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Below The Surface: The Subtext Of You Only Live Twice


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#1 Blue Eyes

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Posted 10 April 2002 - 11:31 PM

By John Cox (Zencat) and from the main site.

[quote]Good films have subtext.  What do I mean by subtext? On the surface  Raiders of the Lost Ark is about an archeologist seeking to find the fabled Lost Ark before the Nazis do.  That's its TEXT.  But is that all it's about?  Is this basic "plot" enough to tap into the worldwide public consciousness and produce a phenomenon?  No way.  What makes Raiders resonate, the reason we find ourselves saying, "That was a really good movie," is we are having an unconscious reaction to the SUBTEXT.  What Raiders is REALLY about is an atheist's search for God.  Now, you're not necessarily supposed to know this is what Raiders is about, but you ARE supposed to feel it.  It's one of the ways movies manipulate you emotionally.  And despite what some people will argue, good filmmakers use subtext the way they use lighting.  It's all very specific and intentional but designed to be invisible.

As a rule, subtext is communicated with metaphors.  To continue with the Raiders example:  In the beginning, when confronted with any mention of spirituality, Indy flatly says he doesn't believe in "all that hocus-pocus" and even calls the lightning coming from the Ark "the power of God OR SOMETHING."  He communicates skepticism without ever using the word atheist.  But the Ark can prove the existence of God; therefore, metaphorically, the Ark IS God.  By the end of the film, Indy has been "converted" by his experiences and commits the ultimate act of faith by closing his eyes when the Ark is opened.  "Don't look at it!" he screams to Marion.  Indy demonstrates that he does not seek proof.  HE BELIEVES, and therefore, God spares his life.  Now, if this movie were about its text, the ending would be a letdown.  After all, Indy loses the Ark.  But that's not the feeling we have at the end of Raiders because the REAL story has been resolved.  Indy got what he needed and a girlfriend to boot!  Raiders uses subtext masterfully as do most good films.

So for my Bond brethren here at CommanderBond.net, I've jotted down what I see as the subtext in three James Bond films:  You Only Live Twice, From Russia with Love,  and GoldenEye.  What follows may forever change the way you look at these three films.  Like Indy, you don't have to believe in all this "hocus-pocus," but I'm going to open the Ark of the filmmaker anyway.  It's up to you whether to look or close your eyes.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) -- James Bond in the Afterworld

You Only Live Twice is a perfect title for this Bond adventure.  Having been "killed" in the beginning of the movie, it's as if Bond is having an out-of -body experience.  After the megapic Thunderball, where else could Bond go but to the afterworld?  Never has a world seemed so out of Bond's control; yet never has Bond seemed so utterly resigned to his fate.  "I just might retire to here," he tells Tiger.  If one thinks I'm reading too much into YOLT, one only has to be reminded that the author of the screenplay is Roald Dahl, who wrote such psychedelic journeys as

#2 freemo

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 12:07 AM

Way cool zencat, great work. When I read it I thought "Wow, thats teriffic" then "But I can't believe that never occured to me". Makes you think of the movie in a different light, a better light perhaps. :)

#3 Double-Oh-Zero

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 12:25 AM

Wow. Utterly amazing article. I never viewed YOLT in this way, but now I can watch it in a different perspective. I can't wait for GE and FRWL perspectives. Great job, Zencat. I also noticed a "different world" feel when Bond tries the Siamese vodka, which isn't to his liking, but that could just be me.

#4 Ry

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 12:26 AM

I remember the first time that I had ever really understood subtext in a film was Jaws. This movie is riddled with subtext. Man against Man...Man against Nature...etc. Zencat, your example of Raiders is dead on. I believe that Spielberg and the people that write the screenplays for his films create a lot of subtext.
As far as the YOLT essay...that was amazing. I had never realized the significance of some many of those moments in the movie. You truly not only understand the Bond films, but screenwriting as well. Kudos!

#5 ray t

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 06:44 PM

Bring on that RUSSIA article!!!!!

cant wait to be freaked out...... :)

#6 zencat

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 06:59 PM

Glad to hear it, ray T!

I rewatched Goldfinger last night and, oh daddy, do I have some things to say about THAT movie. Get ready for a wild ride.

#7 Double-Oh-Zero

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 09:41 PM

If you don't mind telling me, I am curious to know if and why Oddjob fits into the subtext of GF. Of course, if you want to keep it a surprise...

