Answering the age old question: Is James Bond an Alias or a Real Name?
Note: I first wrote this in 2015, arguing that James Bond is a codename but he doesn’t know it. I content that the man who knows himself as James Bond has been brainwashed and all the answers live within the 2012 film Skyfall. The following is my original argument about it, followed by further analysis added after the release of Spectre and No Time to Die.
For decades, there has been an ongoing debate over the continuity of the James Bond films. This is known as the “James Bond Codename Theory” or simply “the codename theory”.
What is James Bond’s name?
Specifically, the debate is between two options:
- James Bond is his real name: the James Bond films do not care at all about continuity, and yes, each character is named James Bond, and he’s the same James Bond, who cares that he looks and acts different all the time, or
- James Bond is a code name: the James Bond films tell one long story, in which a variety of men adopt the codename of James Bond when they join MI6.
Well, the debate has mostly subsided after the 2012 film Skyfall, as many people found it to be proof that James Bond’s name is James Bond, considering that Daniel Craig’s Bond goes to his childhood home, named Skyfall, where he looks at the gravestones of his parents, whose names are Mr. and Mrs. Bond.
These gravestones and the entirety of Skyfall suggest, definitively and with no ambigiuty for most viewers, that James Bond is absolutely not a codename.
But what this article presupposes is… maybe James Bond is a code name?
What I suggest instead is this: James Bond is an alias, but James Bond doesn’t know that it’s an alias. Why? Because the man who knows himself as James Bond has been brainwashed.
The suggestions of this reality are all there, with one standing above all the others: the relationship between Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem’s character), M (Judi Dench), and James Bond. Bardem’s Silva is a former MI6 agent who worked under M, before taking up the occupation of cyber-terrorist. Throughout the film, he repeatedly attempts to bond with 007, including referring to both himself and Bond as rats, held and tortured by M.
And this next part of my theory is a credit to Bardem’s acting, as it’s something I cannot capture through simple plot synopsis and analysis. There is an element to Bardem’s acting that not only ensnares you, but in which it appears that he has a secret he isn’t sharing. His grin, his eyes, his body language, and the way he lingers on certain words as he speaks.
Columnist Stephen L. Carter has suggested that this secret is that Silva is the long-lost son of M, writing about it in “The Secret James Bond Missed in Skyfall.” While I agree with the evidence for this, my interpretation is not that he is the literal son of M, but that he identifies as one of her many sons, as all her agents are her sons.
But Silva is also this: the only other living James Bond.
It explains his connection (and affection) regarding Bond, his disdain for M, their complicated dynamic, and, finally, let’s return to Bardem’s acting. Remember that knowing look of his?
It’s on full view as he arrives at Skyfall, casually walking out of his helicopter and tossing grenades at the house. He remembers Skyfall well. It’s the place he had once been brainwashed into believing was his childhood home. Just as Daniel Craig’s Bond was brainwashed into thinking the same thing. The brainwashing was so thorough, the identity so complete, that Silva even knew Bond would bring M there, and he had prepared for it. Not only is it the place where they are brainwashed into believing they were raised, but it is also the place where their training and brainwashing occurred.
This also explains Silva’s thorough need to “make an entrance as he attacks” and, ultimately, leave the estate in shambles, by shredding the home with bullets, tossing grenades into it, and ultimately burning it down. He considers himself so betrayed, so thoroughly manipulated, that killing M and discrediting MI6 isn’t enough: he must burn down the place where it all started.
Finally, this ties into the other films, particularly the loose continuity that ties them all together. An example being, how was Judi Dench the only character who bridged from the Pierce Brosnan films to the Craig films? And why do some of the James Bonds remember things that happened to Bonds played by different actors, i.e. Roger Moore remembering the dead wife of Lazenby’s Bond or Brosnan referencing the Thunderball jetpack used by Connery.
The one answer to all the lingering questions regarding 007 is simple: yes, James Bond is a codename, but no, James Bond doesn’t know it’s a codename.
Now let’s considered this debate settled, and starting looking forward to Spectre.
