GOLDENEYE was the first James Bond film to deal with time. This can appreciated right after Daniel Kleinman's iconic main title sequence, when we see the secret agent driving his classic Aston Martin DB5 in the mountain roads of the South of France and a caption lets us know that this event takes place nine years after the pre-credits sequence, where 007 blew up a chemical weapons facility in the Soviet Union: the indication of this compound's location in the USSR is also a clear evidence of the times as it should have taken place somewhere in the 1980s - 1986, to be precise, as documented by John Gardner's novelization and a simple mathematical calculation: if the film takes place on the same year it was released, 1995, then nine years before those events result in 1986 - although earlier drafts hinted 1984 as there was a mention that the Russian soldiers patrolling the facility were watching the Olympic Games of that year. Ourumov's electronic dossier, seen at M's office, points out that the destruction of the Archangel facility took place in 1984, too. Either way, GOLDENEYE firmly establishes that the pre-credits and the rest of the story take place in two different geopolitical contexts.
During the opening sequence, we are introduced to three relevant characters in the story: James Bond, the leading character, British Secret Service agent 007 played by Pierce Brosnan; Alec Trevelyan, British Secret Service agent 006 played by Sean Bean; and Colonel Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov, a high-ranking Red Army officer played by Gottfried John. Bond bungee-jumps from a dam and gains access to the Archangel Chemical Weapons Facility through the vents, meeting with Trevelyan who infiltrated the place from the basements (once again, according to Gardner's novelization). The two operatives have to blow up the facility along with the nerve gas canisters stored in the distribution area. They succeeded in making it to the place without arousing suspicions, but suddenly an alarm wails, and they have to finish the job while several olive-uniformed troops led by Colonel Ourumov, the man in charge of the facility, comes to stop them. Bond escapes and succeeds in blowing up the compound, but Trevelyan is killed in action with a single bullet fired by Ourumov.
At a glance, the pre-credits sequence may only look like a thrilling succession of spectacular stunts and shoot-outs. However, it does much more than giving us thrills: it contextualizes us into a time and age and introduces us to three key characters of the film that will be influenced by the passing of time. Bond, Trevelyan and Ourumov will take actions and get affected by the events taking place between the Archangel operation and the main film, separated by these nine years artistically represented by the main title sequence: we are talking about the fall of the Soviet Union, the emergence of a democratic Russia followed by the independence of the old Soviet states, and a much more globalized world than ever before given the advent of new technologies - primarily, the internet.
We start with James Bond himself. For more than thirty years he was MI6's top agent, a Royal Navy commander, the ultimate Cold Warrior who served under the orders of Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, the officer who ran the British Intelligence as played by Bernard Lee or Robert Brown. M's office at the Ministry of Defence was decorated in a way that resembled an old war room or the stateroom of a warship. Now, in the mid-1990s, a female accountant has been given command of MI6 and took the position of M, leading all type of changes into the place such as increasing the presence of technology in the situation room, swapping the old naval battle paintings for abstract works, and allowing a bunch of analysts to define the course of action based in their equipment and assessment before the field operative is sent to his mission. Naturally, this upsets Bond very much. He feels the new M is a fish out of the water, not only because she is a woman, but also because she is a civilian and a pen-pusher. Someone more interested in numbers than an agent's instincts or actions. "The Evil Queen of Numbers", as he and Tanner jokingly call her. Their first briefing is very tense, as M mentions that one of the people who had access to the Severnaya Space Weapons Control Centre -which has been mysteriously destroyed right after a missing NATO helicopter landed nearby- was Ourumov, now promoted to General and with apparent political ambitions. The new leader of MI6 goes on by stating that the analysts rule him out: "He doesn't fit the profile of a traitor".
This inflames 007, who questions the relevance of these civilians interfering with his job: "Are these the same analysts who said GoldenEye couldn’t exist, who said the helicopter posed no immediate threat and wasn’t worth following?!" M then comes clean with Bond and brands him as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" and "a relic of the Cold War". The "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" has been analysed to the core in many publications, but little has been said of the idea of Bond as "a relic". Indeed, it was the 90s, this modernity, this passing of time, these geopolitical changes and these new technologies that placed him as a relic - because he certainly wasn't interpreted as a relic even in productions that are closer to GOLDENEYE, such as 1987's THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. He's not even seen as a relic in the pre-credits sequence of this very film. So, this phrasing by Judi Dench's M, which we could never imagine coming out of the mouth of Bernard Lee or Robert Brown, gives us the feeling that in only nine years James Bond became obsolete, after the end of the Cold War or the emergence of new technologies that facilitate intelligence operations.