#8 General Koskov

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 10:00 PM

Speaking of Oddjob, the first time I saw Bond toss his hat onto the hatrack, I thought that they got that from Oddjob! ^_^ Maybe Terence Young did have that idea. Who knows?

#9 zencat

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 10:57 PM

Double-Oh-Zero (16 Apr, 2002 10:41 p.m.):
If you don't mind telling me, I am curious to know if and why Oddjob fits into the subtext of GF. Of course, if you want to keep it a surprise...

Oh, Oddjob fits in. He's critical in fact. But I will leave it as a surprise...

#10 005

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 02:41 AM

I only had one complaint about the interpretation in an otherwise great article. The submarine as a phallic symbol? C'mon. It's a little much.

And this isn't really a complaint, but the metaphor is made moot by the makers deciding not to continue that theme of rebirth.

#11 General Koskov

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 03:28 AM

So You Only Live Twice isn't as bad as all that... Hmm! I had read the book first, so I got suspicious the minute we saw Bond's obit first thing. But anyway, that's a wonderful article Zencat. :)

Oh, and by the way: is the girl who takes over Bond's massage the Chinese girl from the PTS?

This I know: her name is Aki--the agent with the fancy Toyota. So how does she seem to know about Bond's 'interruption' from the Chinese girl in Hong Kong? Just from listening to Bond talk?

I'm confused, please help. ???

#12 DavidFries

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 03:36 AM

Zencat, you are a genius. You now have my utmost respect. This is the concept that often seperates a good film from a bad one. A deep film, from a hollow action flick. Kudos, Sir 'Cat.

#13 Mister Asterix

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 04:04 AM

Brilliant article, John. But you've messed up my Bond film watching schedule. I had just rewatched You Only Live Twice, and now you force me to watch it again. (thanks.)

#14 Blue Eyes

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 04:57 AM

I think most everyone has said what I have to say. It's a damn brilliant article. I read it and rewatched You Only Live Twice not long afterwards and it was a completely different experience. It shone a whole new light on the film.

#15 Xenobia

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 06:01 AM

Alas, I came to this post too late to add anything of great import.

I am reminded of a line from GE, when Trevalyan tells Bond half of what they do is luck, and the other hand is fate. It was fate that he turns in that last split second and it is fate that Aki's mouth is open and she takes the poison for him.

TWICE in YOLT Bond is in bed with a woman and begins to live again ( from the novel, Bond write a Haiku that goes something like this: You only Twice / Once When you are Born / Once when you face your death) by cheating death.

So once more Bond cheats fate, he cheats his own Haiku, and he proves that "only" doesn't play in his life. He lives longer than twice...longer than three times even.

John, you are brilliant and I look forward to reading your new pieces on the subtexts found in the other nineteen movies.

-- Xenobia

#16 Blofeld's Cat

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 06:10 AM

Truly amazing stuff, zencat.

I, personally, try not to read too much into the subtext, if any, of a Bond movie, but I enjoy reading about the thoughts of someone that does. Does that make me a little superficial?

As this is the first of three articles, I assume that You Only Live Twice was your first choice to analyse the subtext, so would that mean that it is the Bond movie with the most to talk about, as far as you

#17 Jim

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 06:31 AM

Very interesting piece, Zenkie. I have been told before that You Only Live Twice is, thematically, an exploration into Dante, alternatively Milton (Blofeld and his cohorts conspiring as per Lucifer and Beelzebub). I can see where you're coming from.

But I do like that funny little helicopter.

Damn, what a giveaway.

#18 Rolex

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 07:35 AM

Zencat piece is so funny, and well written but it also dangerous view of Bond films. I am sorry i just dont believe there is any sub text to any Bond films only nods and winks to changes in world / society views.
Come on do really believe Harry and Cubby employed Dahl or any of the screenwriter to give the films a hidden moral view? No they were employed to provide over the top stories or to modernize Flemings stories books to entertain.
If you have seen all the Bond film documentaries, you will note that the only hidden subtext mentioned is entertainment.
I will look forward to Zencats articles on this subject but only for entertainment value.

#19 remy

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 01:55 PM

Nice article, John. Roald Dahl was a very subversive author, I love his work on Bond. Matched with the visual zest of the mid sixties, John Barry, it all works to deliver the most surreal adventure to date. Of all the Bond films, YOLT is the most beautiful & mysterious, IMO.

