In this blog, I will look at how queer-coded masculinity is portrayed in the villains in James Bond films Casino Royale (2006) directed by Martin Campbell and Skyfall directed by Sam Mendes (2012). In particular I will look at La Chiffre in Casino Royale (played by Mads Mikkelsen) and Raoul Silva in Skyfall (played by Javier Bardem). Focusing on the torture and interrogation scenes from these films, I will consider the significance of mockingly ‘queer-coded’ behaviour of the villains included in the films, such as innuendos and homosexual references used to torture and manipulate Bond (played by Daniel Craig).
I will start by giving a brief history of the queer-coding of villains in Hollywood.
Queer-coded villains in Hollywood
There has been quite a lot written about ‘queer-coding’ of certain characters (often villains, cyborgs, or those on the fringes of society), which some argue have appeared as a product of film-making censorship from conservatism in the US in the 1930s-1950s. Some argue that ‘queer-coding’ or implying characters weren’t ‘straight’ or ‘cis’ had been happening in European literature since the 1800s, but in American film this only started to appear in the 1930s. This was seen as a response to the US conservatism, putting rules in place on the American entertainment industry to uphold ‘moral standards’ with the implementation of the Hays Code in 1934. This code didn’t explicitly condemn homosexuality or queerness, but instead stated: ‘The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.’
As a result, to avoid censorship, rather than discouraging film makers to include ‘queerness,’ there was actually a surge in queer-coded characters, that were put on the fringes of society so that the film’s narrative met regulations. Some argue this can be seen in horror and monster movies produced in the US at the time, with ostracised, dangerous and ‘on the margins’ characters, such as Frankenstein, male werewolves and vampires, and for the ‘human’ queer-coded villains, often characterized by a mental illness or some kind of deformity, were included into the queer-coded narratives.
In 1954, the US also introduced the Comics Code Authority (CCA), formed by the Comics Magazine Association of America. In order to get this stamp of approval, the code implemented bans on overt sexuality of any kind in comics, and ‘put restrictions on the ways which women could be could depicted’ (Ennis, T 2020). Some argue that this also contributed to the queer-coding film adaptations of comics and films with action heroes. The civil rights movements in the 1960s, and the emphasis and public-wide call for peace and equality meant that censorship of film in the US was lifted, and replaced with a rating system, giving creators more freedom and allowing viewers to choose what they watched, based on the rating system.
Despite the relaxing of censorship in film making in the US, some argue that including queer-coded villains has already become a cultural phenomenon, and even from the 1960s to the modern day, queer-coded villains are still found in mainstream media and entertainment, including children’s entertainment (e.g. Scar in Disney’s Lion King, Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin and Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid).
Why talk about queer-coding in Bond? The different ways of considering this
Is queer-coded villains always a bad thing? It’s a tricky area to navigate, because some of these characters are much loved for that very reason – they are portrayed as on the fringes. From an audience perspective, if handled appropriately by the writer, you could argue that queer-coded characters are empowered, because they don’t ‘fit in,’ – they can speak honestly about how they feel, they can be dramatically (often fabulously) different and subversive, they can stand out from the crowd. Often these characters that are in the ‘in between’ spaces of society help to move the plot forward, by revealing what isn’t obvious to those ‘within the system.’ Some theorists such as Donna Haraway argue this liminal identity should be celebrated, and seen as important in current political systems to question the post-colonial status quo.
On the other hand, you could argue that queer-coding in villains risks normalizing violent and abusive behaviour with queer-coded characters, especially if the script includes violence-driven homosexual innuendos, as a form of manipulation and domination. Rather than seeing queer-coding as an act of much needed representation of LGBTQ+ characters, you could also argue that it could be seen as actually an act of censorship, and an act of ‘Othering’ and marginalizing LGBTQ+, by continuously casting them as the villain and the outsider.
I’ll now look at specific characters in Bond films, surrounding queer-coded villains, and violence and interrogation.
Casino Royal – Le Chiffre – Torture scene
The scene in Casino Royale where Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre establishes a queer-coded accountant-to-the-bad guys, Le Chiffre, is probably one of the most iconic scenes of the film. The scene’s dialogue begins Le Chiffre commenting on Bond’s physical appearance, as he sits naked, sweating, tied to a chair, in a dungeon in an old barge.
