whether or not Daltbond chooses to go back, he is not 007 by the time the next film comes along. Enter Brond, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond#5. Once again, he is markedly different, more balanced and with a more even temperament. He feels fear, guilt and retains a greater sense of loyalty. If one is to interpret his foray to an Arkangelsk weapons facility with colleague Alec Trevelyan (also an orphan, more on that later) in Goldeneye’s prologue as Brond’s first mission then we see him take over from Daltbond in the same year of that roaring rampage of revenge.
This operative disappears from the scene after the events of the ridiculous Die Another Day for reasons unclear beyond the necessity for a reboot. You can argue that Brond is granted discharge from the role for good service, particularly in light of his torturous spell behind bars. MI6’s decision to trade Bond for a North Korean renegade may have been influenced by their previous loss of a Bond to similar circumstances. Either way, by the time Casino Royale crops up, a new operative has been selected and passes the test to earn his double 0 status. Bond #6, or Blond, is clearly a replacement since we see him start his new job while under the tutelage of the previous Bond’s boss, despite she herself having previously been unveiled as a substitute. Unless you view this occurrence as a mind bending continuity loophole, Casino Royale represents perhaps the most substantial evidence of all.
So who are these men who take the name? We learn of Mason from The Rock that he was born in Glasgow but nothing beyond that of his life pre-Bond. For all we know, the history that is recited is merely a cover, an impressive resume explaining Mason’s know-how that doesn’t reveal his actually definitive identity. It is also a standard fact that Bond is an orphan, though the manner and relevance seems to change. Brond, for example, lost his parents in a mountain climbing accident, while Blond’s mother and father met their demise in an unmentioned manner. Since it’s safe to say that Brond and Blond are two very different people, it is no coincidence that they are both without family ties. Alec Trevelyan, Goldeneye’s 006, also shared this tragic background. It should be taken as read that all of the Bonds are either chosen due to their emancipation or that, more sinisterly, they have been groomed from a young age under the care of the state.
Rather more like the cinematic foibles of Treadstone and the like, they are engineered for the role rather than simply trained. The 00s, from 1 to whatever, represent MI6s cream of the crop, their best weapons against the threat of tyranny and terrorism; no doubt these roles must be filled by men who or not merely men. If this sounds a little overblown, consider that the Bond universe is far fetched enough to make this logical. With every installment, Bond must save the world from often incredulous threats and missions. For every arms dealer there is a megalomaniacal super-genius with a space laser. The world which Bond inhabits is more akin to the Metal Gear Solid universe than our own, more grounded reboot notwithstanding. While we may celebrate the later installments for their use of a more down to earth sensibility and cut down on the camp, they still defy realism even by movie standards. Skyfall, rated extraordinarily by fans and critics alike, has at its heart a taste for the theatrical which made the earlier efforts so iconic. Super-genius Silva is as gritty and grounded a character as Stavros Blofelt if we are discussing semantics.
Perversely, the 007 theory is on the surface a far fetched musing but actually helps the Bond series form a more consistent and collected tone which borders on realistic emotional involvement. The belief that James Bond is just one man who has been fighting the world’s enemies for fifty years without getting old or getting dead is the one that is truly ridiculous. The Rock is a great example of something a little more likely, while still bombastic and dramatic enough to be entertaining. Mason, the original Bond, is still a match for a platoon of US Marines half his age even after spending decades in prison. Somehow this is more forgivable than the suggestion that we should accept that Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are supposed to be the same person. And as for the thought that we should stop thinking so much and just enjoy the entertainment? This writer would contend that all the theorizing enhances the experience by introducing a fascinating mythos behind the action. And, when you’re watching something as brainless and ironically camp as The Rock, who can blame him?
This has been a Strange Interpretation.