Bourne Again… and Again… and Again

Review of The Bourne Ultimatum (with reflections on the Bourne Trilogy)

– Audio version below, scroll to bottom – 

When The Bourne Identity came out, I thoroughly enjoyed its themes. Sure, to some it was nothing more than a brisk, tightly-paced action movie by Doug Liman; however, the redemptive aspects of the story truly shone through and made me take an above-average interest. This central character with an obviously violent, ruthless past has a moment of awakening, suffering a crisis of conscience, finding himself all-but-killed and literally immersed; Jason Bourne wakes from a brutal baptism to find himself “wiped clean”, without memory yet gifted with talents enabling him to survive and thrive. Seeking to live a new life and find his identity, Bourne, played with surprising effectiveness by Matt Damon, struggles to escape the corrupt forces that would pull him back into his old ways, managing to find love and establish a new life.

The aspects of redemption resonated even with people who thought they were simply enjoying the action. It can’t be denied that the Bourne films have some of the greatest car chase sequences in movies to date, and the action sequences have a vivid realism that makes them simultaneously engaging and disturbing. If one feels like a voyeur, particularly with the second and third film, it likely is owed to director Paul Greengrass’ documentary styling. Ultimatum feels much like an over-the-top tale caught by reality cameras. Still, there is more going on there than briskly-paced scenes of action and intrigue; the Bourne tales grapple with both our desire for salvation and our hope for a hero/savior.

The redemptive aspects took a backseat to a mixture of justice and vengeance in the Paul Greengrass directed sequel, The Bourne Supremacy. Bourne’s new world is shattered, his paradise lost, and he becomes an instrument of revenge. Immersion again marks the beginning of the journey, as Jason’s car goes over a bridge and his love slips away beneath the depths. Greengrass’ film exposed that Bourne had indeed been given a new lease on life, but he was still trapped in a world filled with deception and evil.

The Bourne Ultimatum puts the final punctuation on this trilogy by bringing Jason Bourne face to face with the real person responsible for the birth of his troubles. It regains the narrative strength of the first film and in fact IMPROVES upon it. The film opens as Bourne cleans up and medicates himself (from the events of Supremacy), experiencing a memory flashback of the process that made him a killer; the importance of water as a symbol pervades yet again, as Bourne’s remembrance reveals water used as a torture device, forcible immersion again and again in the attempts to make him a hardened killer. To force an endgame, Bourne goes seeking his past to confront it and find some kind of closure.

It seems very curious that water plays a pivotal part of Bourne’s life, at every moment of transition. We find Bourne is:

  • Baptized into his life as a killer.

  • Baptized after a crisis of conscience and awakening

  • Baptized from life with Marie to become an instrument of vengeance.

  • Baptized again, after having his past sins revealed.

Jason Bourne says to Nicky that “something happened to me, and I need to know what it was. or I’ll never be free of this”.Seeking redemption, we see that Jason reflects many of our own desires. we want to be a hero, we feel like a victim, and we desire to be a seeker of truth. In a revealing moment, we see that dealing with atonement and redemption is hinted at by Bourne’s religious belief. His dogtag in the flashback with his real name indicates his faith as “Catholic”. This explains his continued attempts to find absolution for his past deeds. “I’ve tried to apologize for what I’ve done. for what I AM. None of it makes it any better.”

In true form, we even see that Bourne’s slimy government opponents in Ultimatum view truth and morality as flexible issues. Enjoying his egg whites, Noah Vosen remarks that “you know, it’s funny how different things look depending on where you sit, right?” In an allegedly postmodern culture, it’s fascinating to see such a seemingly complex film reveal a very classic view of right and wrong, truth and corruption. This is one reason why we love the character of Jason Bourne. this flawed hero, a victim of dark forces, and a seeker of truth, exposing the dark forces conspiring behind closed doors.

However, The Bourne Ultimatum also reveals something far more sinister, for those comfortable with a few spoilers ahead. Ultimatum makes Jason Bourne confront the reality that he is not merely victim, but participant; he must confront that he has not simply been sinned against by wicked men, but that he is a sinner himself. As he traverses the globe looking for an external devil, a place to point his finger, he must face the mirror. Dr. Hirsch reminds him:

“You really don’t remember, do you? We didn’t pick you. You picked us. You volunteered. Right here. Right here, even after you were warned. You can’t outrun what you did, Jason. You made yourself into who you are. Eventually you’re going to have to face the fact that you chose right here to become Jason Bourne.”

Like Jason Bourne, we all need to face the fact that we’re not who we are supposed to be. that we have all sinned, and that we cannot simply point blame outward. Like the Bible says, there are none who are righteous – not one. We have all chosen poorly. “David Webb” became corrupted not merely by outside forces, but from within. he chose to become the ruthless Jason Bourne, and in this third intallment of the franchise he finally comes face to face with his deeds, his accusers, his choices, and his heart. He proclaims in another moment of transformation: “I’m no longer Jason Bourne”.

Standing on the rooftop at the film’s climax, the reborn Webb even becomes his own brand of evangelist, looking into the eyes of a killer (a replica of his former self), daring to question the life in which he’d formerly been self-deceived and challenging the man before him to look at his own choices. The subsequent, seemingly fatal leap from the roof takes him once again into the water, where “after a three-day search” he is born (not Bourne) again.

The mention of three days, followed by his continued swimming, strikes another chord. There is a thread of Christological typology in this trilogy, and particularly the two sequels. Obviously, Bourne is clearly lacking as a type of Christ. Ultimatum clearly illustrates he is fallen man, born again and running a race as a new man. To his enemies, however, Bourne/Webb is a TYPE of Christ, raining down judgment; Noah Vosen himself blasphemes but expresses the parallel quite vividly. “Jesus Christ, it’s Jason Bourne”. To those he confronts, Webb is a ruthless instrument for good, exposing dark deeds done in darkness and raining down a righteous vengeance. The unstoppable hero of this picture fulfills our desire to see justice served and the wicked punished.

“…the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” – 1 Corinthians 4

While Greengrass’ gritty, realistic style and Damon’s dour intensity have secured this film series the complement of being one of the most engaging and seamless trilogies every made, the intentional or unintentional ability of the series to tap into these aspects of the One True Narrative have made it more than an action series and give it a depth that will endure while other action heroes fade.

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Comments
  1. Rich

    I enjoyed the first and third film and found the second to be not as compelling with a weaker story arc…and #2 was also over-edited. Some of the themes of redemption were obvious to me, but this analysis opens my eyes to new ways in which the symbolism is present…whether the filmmakers intended it or not. Good stuff, thank you!

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