M decides to give Bond a vow of confidence and sends him out to Russia to investigate the disappearance of the Tiger helicopter and the GoldenEye satellite weapon from the Severnaya station before its destruction. However, the feeling of being outdated won't end there: once he reaches St Petersburg, his CIA contact Jack Wade will show contempt at Bond's adherence to the protocol: "Another stiff-assed Brit with his secret codes and passports. One of these days you guys are gonna learn just to drop it."
To find the mysterious Janus, the man who stole the helicopter and the GoldenEye, 007 will have to make a bargain with former KGB agent turned arms dealer Valentin Zukovsky. This is complicated because, in the old days, Bond shot him in the leg (besides stealing his car and taking his girl) and gave him a permanent limp. Much like Wade, Zukovsky will mock Bond for his loyalty to Queen and Country in a time where Capitalism and free-market economy have changed things and people tend to lack ethical values when it comes to making profit - Zukovsky being the primary example, as he stopped serving Mother Russia to begin his arms-dealing business under the front of a nightclub that unsuccessfully tries to mimic those of the West." Still working for MI6, or have you decided to join the 21st century? I hear the new M is a lady," he disrespectfully tells the secret agent.
The way James Bond is feeling in the 1990s is mirrored in many ways by General Ourumov. In the pre-credits sequence, during the glory days of the Red Army, we see him proudly showing off his uniform and walking with a commanding presence to order the British intruders to surrender. From his electronic dossier briefly shown at M's office, we see that Ourumov has been given command of the Space Division and promoted to General by Mikhail Gorbachev following the destruction of the Archangel facility. Despite that, it is understood that he took part in the failed August 1991 coup to overthrow Gorbachev's government when the Soviet leader took friendlier policies towards the West. Fearing that the Soviet Union would be dissolved, members of the KGB and the Red Army joined a conspiracy led by vice-president Gennady Yanayev to take over the Kremlin and move Gorbachev out of the way to reinstate a pro-Soviet government. In the end, the coup failed, and the conspirators were arrested or committed suicide shortly before the USSR was completely dissolved and Boris Yeltsin became the first president of the Russian Federation. According to MI6's dossier, Ourumov's involvement in this coup couldn't be proved, as the only witness that could identify was among those who committed suicide.
The General himself provoked an EMP detonation over the Severnaya Space Weapons Control Centre to steal the GoldenEye weapon, with the complicity of an insider who "survived" (computer wizard Boris Grishenko). Three days later, he is summoned to deliver his report to Defence Minister Dimitri Mishkin and a group of council members, all part of the new Russian democracy. "I have concluded this crime was committed by Siberian separatists seeking to create political unrest," he gallantly justifies. However, the politician hits the General soundly when he mentions that two workers of the station were missing. We see his worried expression when he finds out there is a witness for his doings, and Mishkin takes the opportunity to hit again: "It would seem presumptuous to blame this incident on Siberian separatists before the whereabouts of your own people are determined. Do you agree?"
Bond and Ourumov are two "relics of the Cold War" whose relevance or existence is questioned in modern times, and both feel uncomfortable serving under the orders of civilians. They deep inside feel people like M or Mishkin don't understand their line of work or their old-school patriotism, which strongly contrasts to the values and ethics of other characters in the story more interested in filling their own pockets, surviving or executing revenge plans. The difference between the two is that Ourumov ultimately betrays his nation and joins forces with the Janus syndicate to become the next "Iron Man of Russia" and possibly reinstate a Soviet government in the country: exactly what the 1991 conspirators wanted to do and failed. Bond, on the other hand, never negotiates his patriotism and devotion to the cause, even when he is invited to Trevelyan to "join his little scheme". Their physical appearance also deserves a mention: during the events set in 1986, Ourumov looks tidy, clean and confident. We get to see his ash-blonde hair in a part of this introductory sequence. Near the half of the film, in 1995, when the Defence Minister learns Ourumov has indeed orchestrated the theft of the GoldenEye weapon, we see the General is completely dishevelled, sweaty and grizzly-haired, constantly taking sips of an alcoholic beverage from his silver flask. This contrasts with the appearance of Bond, who in nine years still retains his youthful looks and hasn't aged a day. The passing of time affected both Bond and Ourumov, but it did hit the latter more profoundly.