Le Chiffre: [circling Bond, naked and tied to chair] Wow. You’ve taken good care of your body. [Pauses, hangs end of rope over Bonds shoulder, appears from the shadows, and whispers in his ear] …Such a waste.
[swings rope with knot at the end, and aims it at Bond’s sexual organs, Bond howls in agony]
Le Chiffre: ‘You know, I’ve never understood these elaborate tortures. It takes the simplest thing, to cause more pain than a man can possibly ensure’ [Unties his bow tie, folds it and puts it in his pocket. Takes another swing at Bond’s sexual organs]
Le Chiffre: And of course, it’s not only the immediate agony, but the knowledge that if you do not yield soon enough, there will be little left to identify you as a man. [Takes off his jacket, hangs it on chains, takes another swing at Bond’s sexual organs].
This scene not only represents the violence of the rope swing to Bond’s sexual organs, it also shows Le Chiffre getting undressed, while he’s doing it. Le Chiffre is not only torturing Bond with violence, he’s also torturing him with the fact that he finds Bond attractive, and that he’s suggestively undressing to demonstrate this.
Left with nothing but his charm and wit, Bond’s response to Le Chiffre’s demand to be given the password to the account funding terror is the following:
Bond: [Looking down at Le Chiffre, who’s on his knees, looking up at Bond who’s tied to the chair in immense agony] I’ve got a little itch, down there, would you mind?
[Le Chiffre stands up and takes another swing at Bond with the rope]
Bond: No! No, no, to the right, to the right, to the right!
Le Chiffre: You are a funny man, Mr Bond.
[Le Chiffre takes another swing]
Bond: Ahhh, yes, yes yes, [laughs] now the whole world’s going to know that you died scratching my balls [laughs]
In this scene, the connotations of homoerotic behaviour in this context is represented as being about domination, manipulation and control, and Bond tries to outwit Le Chiffre by suggesting he’s in pleasure, not pain. A man pleasuring a man being something Bond suggests Le Chiffre should be ashamed of, and the ultimate sin. Where have I heard that one before, I wonder?
Queer-coding and referencing homosexuality to infer violence and manipulation in film: Where’s the line?
I would argue that this kind of combative references to homoerotic behaviour needs to be dealt with incredibly delicately. It’s obvious that if queer-coding is only used in narratives to infer violence and manipulation, and never in the context of meaningful, loving relationship dynamics, then that’s censoring love in its true essence, by suggesting that homoerotic behaviour is only ever present in violent situations. I would argue that if you’re using your body to actively cause harm or cause suffering to someone else, or making threats to do this, then this is an example of a mental illness, it’s got nothing to do with your sexuality.
The issue is not the fact that Le Chiffre finds Bond attractive, it’s the fact that he’s taunting and threatening him with this fact. There’s a big difference. I think by interlacing the power-driven violent actions of Le Chiffre, and his queer-coded sexuality, this film is towing a very VERY fine line, between making his violent nature a reference point, and an active characteristic of LGBTQ+. Without a ‘non-violent’ example of a queer-coded LGBTQ+ character for reference, it is difficult for me to defend this script for creating this dynamic where everyone that’s queer-coded, is also a power-mad ‘bag guy,’ that will use his sexuality against someone.
Is it wrong to include the fear of sexual abuse in an action film?
I’m asking this question, because this is an action film, and the whole point of an action film is that there is violence in a kind of ‘semi-realistic’ way, with very little repercussions. When is violence ‘acceptable’ and when is violence ‘not acceptable’ in an action film? And in this torture scene, are the writers tapping into a genuine fear that some men have with other men of sexual violence (which does sometimes happen around the world, very distressingly)? Should scenes like this be included in these kinds of films, where a binary of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is created with the ‘hetero-masculine’ and the ‘queer-masculine’? Is it really a telling of ‘two sides,’ or is it just a plot about a man with a mental illness (who happens to be queer-coded), and how a cis-man (also having been referenced with mental health issues) handles it?
I would argue, as with many things, the issue comes down to representation. The script writers have ticked the box for the representation of queer-coded, violence-driven person who wishes to inflict violence on others in order to get money and power, but where are the loving, queer heroes? Where is the queer love story, with consent, healthy boundaries and kindness?
