Why do Bond villains need facial scars?

It’s time that filmmakers learnt they don’t have to disfigure a character to show he’s evil. A bad haircut works just as well

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A note of warning: the following article contains film spoilers and moments of political correctness that some people may find annoying. I went to see Skyfall, excited at the prospect of a Bond film with a decent plot, thrilling action sequences, feisty Bond girls, and shots of Daniel Craig with his top off. Skyfall has one other classic Bond element to it, one that I’d hoped they’d grown out of: the disfigured Bond villain.

I’m referring to the scene where Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem, suddenly removes his dental face implant to reveal a disfigured mouth and missing teeth. It’s implied that although Silva was always a bit dodgy, it took a facial disfigurement to make him a power-crazed wrong ’un. It’s shocking in its visual unpleasantness and unexpectedness, which was obviously the filmmaker’s intention.

I watched in the cinema with my husband, and half-joked, “I want the name of his dentist!” (I’m on the NHS waiting list for dental implants. Things are so bad I'm starting to covet my baby daughter’s milk teeth.) But the truth is the scene made me feel a little uncomfortable.

As anyone interested in the representation of disability and disfigurement in the cinema knows, facial disfigurement is often used to represent a character’s inner evil. Take the Batman films. Harvey Dent starts off in The Dark Knight as an honest, decent lawyer defending the rights of the good people of Gotham City. After half his face becomes disfigured in an attack, he turns into the murderous Two-Face. God forbid anything bad should ever happen to Shami Chakrabarti.

In the James Bond franchise, there is most famously Blofeld, played by Donald Pleasence in 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Blofeld had a long facial scar to signify his villainy, which was a bit pointless. A grown man who conducts his business with a cat on his lap clearly has issues.

In 1995’s Golden Eye, Sean Bean played a double-crossing and facially scarred secret agent. Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale had a scarred and bleeding left eye. Jaws in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, had his, erm, jaws. Zao in 2002’s Die Another Day had diamonds embedded in his face caused by an exploding briefcase. That film left me with a permanent fear of popping into H Samuel. The last thing I want is a load of exploding cubic zirconia embedded in my chin.

It’s disappointing that Skyfall, acclaimed for (slightly) improving the sexist portrayal of women, is still using facial disfigurement to provoke revulsion and promote the stereotype that disfigurement makes a person morally abnormal. It’s lazy film-making and, particularly within the Bond franchise itself, unoriginal. Javier Bardem played a genuinely terrifying villain in No Country for Old Men without the need to resort to a facial disfigurement. He just used a cold, hard stare and bad, bad hair. Surely, the time has come for film-makers to recognise that you don’t need to give a villain a disfigurement to show he’s bad? A dodgy, pudding-bowl haircut will do just fine.

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