Freud and Jung are the two godfathers of psychoanalysis. The former tended to focus on mummy issues and repressed desires, while the latter tended to focus on culture, myths and spirituality. Perhaps, the most intriguing work of Jung was his work on alchemy. Rather than seeing it as the debunked method of turning actual lead into gold, he viewed it metaphorically as the process for human transformation or as he called it individuation.
You may ask what this has got to with James Bond, well I came across a great article in the excellent movie magazine Beneficial Shock! that applied this Jungian idea on the four Daniel Craig James Bond movies. So I thought I’d lay it out:
Stage 1 of alchemy – nigredo (blackening) in Casino Royale
In this stage, your persona and sense of self of stripped away so that you are left like a black gloop. In Casino Royale, the stripping away starts early as we see Bond fighting in a men’s toilets in the opening scenes. Later, he meets Vesper Lynd on his way to Montenegro, which can be translated as black mountain (see the word “black” again). She is every bit his match and we see the soft side of Bond. He later even says “I have no armour left you’ve stripped it from me”. She naturally betrays him, which pushes him over the edge – a primal mess.
Stage 2 of alchemy – albedo (whitening) in Quantum of Solace
This is when you start to discover who you are, the time to purify the black gloop. Jung argued that this was the stage to find your contra-sexual side, so for Bond that would mean his feminine side. It is fitting that the female protagonist is Camille, who rather than being a romantic conquest for him is on her own path of vengeance. The movie is a mess which is fitting for this stage. Again, towards the end of the movie, there is an apt quote as Camille cradles Bond’s head and tells him “I wish I could set you free, but your prison is in there”. In an appropriate final shot, he drops Vesper’s necklace in the snow, ready for his next stage of transformation.
Stage 3 of alchemy – cintrinitas (yellowing) in Skyfall
This is the magical stage, which is harder to describe but is when all your ego is destroyed. It is telling that Bond is apparently shot to death on the orders of M in the opening scene – a death of sorts is happening. But it doesn’t stop there, in the final part of the movie all aspects of Bond’s life are destroyed from his childhood home, his Aston Martin and even his “mummy” M. In the final scene, the new M asks him if he is ready to work, his answer is obvious: “Absolutely”.
Stage 4 of alchemy – rubedo (reddening) in Spectre
This is where the putrefaction, purification and transformation all come together to see the person realise their true selves. It’s not about becoming someone “new”, but rather embracing all aspects of your individuality. Spectre, then, doesn’t see a new James Bond, but rather a more traditional bond movie (glamorous women, killing baddies etc). We also accept him for who he is.