#20 zencat

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 05:08 PM

[quote]Blofeld's Cat (11 Apr, 2002 07:10 a.m.):As this is the first of three articles, I assume that You Only Live Twice was your first choice to analyse the subtext, so would that mean that it is the Bond movie with the most to talk about, as far as you

#21 level007

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 05:55 PM

Great article Zencat.

I am particularly waiting your article about Goldeneye, because, few years ago i made an article like you about the Goldneye subtext.
I will not publish it, but i ll resume it in saying that in Goldeneye James bond die and reborn. If some people want to hear my theory, i ll post. If not i ll wait to read your (very goog i am sure) article about Goldeneye.


Again nice job, zencat. this is the kind of things that made CBN different from the others bond sites. This not just a 007 news site, but a website complete with news, article, forum, fan arts. CBN is the BEST (that s all)

level007

#22 Blue Eyes

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 10:25 PM

From about the "Anne in Tokyo" comment. That's really interested. I've always taken it as "M in Tokyo". For one, to my ears, that's what it sounds like. And two, M's reaction. He suddenly hits stop and sends Moneypenny out of the room. Is he prude? Is he old-fashioned? I always took as he didn't want Moneypenny to hear something about him.

#23 Tanger

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Posted 11 April 2002 - 10:41 PM

Blue Eyes (11 Apr, 2002 11:25 p.m.):
From about the "Anne in Tokyo" comment. That's really interested. I've always taken it as "M in Tokyo". For one, to my ears, that's what it sounds like. And two, M's reaction. He suddenly hits stop and sends Moneypenny out of the room. Is he prude? Is he old-fashioned? I always took as he didn't want Moneypenny to hear something about him.


I've always thought it was M too. I read in a reference book that it was M and according to my DVD subtitles it's M.
? ? ? ? ? ? ?

#24 Blofeld's Cat

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Posted 12 April 2002 - 01:30 AM

[quote]zencat (11 Apr, 2002 07:14 p.m.):
My next segment will cover FRWL and in that film I think the subtext comes from the Fleming book, not from Maibaum (warning: it's pretty "R" rated). I'll end with GE were the subtext is so obvious it's practically text.[/quote]
Like I said, can't wait, zencat. :)
[quote][quote]Blofeld's Cat (11 Apr, 2002 07:10 a.m.):
Firstly, his actual remark, as I remember it, was:

#25 Turn

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Posted 12 April 2002 - 02:27 AM

And I thought only films like American Beauty and Citizen Kane could be looked at for subtext. Of almost all the Bond films, YOLT was one I thought would contain the least subtext.

Somebody needs to show this piece to the eggheads who think Bond is just a popcorn series. Thanks, Zencat. You've given me a new excuse to watch the films again.

#26 The Girl With The Golden Gun

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Posted 12 April 2002 - 01:09 PM

level007 (11 Apr, 2002 06:55 p.m.):
Great article Zencat.

I am particularly waiting your article about Goldeneye, because, few years ago i made an article like you about the Goldneye subtext.
I will not publish it, but i ll resume it in saying that in Goldeneye James bond die and reborn. If some people want to hear my theory, i ll post. If not i ll wait to read your (very goog i am sure) article about Goldeneye.


level007


Level007, i'd be very interested in reading ur theory on GE. email [email protected] thanks

#27 White Persian

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Posted 18 May 2002 - 01:02 PM

[quote]Blofeld's Cat (11 Apr, 2002 07:10 a.m.):

[quote] zencat:
Bond admits to Tiger that he's never been to Japan, which is odd for a man as worldly as James Bond, and didn't he mention an affair with "Ann in Tokyo" in From Russia with Love?[/quote]
Firstly, his actual remark, as I remember it, was:

#28 General Koskov

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Posted 18 May 2002 - 06:49 PM

Yes, You Only Live Twice's a mess. It has wonderful subtext, but it's a mess. It needs a remake.

And why, for the love of God, doesn't Bond salute M.?

#29 The Girl With The Golden Gun

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Posted 12 April 2002 - 01:13 PM

so, with the theme of resurrection and second lives in mind, are you saying that in this context, given that Blofeld is essentially the devil, 007 is God?

if this is so, then it can be interpreted that YOLT is leaden with religious undertones, one being that Christ can appear in any form (as Bond wears black during is meeting with M, itself a metaphor for perjury) and another that evil is ultimately self destructive??

#30 Lonely Gunman

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Posted 13 April 2002 - 12:37 AM

It