Two Cold War symbols in Casino Royale

MUMBAI: This November, anatomist, Gunther von Hagens — one of the most well known defectors from former East Germany — marks the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the most celebrated of all Cold War era icons, James Bond.


Dr. von Hagens and the Body Worlds anatomical exhibition appear in cameo roles in Casino Royale, the 21st James Bond film, based on Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of the same name.


Body Worlds is the setting for an archetypal battle of good and evil, between Agent 007 and one of the villains of the film. For Dr. von Hagens, who was imprisoned in 1969 for two years after a failed attempt to escape, James Bond films are more than innocuous spy thrillers.


While Bond spent the Cold War fighting Communists, the younger generation behind the Iron Curtain at that time (including Dr. von Hagens) were inspired by him. “He stood for the power of the individual against communism and was anti-authoritarian and unconventional, which I don’t think the film censors realized at the time. The leadership did not understand the thirst of our generation to break boundaries, to be free to travel like James Bond to Jamaica and Cape Canaveral and Fort Knox and Monte Carlo. He was for us the embodiment of freedom and possibilities,” said von Hagens.

The technology and wizardry in the early films also made an impression on the future anatomist and polymer chemist. “Bond worked with high technology, very unusual work at that time for a film character. In Goldfinger he was trying to prevent the radioactive contamination of gold reserves. As someone who was deeply interested in chemistry and physics, I knew that unlike the world of James Bond which celebrated such innovations, the authoritarian regime I lived under killed invention,” he said.


Impossible as it seems, a cinematic hero with a complex psychological dossier strengthened the ego and shaped the thinking of a generation of East German scientists. “He was very hard working. He was always on duty, lived only for his mission, and used all his abilities to realize his mission. Those of us who escaped East Germany at that time defined ourselves by our work in science and technology and our drive to succeed at any cost,” said Dr. von Hagens.


Body Worlds exhibitions are currently showing at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts and Telus World of Science in Vancouver, Canada.

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