Arguably, after that torture scene, you could say Bond reveals himself as a queer-coded man himself. However, he never demonstrates any ‘queerness’ openly, with love or admiration, it’s only ever if a male interrogates him first that he comes out with lines like ‘the whole world’s going to know you died scratching my balls,’ implying that pleasuring a man is a metaphor for being defeated in that context, and the joke’s on Le Chiffre, Bond will genuinely enjoy it.
‘Coming out’ to the world is seen as a defeat in this context. Le Chiffre’s weakness is that he’s in the closet. And Bond’s ‘strength’ is that he’s ‘outted’ him, and he’s ‘dom’ in this sexual act, with Le Chiffre as ‘sub.’ There is a myriad of issues here about this representation, and I don’t have time to go into all of them, but please God, can we just accept that’s it’s ok to be bi, queer, pansexual, gay or otherwise, and that love is real!!!!!?!!
This dialogue also leads the audience to wonder… is Bond really queer at all, or is he trying to demonstrate his ‘superior’ masculinity by confirming he’s comfortable with ‘gayness; (but is still a ‘straight’ upstanding male who likes beautiful women, expensive watches, fast cars and gambling)? Is this scene normalizing homophobia and queerphobia, or is it just one man with his last cheap-shot left, on death’s door? In an action film, I think it can be difficult to see through the drama.
Is the audience encouraged to agree, or disagree with the way that Bond reacts to Le Chiffre? I think this is something that only audience members can decide, and it’s part of the intricacies of queer-coding – we never actually find out either of the characters’ sexual identities, it’s only briefly referenced. Maybe they’re both pretending?!
I would argue that if you’re type-casting a certain kind of person to infer sexual violence as a villain in film, without any other diversity of representation, then this is very, very wrong. What you’re doing is ‘normalizing’ this kind of binary of masculinity, where the queer-coded are ‘evil’ and the cis are ‘good.’ Yet again, I’m just going to state the obvious here… it’s ok to be bi, queer, pansexual, gay or otherwise , and love is universal!!!
Skyfall – Raoul Silva – Bond’s capture and questioning scene
As with Casino Royale, Skyfall also has a queer-coded villain in the form Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem). Also Like Casino Royale, Skyfall includes an interrogation scene, where Bond is tied to a (different) chair, and a (different) villain is teasing Bond with homoerotic suggestive comments (Bond does regularly find himself in a bit of a pickle in these kind of situations, doesn’t he?!). Unlike in the torture scene in Casino Royale, in this scene in Skyfall, Silva lightly and suggestively traces his hand over Bond’s chest, neck and thighs, while verbally making suggestive comments – arguably shown as another form of torture.
Silva: It’s about her [M] and you [Bond] and me. You see, we are the last 2 rats. We can either eat each other… Hm?
[Silva pauses his hand that he’s tracing over Bond’s scars on his chest, and looks up, suggestively]
Silva: Or eat everyone else […] What’s the regulation to cover this?
[Silva smiles and traces hand lightly round Bond’s Adam’s Apple on his neck. Bond remains silent and doesn’t react].
Silva: Well, first time for everything
[Silva runs his hands down Bond’s thighs].
Bond: What makes you think that this is my first time?
This scene is quickly ‘cooled off’ when Silva backtracks and suggests he’d never be interested in someone like Bond:
Silva: [Effeminately mocks Bond and leans back in his chair] ‘Oh, Mr Bond.’ [Looks Bond up and down] All this physical stuff, so dull, so dull… Chasing spies? So old fashioned.’ [Unties Bond’s hands behind chair and leads him to next scene, with a damsel in distress]
Again, in this scene we see the uncomfortable overlap between a power-mad terrorist, and a queer-coded man, coming-on to Bond, tied to a chair, with armed men standing behind him. As an audience member, how are we meant to separate his sex drive, from his morals? In this scene the two are completely intertwined. It’s not obvious from his actions what is his main driver in this scene – his sexual attraction to Bond, or his world take-over motivations.
Again, I would argue that this topic of homosexuality and violence needs to be handled incredibly delicately, and without the representation of LGBTQ+ characters who aren’t trying to takeover the world, it’s difficult not to criticise this kind of one-sided representation.
Also similarly to the last film discussed, this scene shows a sexually ambiguous side of Bond that we have never seen before in the film, although the audience are left wondering if he’s doing this to state his dominance, or state his sexuality (or maybe the film is suggesting it’s a combination of the two?).
