This past weekend, Sean Connery died at the age of 90. Over the course of his career, which spanned more than half a century, Connery gave life to a host of iconic characters—but beyond that, he invented a new version of aspirational masculinity all on his own. At the same time, Connery was not without his flaws; behind that ideal picture of a gentleman were accounts of domestic violence, and comments he made that suggested they were true. On the occasion of his death, we remember the greatness of one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors—but also the misogyny that partially defined his character.
Bond … James Bond
What keeps me going back to Connery’s films is that little crinkle at the corner of his mouth that says none of this deserves to be taken very seriously. You can disagree with the stance—there’s a sense in which I think the James Bond movies ought to be taken very seriously, and probably fled from while screaming—but it opens a space between the human presence of Connery the actor and whatever’s happening on screen. And the actor, at least, can almost always be enjoyed on his own terms. Here we are playing with a particular cultural fantasy, the crinkle says, maybe not a particularly good one, but then, few of them are. It’s strange how often the best parts of the world and the worst parts are mixed together. Every time Connery slouches back against the silver Aston Martin and the wind picks up his tie, I see a little bit of both.
In the end, the clearest sign of Connery’s cultural legacy may be the thing that seems most opposed to what he represented in life—namely, how unbelievably fraught and effortful every single thing to do with the James Bond franchise seems these days. Daniel Craig plays the character as a borderline sadomasochist, a walking (and punching, and rocket-firing) emotional crisis vehemently repressed through sex and alcohol and (unseen but palpable) shopping orgies at Brunello Cucinelli. This may be a more realistic depiction of the psychological toll inflicted by the Bond lifestyle, but in pragmatic terms it reads as a concession to the fact that no one will ever bring Connery’s charm to this role again. If you don’t want to play the character as a watered-down reduction of the icon, the way Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan did, then the only choice is play it as his raging opposite, because that way at least you aren’t competing with Connery. —Brian Phillips
Welcome to the Rock
There are few things more satisfying than watching an actor relish every single line. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns; Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction; Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood; and yes, Sean Connery in The Rock.
Michael Bay’s wild second film has everything you’d come to expect from him: glass spheres of deadly green VX poison gas, a car-chase scene through San Francisco, and Nicolas Cage hamming it up as nerdy chemical weapons specialist Stanley Goodspeed. But even amidst all that, Connery steals the show. SAS captain/secret agent John Mason—the only prisoner ever to escape Alcatraz!—spends two hours spouting often-vulgar quips that have resulted in almost 25 years of bad, Scottish-accented impressions.
“Womack! Now, why am I not surprised, you piece of shit!”
“Welcome to the Rock.”
“Losers always whine about their best …”
To his credit, Connery plays Mason like he’s Old James Bond. (Except unlike 007, Mason is allowed to swear a lot.) It’s the last time he’s cast as a truly lethal weapon, and he makes the most of it. Even at 65, he’s so clearly the toughest, deadliest guy on the screen. I’m not even sure Clint Eastwood could’ve pulled that off. —Alan Siegel
You’re the Man Now, Dog
I don’t remember much about Finding Forrester, the 2001 Good Will Hunting do-over from Gus Van Sant in which Connery’s ornery, reclusive novelist mentors a young writer with advice such as “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” But I do remember what Connery’s character says when his protégé punches the keys: “You’re the man now, dog!”
I don’t know whether it was the outrageousness of a 70-year-old Scot speaking that sentence, the way Connery croaked the line, or some magical combination of words and brogue, but “You’re the man now, dog” was the most memorable part of the trailer for Finding Forrester. So memorable that it wound up on a website, yourethemannowdog.com, which looped the line over and over like an auditory GIF. That page made the Finding Forrester moment a meme and spawned a weird internet community called YTMND that was devoted to creating similar sites, many of which achieved their own barely explicable brilliance. In other words, without Connery, we wouldn’t have had the Picard Song.
Connery is gone, but YTMND, unlike a lot of early internet sensations, remains active. “You’re the man now, dog” proved that Connery didn’t have to be Bond or don the diaper with suspenders from Zardoz to go viral. Even out of context, his delivery could make meager material compelling. —Ben Lindbergh
Connery for $200, Trebek
Sean Connery’s place in my life can be separated into three distinct, important phases, all of them involving some level of near-catatonic repeat viewing of old performances—an aspect central to his legacy. There was the period during which I, as a kid, absorbed his work by osmosis thanks to my dad watching certain movies (Goldfinger; Diamonds Are Forever; The Hunt for Red October, in particular) over and over and over. There was the time, a good five years in length, when I did a ton of my own repeat viewing: of The Rock, time and again. And then there was the era of Sean Connery that was based around a performance that wasn’t actually him.
When the SNL “Best of Will Ferrell” show was released in 2002, it was instantly added to the TiVo recordings of every off-campus house, from the fratty to the tapestried, that I hung out in during college. (My fellow Elder Millennials out there know.) We watched that thing day and night, and one of the most crowd-pleasing bits—Ferrell as Alex Trebek; buy Claire’s book today!—also included Darrell Hammond doing Connery as a “therapist”-mispronouncing, Trebek-antagonizing contestant.
“I got some polite chuckles,” Hammond reminisced to Rolling Stone following Connery’s death, describing the initial reaction in the writers room when he first pitched the bit. But Hammond’s impression, which included threatening Trebek and misreading “Famous Titles” as “Famous Titties” in Connery’s trademark growling brogue, made it to the show. And it would go on to become “easily the most popular thing I’ve ever done,” says Hammond. I understand why. It was ultimately perhaps the most influential exposure I had to Connery, even if it was also the most tangential. —Katie Baker
Mr. Jones, Sr.
There’s a wild picture of Sean Connery on a golf course in Spain back in 1973. His hair is thin and his face is weathered, and it appears as though all his best days are behind him, that he’s about to go down for a nap. He was 43 in that photo. I’ll never get over that. Even earlier, at the height of his powers in his heartthrob heyday, Connery looked … older. It always seemed like Connery was passing time until his actual age caught up with his inner old man. And then, mercifully and gloriously, it did. He embraced the evolution in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade—at 58, Connery abandoned the feigned leading-man machismo shtick and went full AARP as Indiana Jones’s graybeard father, Professor Henry Jones. You can keep his early Bond roles. I’ll take Connery as the elder Jones, pompously and erroneously quoting Charlamagne, looking handsome as hell in a natty three-piece wool suit with a bow tie and a houndstooth hat. As two professors of archeology, senior and junior go looking for the Holy Grail, and in the end they choose very wisely indeed. But as Connery taught us by leaning into his dad years, why bother with the fountain of youth when you can just act your age? —John Gonzalez
The Masculine Mystique … and Its Drawbacks
There’s a certain type of masculine ideal that might as well be called “the Sean Connery.” For the generation that grew up with Connery’s Bond films—i.e., my father and uncle, and probably your father and uncle—007, and by extension the man who played him, was effortlessly cool. Connery had the same gruff movie-star charm as Burt Reynolds, but wore, unlike his American counterpart, a tailored suit that slipped on like a second skin. Connery was someone that, as Pauline Kael once wrote, other men simply wanted to be. (Given the sheer volume of Connery-era Bond posters and memorabilia I’ve seen throughout my life, that tracks.)
But as iconic as Connery’s brand of masculinity was, it’s not without serious drawbacks. Bond frequently treated women less as people than disposable objects; women from Connery’s personal life said he abused them, and Connery himself publicly justified hitting women. We can laud Connery for his superlative career, but as we consider his enduring legacy, the conception of masculinity he helped define ought to remain in the past. —Miles Surrey