That’s how I originally ended this argument. Here is a continuation of the argument regarding Spectre and No Time to Die and how they can continue this theory.
How Spectre Fits into the Codename Theory
Spectre is one of the strangest James Bond films. At times it feels like the rebootiest soft reboots possible—despite being the fourth film in the Craig sequence—with M once again a man, Moneypenny once again an administrative assistant, and Q back to being a gadget-dispensing funnyman.
It also sees the return of Blofeld—the primary antagonist of three Bond novels and many early Bond films.
It’s Blofeld—and the use of his character—that, for me, confirms the brainwashed Bond theory in Spectre. A recap of the entire plot of Spectre isn’t needed here, but what deems repeating:
- Christoph Walz, as Blofeld, pretends his name is Franz O-something but then turns out to be named Blofeld. He reveals this via a big villainous monologue, much the same way that Cumberbatch’s John Harrington revealed himself to be Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness
- Blofeld turns out to be Bond’s sorta adopted brother figure or something
- Blofeld has a cat, just like a) Connery-era Blofeld and b) Dr. Evil, who was inspired by Connery-era Blofeld
- Bond decides not to kill Blofeld at the end, even when he can
- Most important to Spectre’s relationship to the brainwashed Bond theory is that it turns out Blofeld has been puppet-mastering everything that happened to Bond over the last three films. He’s the reason all the Bond women die. He’s the reason for every Bond (mis)adventure. The blood-weeping Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, the forgettable bad guy in Quantum of Solace, the Javier Bardem villain in Skyfall—each of these, we learn from Blofeld, were his doing.
As he declares:
Me. It was all me, James. It’s always been me. The author of all your pain.
This is before Blofeld appears, at the end of the film, with his trademark scar.
Yes, Spectre fits within the brainwashing fan theory
Not only does Spectre fit well with the codename theory, but once you accept it—once you really lean into the “James Bond is a name given to brainwashed secret agents who don’t understand the extent to which they function as secret agents”, it’s hard to understand what’s happening otherwise.
Why the dramatic reveal of the name Blofeld, as if that name would mean something to Bond?
Why the sudden suggestion that Blofeld has been the author of all Bond’s pain?
And no, not just what we’ve seen in the films. All your pain, Blofeld says.
So what’s happening here?
How does Blofeld fit into the theory?
A few possibilities:
- Blofeld himself is another brainwashed entity, not entirely aware of how he fits into this. Far from the true pain author he imagines himself to be.
- Blofeld was literally the author of Bond’s pain, all the way to the beginning. He worked for MI6, brainwashing agents to believing themselves to be Bond. He then split off and became his own entity
- Or, the above, but he still does work for MI6 in some function. Spectre and MI6 serve the same master. Some kind of prescribed good-and-evil, duality of man, order and chaos Janus-faced dynamic. I don’t love this one, but it’s possible.
I know that my typical style—and the style of all fan theories—is to choose an absolute stance and to argue for that absolute. In this case, I’m reluctant to do so.
It’s a lot to ponder.
I think that Walz’s Blofeld easily fits into my take on Bond. How, exactly, is something I still haven’t determined.
And what about No Time to Die?
One thing that needs to be said about No Time to Die: it’s the first time we’ve seen a Bond die, and the first time an actor’s time as Bond has come with a conclusive chapter.
There’s nothing in No Time to Die to disqualify this fan theory—aside from any direct acknowledgement of it, after Bond’s death. But to be clear, I don’t want or need such an admission, ever.
That’s what makes fan theories fun. We don’t want them to be proved.
For me, the biggest question remains: what do they do next? I do hope they resist scrapping all the new characters—but will that require a new 007 or will we have to see a new character named Bond? Do they have no choice but to opt for the brainwashing theory?
But wait, does James Bond have a middle name?
According to internet misinformation, his middle name is Herbert.
According to one of the books, he has no middle name:
“No middle name. No hyphen. A quiet, dull, anonymous name.”The Man with the Golden Gun (the book)
According to the movies, it appears there isn’t one.
So who knows?
Interested in more on this subject? Read the follow-up to this blog post: James Bond, Fan Theories, and the Fragile Online Fan.