The impact of queer-coding in film, when no-one actually ‘comes out’
Like the characters in Casino Royale, no-one’s officially ‘come out,’ i.e. announced what sexuality they identify as. We’re left with innuendos, and questions, that are never resolved in the plotline, and in a very British way, we’re just left to laugh at things (homoerotic and queer behaviour) that traditionally, has rarely actually been talked about.
I’m left asking myself the question: Is queer-coding countering censorship of LGBTQ+, or is it producing it?
And is it *just* queer-coding, or is it normalizing mental health issues, violence and abusive behaviour in bi, queer, pansexual and gay men? I’m hoping for change. I think it genuinely makes a difference to how you see yourself and others if you see people ‘like you’ on the screen. And by ‘like you,’ I mean characters that are obviously loving and kind (not homicidal terrorists with queer-code mannerisms and that taunts people with sexual innuendos.)
Temptation: Queer-coding, ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and homosexuality
The villains in Bond can also be seen as playing a ‘devil’s advocate’ character, revealing to the audience the characteristics of what Bond ‘isn’t’ as well as what Bond ‘is.’ In the example of Silva, he asks Bond why he bothers working for the Mi6 anymore, when he could have all the power he ever wanted, working as a freelance terrorost ‘bag guy.’ Bond responds mockingly, suggesting that terrorism is just a ‘hobby’ for Silva. Silva responds: ‘What’s yours?’ to which Bond responds: ‘Resurrection.’
I think this is an interesting scene in general, because both Bond and Silva have both had near-death experiences because of Mi6 decisions and mistakes. Silva is left with trauma and a deformed face (which we find more about later), and Bond is left with scar wounds on his chest, a drinking problem, and fatigue that leads him to fail the Mi6 medical and fitness tests. The difference here is that Bond remains loyal to M, whereas Silva betrays her by leaving Mi6 and causes terrorist attacks. In a similar way that Silva tries to tempt Bond away from Mi6 and into ‘freelance’ terror work, he also tries to tempt bond into homosexual sex. Both are treated as a betrayal in this context.
Bond’s death, followed by his ‘resurrection’ back to life suggests he did literally come back from the dead, whereas Silva’s attempted failed suicide following his years of torture, suggests he wasn’t trying hard enough in the first place. One character could be seen as being ‘close to God’ for sacrificing himself for an organisation, and one could be seen as ‘abandoning God,’ for coming back stronger after immense suffering, and going freelance. If only I could remember a similar story about resurrection and betrayal from a group of men with a similar ideology… I’m wracking my brains here!
Queer-coding and the treatment of women
Like Casino Royale, an emerging staple of the genre seems to be queer-coded villains treating women badly. Following the interrogation scene, Bond is shown as being forced to aim a bullet at a shot glass of whiskey balanced on the head of the tied up ‘damsel in distress’ Sévérine (played by Bérénice Marlohe), an accomplice of Raoul Silva, who collaborates with Bond and betrays Silva. Bond successfully manages to hit the shot glass, saving Sévérine, and the scene is then followed by Silva’s shooting and murder of Sévérine, without a second thought.
As Silva explains in this scene: ‘There’s nothing superfluous in my life. When a thing is redundant, it’s *blip* eliminated.’
Again we see the lack of Silva’s heart, and I would argue the lack of heart is used as a ‘queer-code.’ It’s coded that queerness is not the same as love.
The normalization of queer-coded violence – Where’s the line?
As I asked about the torture scene in Casino Royale, is it ‘wrong’ that the character of Silva is queer-coded? Is it wrong that homosexuality is referenced as an abuse of power in this scene? How do you draw the line on something like this, in an action movie, where violence is normal, and everything is shown in extremities?
As I’ve previously argued, I think one of the issues comes down to visibility.
I think the queer-coded villain is so entrenched in our perception of villains, and also our perception of gender, of sexuality and those ‘on the fringes’ of society, vs ‘those that are not’, I think it’s become societally conditioned, to the point where it’s quite difficult to recognise that queer-coding of villains is even happening at all. And personally I think diversity of story lines is urgently needed: representation matters.
As I said at the beginning of this blog, ‘queer-coding’ is the result of censorship in the 1920s in the US. But we’re not in the 1920s anymore. Please keep up, Hollywood!
