Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In memory of Kronsteen

The subject of this evening's meditation is Kronsteen, one of the supporting villains in From Russia with Love (the second James Bond movie, released in 1963). He was played by Vladek Sheybal, a slight and creepy-looking actor who in real life was a member of the Polish resistance during World War Two.

In the movie, Kronsteen was a chess master who moonlighted as an operations planner for SPECTRE, the international agency of evil from the Bond series. He designs a scheme to steal a Soviet decoding machine and sell it to the highest bidder, tricking Bond into sneaking it out of Istanbul.

Needless to say, the operation fails. Through his usual blend of panache, skill and pure blind luck, Bond manages to defeat the incompetent minions of SPECTRE field operative Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and save the day.

Back at the evil overlord's lair, the evil overlord calls Kronsteen and Klebb to account for the failure. Having determined that Klebb caused the problem, overlord then has Kronsteen killed.

I first saw this movie when I was a kid, and that moment made me extremely angry. For starters, Kronsteen was a skinny, dark-haired, spooky-looking guy who was too smart for his own good, which naturally meant that I identified with him. But more than that, the guy did his job. His plan was perfect. Klebb fucked it up. Shouldn't she be the one to get the poison boot blade to the calf?

When I got older, I understood this a lot more. The failure was Kronsteen's for not producing a plan that would take Klebb's failure into account. It isn't enough to do your own job. You also have to be accountable for the failures of the people you have to work with. Your plan isn't perfect until it takes all possible breakdowns into account.

Plus at that point if you're going to salvage what you can from a busted operation you really need a field operative more than a strategy guy. Thus Klebb has to stay in the game. Possibly unfair, but logical and practical nonetheless.

I think more and more we're all facing our own personal Bonds and Klebbs, “challenges” who have the devil's own luck on their sides. There's no way to plan around them, nothing we can do that will put contingencies in place for all the world's possible fuck-ups. And as failure upon failure mounts up in our lives, it becomes such an overwhelming tide of dysfunction that it's almost enough to make one long for the sweet nepenthe of a swift poison boot blade to the calf.