Thursday, 22 November 2012

There's something very wrong with the new Bond film. But the way in which it was received is much worse...

Ten days ago the Guardian printed a rather bizarre piece on mental health stigma entitled: "Skyfail: why the new Bond villain perpetuates mental health stigma". I have blogged about mental illness (particularly schizophrenia) and stigma a few times before and it certainly is a very real and important issue with direct impact on mental illness sufferers themselves. That said, I really don't see how the new Bond film has got dragged into all this; it does not stigmatise the mentally ill - or at least not in the way the author suggests.

The article begins...
The baddie [Raoul Silva] in the new Bond film is a stereotypical 'mad man', who reinforces every stereotype about mental health service users...
And goes on... 
What this film is really about is a mad man. It never really gets said and the inadequate writing doesn't really allow us to know what his back story is...(why does he hate M?). But the simple truth is that Silva, the villain, is off his trolley. Every stereotype from the grammar of film is here. We get the staring eyes, the sick smile. There's the remorseless irrationality...
And on...

...there is the murderous unending threat and violence. Silva is just out of his tree, like all those other mental health service users 'we' read headlines about. 
The author certainly gets one thing right. There is a common misconception that mentally ill people are significantly (and I use the term socially rather than statistically) more violent then the rest of us. And it is indeed true that this is often perpetuated by the press with headlines like "Schizophrenic man hooked on cannabis stabbed stranger 81 times". (In fact only about 0.005% of UK schizophrenia patients committed homicide in 2007 (compared with 0.0015% of the general population). You're more likely to be murdered by a Russian than a British schizophrenic - although of course this kind of relative risk merely shows you're most likely not going to get murdered by either!). And it is also undeniably true that bad-ass Silva is a violent man. So what's the problem?

He is a violent man but not a mentally ill man, nor is he portrayed to be. I think most psychiatrists would agree that 'staring eyes' a 'sick smile' and a 'violent disposition' are not adequate criteria to diagnose someone as mentally ill (although by the time DSM6 comes out we may all be sectioned for frowning). Aha but what about remorseless irrationality?! Well this is a bit of a fuzzy term. Delusions would be clinically significant but Silva isn't delusional - he is not maintaining or acting upon a false belief in the presence of evidence to the contrary. No. He's just pissed at M and wants revenge. And what good would a Bond film be if the villain's response was rational and proportional? It seems the author is wrestling with a straw man.

It would appear that what they have actually done is reinforced the very stigma they are attempting to dismiss. Let me explain.

  • Journalist needs to make mental health article interesting so wraps it in the context of popular culture.
  • Journalist watches new bond film and sees violence.
  • Journalist wrongly and stigmatically (is this a word?) equates violence with mental illness.
  • Journalist decides presence of violence means baddy is mentally ill.
  • Journalist criticises filmmakers for equating violence with mental illness through their use of a violent villain (who doesn't actually have a mental illness but whom he has assumed must have because they are violent).

What should concern us (and what would have been a much better use of the Guardian's web space) is the way in which the film deals with victims of sexual abuse. In case you've forgotten, bond meets Sévérine in her employee's Casino. From this brief interaction he learns that she has been severely sexually abused for most of her young life. Their next encounter begins with Bond breaking into her room while she is showering, stripping off and having sex with her. This is abuse. Bond takes advantage of a girl whose only experience of men is presumably that of violence, threats, coercion, black mail and forced sex and would most likely lack the kind of capacity required to consent in this kind of context. 

I can't think of anything more insulting to those who have been sexually abused (many of whom suffer mental illness as a result) than having our heroic protagonist James Bond basically rape a young woman in the shower. Except for maybe rubbing salt in the wound by writing a crap article which actually perpetuates the very stigma it attempts to reduce whilst completely ignoring the whopping great social fuck up that that should have been addressed in the first place.

PS thanks to Jono for pointing this out! :)


  1. I quite agree - the article is much more offensive than the film. The guy is no more 'mad' than any other Bond villain, i.e. he is not mad, just bad with a few eccentricities thrown in for comedy effect.

  2. Too bad that i was not able to watch the film yet which forces me to keep my opinion at bay for the meantime.
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  3. I discovered this blog entry right now and I am deeply delighted by the way you create your blog post! Which methods do you mostly use to spread the word about the fact that you have shared a article to this site?

  4. Just say Skyfall... The reviewer is the crazy one. Did he miss the whole scene that explains exactly why the bad guy hate M? Also, there was nothing about it that jumped out to me as Schizophrenia. In fact, the villain's connection with reality seemed extremely strong and stable.

    Weird. I agree with your assessment that the reviewer is the one at fault.

  5. Eric Charles-is it appropriate to refer to the reviewer as "the crazy one"?You could have just said you disagree with him/her and is at fault.........

  6. Anonymous... not sure. The reviewer asserted that the lead villain in skyfall was crazy. The main post here asserts that the reviewer is totally mistaken. I don't think I was doing more than supporting the original post. I apologize if you thought my choice of words was inappropriate.