Queer-coding and cyborgs
On top of all I’ve just mentioned, it’s interesting that the villains both have physical defects, and could be considered ‘cyborg’ – another reference to their ‘outsider’ status. Le Chiffre has bad asthma, and relies on an inhaler, even in the gambling scene, and Bond plants a microphone inside this inhaler as a way to get information. Le Chiffre also has a physical ailment, where he intermittently cries blood in one eye, and again, Bond is watching Le Chiffre’s every move, to try to see if he’s ‘bluffing’ in poker when this happens.
In the case of Raoul Silva, it’s later revealed that following the years of torture as an Mi6 agent under M’s management, he tried to commit suicide because of the agony he endured. The acid in the pill he took burnt the inside of his face, so that he now has to have a metal implant to prop his face up. Not only are these characters queer-coded, they’re cyborg-coded, they’re semi-human, they’re driven by evil, they’re violent, they’re effeminate and they’re not obviously into girls.
I think these ‘queer-coded’ characters have really had a rough ride, personally. Again, I’m going to state the obvious: It’s ok to be LGBTQ+. And love is universal.
This is the land of Bond and the land of fantasy, where the extremities of violence is ‘normal’ for those fighting for the definable binary: ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ The fact is, at the end of the film, Bond lives, and the ‘baddies’ die. You could argue this is an example of structural queer-phobia, although the political intricacies of this representation are sometimes difficult to spot, especially as the stories in both Bond films intertwine power-driven terrorism with queerness and the threat of sexual violence. (I actually quite liked these films before I started writing this blog).
I think the solution to this ‘type-casting’ is as simple as telling more than one side of the story in this, and create story lines with queer love, queer heroes, queer connection, queer morals… and maybe… MAYBE… have a few characters actually ‘come out.’ And maybe… MAYBE.. have a few character ‘come out’ that are actually not evil geniuses, and cyborgs (not there’s anything wrong with cyborgs). And maybe stop killing them off at the end?
These kinds of questions surrounding representation of queerness and wider LGBTQ+ themes are going to divide opinion, and I’m already aware of that. I think this is part of the issue of having a ‘heroes vs villains’ binary in mainstream entertainment in the first place – it is the creation of conflict and difference, and assigning meaning to different characteristics.
I’m hoping for change, and I’m hoping that queerness and LGBTQ+ themes are normalised in film and popular culture (without automatically putting them ‘on the fringes’ and calling them the ‘bad guys’), because let’s face it, queerness and LGBTQ+ is already normal, and it always has been. Queer love is the same as all love. And everyone deserves to be here.
It’s always possible to have a good story-line, without continuously ostracising one ‘group’, or people with certain characteristics. Hollywood… a bit of variety… PLEASE.
I think the conflict that we see created in film and entertainment is just imagined, and regardless of what representation is out there in the mainstream, we’re always just ourselves. There’s more than one way to be a ‘man’ and more than one way to be a person.
Love is universal, and conflict isn’t necessary to prove that.
You are amazing 😊
About the Author Anna Frances – LGBTQ+ merchandise
I’m a Bristol, UK based artist, poet, blogger and holistic healer, interested in the role of gender in popular culture.
As an artist, I have created art that gives an alternative narrative to LGBTQ+ themes often presented to us in mainstream media and culture. I identify as female, and I identify as bisexual, so that’s the context of my art, and the artwork that I’ve created covers themes of LGBTQ+ representation and universal love. You can check out my Bi in the 2000s™ merch at anna-frances.com/shop, or click the ‘Shop’ button in the left hand menu of this blog.
In terms of LGBTQ+ representation in film and tv shows, I’ve noticed some improvement in some areas (i.e. smaller budget films and tv series) and very little movement (if at all) in the bigger budget mainstream films and entertainment (for adults and for kids). I’m hoping for change.
Even with the increasing use of the ‘rainbow’ Pride flag (now often co-opted for commercial purposes) and even with the best intentions of many, homophobia does still exists in society. With bullying in schools and in the work place still common, I think that the representation of LGBTQ+ in the mainstream could really help prevent things like this from continuing to happen. I’m really proud of the Bi in the 2000s™ art and merchandise range, and I think these designs tell a really important story about LGBTQ+ and universal love.
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