“Quantum of Solace,” the new Bond flick, has been described variously by reviewers as noisy, tumultuous, violent, angry, devoid of suavity, and packed full of “glum anhedonia.” (This last line belongs to Dana Stevens of Slate, and bravo to her; it’s not often one works the word “anhedonia” into the pages of a major magazine, and rarer still that one does so with such offhanded panache.) But what to make of the title itself? It seems at first like willful obfuscation. There is no verb; we encounter only the blunt edges of those heavy nouns, one scientific and the other quasi-psychological. We imagine the quantum of solace to be an ugly weapon, fat and silvery, possibly nuclear, and probably hand-held. Will Daniel Craig’s Bond get there in time?
The answer, I can report, having seen the film yesterday, is yes—007 does eventually arrive at a quantum of solace, and quickly enough to save not only the globe but also his own inner world. For the titular “solace,” it turns out, is not a pistol, or even a car, but a respite from violence, and the attainment of inner peace. Bond, wracked over the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd, dodges from explosion to explosion, searching for revenge, and then that thing that comes after revenge, which we understand, vaguely, to be a truce. (For a real spy and soldier, which Bond is, there is no such thing as lasting quiet – only the space between wars.) The movie provides little of that, of course. The bullet shells are many; the bedroom scenes are short-lived; Bond is a cocked gun, waiting for someone to pull the trigger.
All of which proves the title, in the end, to be a lovely and well-crafted thing. Consider the other options a writer might have employed: “Modicum of Assuagement”; “Bit of Consolation”; “Dash of Alleviation”; a “Pinch of Abatement”; or, to flip the thing grammatically and contextually on its head, “Relaxation, in Small Pieces.” As Daniel Craig told the BBC earlier this year, there’s something poetic about the idea of a quantum of solace. (The dictionary definition of “quantum”: “The smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently, especially a discrete quantity of electromagnetic radiation.”) When [relationships] go wrong,” Craig explained, “when there’s nothing left, when the spark has gone, when the fire’s gone out, there’s no quantum of solace.”