The only character left to analyse in this article is the villain himself, Alec Trevelyan. Just as Bond was planting explosives on the gas tanks, he stops to find his collague subdued by Ourumov, who is trying to force 007's surrender. Bond resets the timers to three seconds instead of the arranged six and, ten seconds later, Ourumov shoots Trevelyan with a single shot of his Makarov pistol: "For England, James!" are the last words of this knight of Her Majesty's Secret Service. His ending couldn't be more patriotic and loaded of pathos. Nine years later, Bond is still feeling a pinch of guilt for not being able to save his friend's life, a result of putting the mission first or the knowledge that if he surrendered himself to the Soviets none of them would leave the compound alive. Making an arrangement with Zukovsky and facing off the lethal Xenia Onatopp, 007 heads to a desolated park in St Petersburg in the death of night which served as a dumpster for the Soviet ideology: stone statues and busts of Lenin and Stalin are crawling around along with giant stars, hammers and sickles. This is the place where he will rendezvous with the mysterious Janus, who turns out to be none other than Alec Trevelyan, who is alive and well.
Like Wade and Zukovsky, Trevelyan will sneer at Bond's outdated ethical codes and patriotism, calling him "Her Majesty's loyal terrier". The former 006 has been holding a grudge against the British for decades, unable to forget his Lienz Cossack lineage, as his parents were among this group of partisans who fought for the Nazis against the Russians during World War II, surrendered to the British in Austria and were deported back to Russia where Stalin had them shot. In the case of Alec's parents, they committed suicide, and he ended up being raised by the British and serving the country which lead his parents to this tragic ending. Beyond this personal angle, Trevelyan also showcases how the passing of time diminished the relevance of spies and Cold Warriors, which is a feeling shared by Zukovsky when he feels Bond hasn't decided to join the 21st century: "Did you ever ask why we toppled all those dictators, undermined all those regimes, only to come home: 'Well done, good job, but sorry, old boy... everything you risked your life for has changed'." A similar idea would resurface in the 1996 Brian De Palma film MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE in the voice of Jon Voight's Jim Phelps who reflected that spies after the end of the Cold War became "an obsolete piece of hardware, not worth upgrading".
Bond has no visible marks of the passing of time in his face and body, while Ourumov's hair became greyer. In the case of Trevelyan, he shows no signs of ageing, but the right side of his face shows burn scars caused by the explosion set off by 007 during the mission in Archangel. This fact, along with his dual personality, made him go under the name of the two-faced god Janus. According to Roman mythology, Janus presided over the transition between past and future, beginning and endings. In GOLDENEYE, we see that past and future is dictated by his doings: the repatriation of the Lienz Cossacks by the British in 1945 is directly linked to his revenge plan against the British in 1995, the events of the Archangel operation (the past) determines his relationship with Bond in the future and the acceptance that Bond's devotion for Britain is too big to join his plan: "007's loyalty is always to the mission, never to his friend". When Bond tries to pit Ourumov against Alec using the fact that his parents were Lienz Cossacks that betrayed the Soviets during a tense moment onboard Trevelyan's ICBM train, the treacherous 006 will justify himself by saying World War II "is in the past", which also marks this administration of the time attributed to the Roman god: only he can decide what belongs to the past and what belongs to the present. His particular revenge plan against the British also deals with the time, as he proudly comments that after the GoldenEye is fired over London and every computer would be irreversibly damaged, the country will "re-enter the Stone Age" and pay the cost of betrayal "inflation-adjusted to 1945".
Trevelyan's uttering of the patriotic pledge he shared with Bond, the words "For England, James", also serve as a bridge to the beginning and the end of the film, as he says it during the Archangel mission in 1986 and the climax of the story in 1995, where he has his final showdown with his former friend on top of an antenna transmitter in the Cuban jungle.
Every James Bond adventure has been representative of its time and age in 59 years of history, yet GOLDENEYE had the particularity of being the first post-Cold War production and the one that meant the resurgence of the character after more than six years of absence. Back in the early 90s, people wondered how would Bond survive or be adapted into the new decade en route to the new millennium. Cleverly, scribes Michael France, Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein didn't just give us the final result. Instead, they rewarded usthe chance of seeing 007's adaptation into the new decade right before our eyes. It is the ultimate testimony that no matter how much the world changes, we still need Bond to be part of it.
The author has written The World of GoldenEye and For England, James: Notes on the Visual Impact of GoldenEye