Tag: Bourne Identity


by on Aug.14, 2010

Following up on Joyelle’s post about The Bourne Identity, I saw Green Zone on a transatlantic flight last week. It was like watching Bourne 4. Same Damon holding it steady with no backstory, same director (as Bourne 2 and 3) holding the camera unsteady. Same contrast between men of action who demand our respect and weaselly pencil pushers talking dramatically into phones. Same reproductive futurism that Joyelle points out (substitute “For The Future of Iraq” for “For The Children”). As with Bourne 1, the central question of identity that Damon relentlessly asks is not “Who am I?” but “Why am I here?” Unlike Bourne 1, where no immediate answer is evident, Green Zone offers up an initial, false answer: Matt Damon is in Iraq because “WMDs” exist. The rest of the movie is about Damon exposing their non-existence. So while Bourne 1 is built around a blank trauma that is then filled in with detail, Green Zone is built around a detailed trauma that is then erased. We’re left with nothing. It’s as if Bourne 4 (aka Green Zone) is an attempt to strip away the identity established in the first movie, as if identity is predicated on trauma, and all traumas are only emblems of trauma. In other words, the real trauma is there is no trauma. A true identity is no identity.

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1,001 Nights of The Bourne Identity

by on Aug.10, 2010

At this point in the second decade of the 21st century, you can watch The Bourne Identity on one, sometimes two television channels, out of synch, sliced and diced up by commercials (a kind of retromontage), stacked and looped for multiple showings, almost any night of the week. That’s how I’ve watched it, never in one sitting, never all the way through, sometimes catching a single scene multiple times. I should also add that I’m (moderately) hearing impaired so I can only get dialogue through my sorry hearing devices and whatever I can persuade Johannes to repeat or paraphrase (mimicry!).
But I feel my grasp on the movie has only been enhanced by these circumstances, since the movie itself is notoriously action “packed” with no repartee, no backstory, no setup, no characterization. Indeed, its amnesiac hero, who selects the name “Jason Bourne” from stack of forged passports in a deskdrawer, each bearing his headshot, has no backstory and thus no character at all. The plot of the movie is for him to arrive at his backstory, a narrative which includes him, and thus at his character. And how does he do it? By discovering the originary (visual) trauma that wiped these out in the first place. It’s Hollywood Freudianism a la Hitchcock.

But it should be said JB’s not *entirely* a blank slate. He’s straight, for one ( in case anyone was worried about that, he goes to bed with the fetching female taxi driver at his earliest convenience), he’s white, he’s young, he’s American, he’s a great fighter, and he has a fine knitwear collection.
As the movie continues (it cannot exactly ‘progress’, due to its own flitty structure and multiple breaks for Cialis ads), our Jason Agonistes must fight off thugs of all nations. The Identity Plot, on the other hand, seems not to move forward but backward, ships against the current, bourne ceaselessly into the past, in order to find out what Terrible Inciting Event pierced his seemingly unpiercable body armor, jammed his programming and wiped out his memory banks.

And what is this atrocious event?

As everyone in the world knows, so this isn’t a spoiler, it’s that, when he arrived on a fancy yacht to kill an (implicitly criminal) African leader, said leader was surrounded by his sleeping children, and Jason Bourne, Killing Machine, was unable to deliver the coup de grace. In the movie, he literally stands there, undone, shaking, paralyzed by this vision of African children, barely able to save himself (he receives the two mysterious bullet wounds ineptly fleeing the scene).

WTF?! Killing Machine undone by the sight of little babies? What is the ideology that contains both these terms—hyper masculine killing machine and love of little babies? Ah yes, it’s the reproductive futurism laid out so cunningly in Lee Edelman’s No Future, which shows how almost all societal policies, progressive or conservative, domestic or foreign, are carried out under the rubric of the Future, which must be secured and protected for the benefit of The Children. Whatever we must do, we must do it For The Children. Even when we must do it To The Children. For example, we must cut the national deficit lest we burden “Our Children and Grandchildren’ with crippling debt; Indiana GOP governor Mitch Daniels has referred to the deficit as “literal child abuse.” Or, on the other side of the aisle, we must extend unemployment benefits because they support Families, and thus The Children; other parties affected by the policy are below mention. Under the regime of reproductive futurism (though perhaps not in this unemployment example), homosexuals usually end up the scapegoated parties, the threat to the supremacism of the Child and thus the Future.

In the case of Jason Bourne, the licitness of his assassination of this African figure is not in doubt. But to kill him in front of his children and traumatize them, a trauma which will deploy in the future (as, indeed, the movie demonstrates trauma works on Jason Bourne) is a crime Bourne cannot brook. Moreover, the scene rewrites the classic Freudian trauma, that of the child seeing the parents in flagrante, with a new configuration, that of the single man seeing the father and children all innocently slumber under the gaze of the large screen television. This vision of reproductive futurism, this ultimate ideological kernel (with TV in the role of mother!), chastens Bourne, provides the only apparent check on this rogue killer. This vision makes theprofligately violent killer chaste, sends him reeling/realing out of the room and off the boat.

Importantly, however, once he retrieves this scene from his memory, he has a past again. He is written into a narrative, with, implicitly, a future. He can now move forward into his sequels. But in Hollywood, a set of sequels like this is also known as a franchise, in line with reproductive futurism’s usually financial prerogatives. Past and future secured, Jason Bourne is in business.

P.S.—On reading Johannes’s post on DiCaprio and Shutter Island, it’s interesting to note that Bourne does not receive a filled-out character sketch of himself to fill in his interiority OR his past—he only has this one event, sort of like the childhood photo the girl-replicant carries around in Blade Runner to make her THINK she’s a human. Armed with the emblem of interiority (trauma), he’s actually relieved of the “mystery” of interiority…

PPS—Other random observations about The Bourne Identity, as reworked by network and non-premium cable television: 1)This costume designer loves knitwear! 2) It’s really touching to see the device of the actress-has-hair-hacked-off;looks-awesome, a device as old as Hollywood, as old as Joan of Arc, applied so winningly here to Franka Potente. As I recall, her hair was kool-aid red in Run, Lola, Run, and was bright orange when she was played by Milla Jovovic as an alien in The Fifth Element—Milla who would later play Joan of Arc. 3)It’s called The Bourne Identity, but of course identity for our hero isn’t ‘born’, it’s taken up, assumed, ‘borne’. But assumed or not, it’s American, baby!

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