Welcome to Part 2 of my James Bond Tarot series, where I match up one James Bond movie to each of the cards of the Major Arcana in the Tarot. If you missed Part 1, which ran from Casino Royale as the Fool to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the Lovers, feel free to go check it out now. And before we begin, I’d like once again to thank Deborah Lipp for helping me put together this list. Take a look at her website or her twitter.
VII. The Chariot: Die Another Day
We return to our list with Die Another Day, a film that sees Bond going rogue to track down a mole in MI6 whose betrayal left him imprisoned and tortured in a North Korean camp. The movie’s villain, Gustav Graves, turns out to be the disgraced son of a North Korean general; having undergone extensive plastic surgery to make himself unrecognizable, Graves (a.k.a. Zao) has a convoluted plan to use a diamond-powered satellite to destroy the land mines on the DMZ and finally earn Daddy’s love. This movie earns its slot as the Chariot because of Graves’s competitive character. He is possessed all-encompassing competitive drive and a need to win (and, specifically, to beat Bond) at all costs. This personality is also reflected in the movie’s femme fatale, Miranda Frost, who joined Graves’s cause after he helped her cheat her way to an Olympic medal. Moreover, Graves/Zao has a fundamentally dual nature: As a man with two faces, he is a beautiful representation of the soul as a chariot pulled by two horses.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: There’s an invisible car. AN INVISIBLE CAR.
VIII. Strength: From Russia With Love
The second film in the Bond franchise introduces us to Tatiana Romanova (called Tanya), a Soviet cypher clerk who is tricked by the crime syndicate SPECTRE into stealing a code machine and running away with James Bond. Tanya is technically a seductress, but she is also tender and earnest, and she genuinely falls in love with Bond. In a movie where most of the characters (including Bond) are hard and cruel, Tanya wins the day with unmatched gentleness and noblesse. Hers is the quiet inner strength that this card embodies. However, she is not without literal strength—at the end of the movie, it is Tanya, not Bond, who kills SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: In the final fight, Bond fends Klebb off with a chair in a caricature of circus lion-taming acts.
IX. The Hermit: Quantum of Solace
The plot of Quantum of Solace immediately follows the events of Casino Royale. Here, we see an introspective Bond who doesn’t appear in any of the other films. This is the only film in which Bond doesn’t have sex [with the female lead—thanks to Deborah Lipp for the correction], considering that the woman he loves just died in the timeline of the movie. Instead of the usual playboy, we get a haunted Bond who blames himself for Vesper’s death. He isolates himself, pushes away the people closest to him, and goes rogue in his quest for revenge on the multinational terrorist organization Quantum. At the end of the movie, Bond emerges stronger, wiser, and irreversibly changed—but only after he runs off to the Bolivian desert all by himself.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Bond ends up backstage at a performance of Tosca where the set is a giant eye.
X. The Wheel of Fortune: The Man With the Golden Gun
Fate is fickle. One day you’re on top of the world, and the next day you’re dead and your island lair is experiencing a nuclear meltdown. This is the lesson that Francisco Scaramanga, the villain of The Man With the Golden Gun, learns when he decides to test his mettle and see if he’s a better assassin than James Bond. (Big surprise: he’s not.) This film sees two world-renowned killers squaring off, and in the climax of the film, Bond defeats Scaramanga in a literal maze of smoke and mirrors—as Scaramanga finally learns that no matter how much he stacks the deck in his favor, he can’t always win.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: While trying to track down Scaramanga, Bond finds himself in a casino in Macau.
XI. Justice: The World Is Not Enough
The plot of The World Is Not Enough is driven by a tension between two different kinds of justice: Justice as impassivity and justice as retribution for past wrongs. After oil magnate Robert King is killed by the terrorist Renard, Bond is assigned as security detail to protect King’s daughter Elektra. Over the course of the movie, it’s revealed that Renard had previously kidnapped Elektra and demanded a ransom. Bond’s superiors at MI6, unwilling to negotiate with terrorists, had encouraged her father not to pay it. Elektra developed Stockholm syndrome and fell in love with Renard, and together the two of them hatched a plot to get revenge on the cruel impartiality of the British government and the father who was willing to abandon her.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: This is perhaps the only Bond movie in which the legal norms governing transnational oil pipelines are a driving force in the plot.
XII. The Hanged Man: For Your Eyes Only
No one more perfectly embodies the Hanged Man than Melina Havelock, the crossbow-wielding heroine of For Your Eyes Only. Havelock’s parents were archaeologists and spies (a winning combination) who were killed while searching for the ATAC, a transmitter that controls the UK’s fleet of nuclear submarines. Havelock is so consumed by her desire to avenge her parents’ deaths that she stops valuing her own life. As Bond tells her, “The Chinese have a saying: Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves.” Much of the plot of this movie centers on Havelock making peace with what happened to her parents, and learning how to move forward with her life.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Bond and Havelock get tied up with a great big rope and thrown off the back of a boat.
XIII. Death: Skyfall
This is a film full of death and rebirth. We see the new life given to several classic Bond characters, including a new Q and a new Moneypenny, as well as the return of Bond’s iconic Aston Martin. Bond fakes his death and runs away from MI6, but is eventually dragged back to his old life when Raoul Silva—a former MI6 agent presumed dead—attacks MI6 and vows to kill M. For the climax of the film, Bond and M flee to the former’s childhood home, where they square off with Silva and M is ultimately killed. But at the end of the movie, Bond’s superior is reborn, as the codename M is reassigned and Ralph Fiennes steps in as the new head of MI6. Skyfall reminds us that everything ends—but also that no ending is ever really permanent in the world of James Bond.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: M dies. It’s distressing.
XIV. Temperance: The Spy Who Loved Me
Temperance is the alchemical fusion of opposites, and the clearest place we see that in the Bond canon comes in The Spy Who Loved Me, where England and the Soviet Union must join forces to stop the madman Karl Stromberg. Stromberg plans to provoke nuclear war between the world superpowers, eliminating life on Earth so that he can start fresh and create a utopian society in his underwater lair (creatively named Atlantis). Bond ends up working with Soviet agent Anya Amasova to halt Stromberg’s scheme. She hates him at first—he had killed her lover, who was also a Soviet agent—but they put aside their personal and national differences in order to save humanity: A true union of opposites in the service of a higher purpose.
Bonus points for literalist imagery: Bond and Amasova have sex at the end of the film. That’s crude, I know, but the alchemical union is so often depicted as a sexual one that I think it’s worth calling attention to here.