I love James Bond. I grew up with him. The Bond movies are the only films my parents own, and I’ve seen each of them (yes, even Never Say Never Again, which isn’t canon) so many times I’ve lost count. My family’s Thanksgiving tradition during my childhood was always to get Chinese takeout and watch James Bond movies all day—sometimes all weekend—long. I’ve read the novels, I’ve gone to museums and special exhibitions, I’ve bought coffee table books and pored over the trivia and read autobiographies. I love James Bond.
Today, dear reader, let’s have some fun. Let’s wed two of my great loves, and design for ourselves a James Bond Tarot. There are, to date, twenty-four Bond films, with a twenty-fifth one (starring a recalcitrant Daniel Craig) on the way. That means we have one film for each card in the Major Arcana, plus two left over. Today will be Part 1 of the list, running from the Fool through the Lovers. Before we dive in, though, I’d like to take a moment to thank Deborah Lipp, who has written books both on Tarot and on James Bond, for helping me to come up with this list; she’s probably the only person in the world who knows more than I do about both Tarot and Bond. Check out her website or her Twitter.
0. The Fool: Casino Royale
This 2006 soft reboot of the Bond franchise introduces us to Bond before he was Bond. A gritty opening sequence in black and white shows the assassinations that earned Bond his iconic number 007. In this movie, we meet a young Bond who has yet to be hardened by the world of espionage. He falls in love with the incomparable Vesper Lynd, who—it turns out—is being blackmailed by the film’s villain. Casino Royale is all about Bond before he lost his innocence and turned into the cold-blooded playboy assassin we all know and love. After Vesper’s betrayal, Bond stops trusting anyone, and M remarks to him, “Then you’ve learned your lesson”.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Early in the movie, Bond is lured into chasing and brawling with a terrorist atop a set of cranes. The precariousness of their position falls right in line with the Fool standing at the edge of the cliff.
I. The Magician: Doctor No
“Bond. James Bond.” With these iconic words, the first Bond movie introduced the world to Agent 007. This movie defined Bond as a character and the spy film as a genre. While some hallmarks of the Bond film didn’t appear until later (such as Goldfinger‘s Aston Martin), Doctor No set the tone for all the films that followed. Bond is the smooth-talking seducer who appears out of nowhere and makes Honey Ryder fall in love with him. He’s the clever mystery-solver who debunks the island’s mythical dragon as a ruse being used by SPECTRE agents to scare people away. He’s the level-headed quick thinker who can survive an attempt at assassination by tarantula. And he’s the hard-hearted assassin who has no compunction about killing in the name of Queen and country.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: When we first meet Bond, he’s card-sharking (in a tuxedo, no less) at the Baccarat table.
II. The High Priestess: Live and Let Die
I mean, come on. This one is easy. Live and Let Die featured an ingenue Jane Seymour as Solitaire, the Tarot-reading virgin prophetess kept as a slave by the villainous Dr. Kananga. Although she eventually loses her precognitive power when Bond uses a stacked Tarot deck to seduce her, Solitaire’s mystical powers are a driving force in the film’s plot, allowing Kananga to anticipate Bond’s movements. At one point, she offers Bond a Tarot reading, and gently mocks him when he draws the Fool. (“You have found yourself, Mr. Bond.”) The card she uses as her own significator? You guessed it. The High Priestess. Furthermore, Solitaire is also the guardian of mysteries in a more practical and less supernatural sense: Once she joins forces with Bond, she’s able to give him inside information about Kananga’s operation, helping to save the day.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Just look at the damn picture.
III. The Empress: Octopussy
There are few women in the Bond universe forceful enough to match Bond blow for blow, but Maud Adams in Octopussy manages it. She is a refined gentlewoman and a jewel smuggler, the daughter of a disgraced British officer whom Bond had once been assigned to kill. In addition to her criminal activities, she heads an octopus cult and lives on an island populated by women, where no men are allowed. She is unashamed of her sexuality, but unlike most women in the Bond universe, she is Bond’s equal rather than his conquest; as she tells him, “We’re two of a kind”. (A sentiment echoed in the film’s theme song, All Time High.) She lives a life of wealth and extravagance funded by her smuggling, but the money is more for others’ benefit than for her own: More than anything else, she worries about taking care of the women who live on her island.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: She lives in a literal palace full of (octo)pussy-worshipping women.
IV. The Emperor: Tomorrow Never Dies
Elliot Carver, the villain of Tomorrow Never Dies, is a media mogul with a grand plan to ensure he always has the inside scoop: He’s going to incite war between China and the UK, and as the one who caused it, he’ll be the first to know what’s going on so that his networks can report it. Carver is, in a word, megalomaniacal. He is obsessed with his own greatness and with the legacy of the media empire, and unbothered by the thought of being responsible for mass bloodshed. Carver believes that he’s above everyone else, that it’s his right to play God. However, despite his arrogance and his cruelty, he still is intelligent, powerful, and charismatic.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Carver’s company is called the Carver Media Group Network. It’s very explicitly identified as his own personal communications empire.
V. The Hierophant: GoldenEye
In GoldenEye, Dame Judi Dench took over the role of Bond’s superior, known only by the code letter M. Bond has always had a challenging relationship with authority, but making him subordinate to a woman completely redefined that relationship. Dench’s M is cold and analytical. She has no patience for Bond’s antics, and is much more interested in protocol and proper methods than in Bond’s loose cannoning. After the terrorist Janus steals a helicopter prototype, Bond and M have a standoff in M’s office. She tells him she knows what he thinks of her, but she simply doesn’t care: “You don’t like me, Bond. You don’t like my methods. You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts … [but] I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” The conflict between M’s traditionalism and Bond’s desire to trust his gut above all else dominates this movie, but also sets the tone for the Bond/M relationship in every film that follows.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: There’s also a scene where Natalya, the film’s leading lady, meets her colleague Boris (played by the extraordinary Alan Cumming) in a church.
VI. The Lovers: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
There can only be one choice for this card. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not one of the better-known Bond films—in many ways, it doesn’t stand the test of time—but it is extraordinary because it sees Bond fall in love. The Bond of OHMSS is not the capricious playboy we see elsewhere in the franchise. Not only does he fall in love, but at the end of the movie he gets married to Tracy (Teresa) Draco, the daughter of a Corsican mobster who helped Bond track down the leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE. Immediately after their wedding, Tracy is murdered in a drive-by shooting by SPECTRE’s goons. The film closes with a heartbroken Bond cradling her in his arms and weeping as he says, “It’s all right. It’s quite all right … We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.” To date, this is one of the most emotional and heart-rending scenes in the Bond universe, and until Casino Royale it was a point of continuity across the franchise that Tracy was the only woman Bond had ever truly loved.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: There’s a wedding.