Thrill-ride to redemption

  • July 27, 2004
{mosimage}There's no reason to think a movie that moves so much you may need Gravol with your popcorn is necessarily a good thing, but The Bourne Supremacy is a much better wild ride than you might expect from an action movie sequel whose title seems aimed at 13-year-old wrestling fans.

Underneath the juvenile title is a very adult film that uses the paranoid's paradise conceit of the international thriller genre to probe questions of identity, sin and redemption.

Matt Damon again plays Jason Bourne, a young soldier brainwashed by an ultra secret arm of the CIA to be the American government's assassin. When we last saw him in The Bourne Identity, he had woken up with amnesia and the instincts of a very efficient killer.
What Bourne discovered about his identity was that he had become a tool that had fallen into the hands of corrupt forces. His name is a literary clue to his character. Not only is he born again as an individual by means of his amnesia - which forces him on a quest for his true identity - but the quest comes right out of Jason's Argonauts in Greek mythology. Bourne is caught in a maze and his only way out is to kill the minotaur in the centre of it all.

Like the Argonaut hero Theseus, Bourne does kill his minotaur, who was also something of a father figure. The CIA collectively becomes the Pelias of Argonaut mythology, whom Bourne banishes from his life. The hero re-enters the human race by means of a woman who welcomes him by the blue waters of the Aegean.

The new movie begins two years later in India with Bourne still struggling, with the help of his redeeming female muse (Franka Potente as Marie), to discover who he really is. India would be an Eden of colour and delight except for Bourne's tortured and incomplete memories. When the bad guys use his fingerprints to implicate Bourne in a murder, then mistakenly kill Marie in an attempt on his life, they unleash Bourne the government-made assassin once again.

{amazon id='B0002ZDVF4' align='right'}At every moment in Bourne's frenetic chase across continents to confront the dark forces who killed Marie, we watch either as voyeurs through security cameras or through constantly moving hand-held cameras. We are drawn into the movie by the cameras which jar, bounce and run with Bourne. Anyone in the first three rows is bound to leave the theatre dizzy and reeling.

Despite the inevitability of Bourne's lone-hero triumph, the tale is exciting, reinvigorating even such tired clich's as the car chase.

This time Bourne is looking for more than just his identity. He wants to recapture his humanity. But to do that, Bourne has to confront his complicity in a sinful world.

As he hunts down his CIA tormentors, his memory is gradually restored. He remembers that the first thing he did as the U.S. government's assassin was to kill a Russian politician and his wife, artfully making it appear to be a murder-suicide by the wife. This backwards scenario is obviously a lie (men shoot their families and kill themselves, not women), but it is a lie Bourne has perpetrated on the couple's surviving daughter.

To free himself of his secret agent-assassin identity, Bourne confesses his sin to the daughter, giving her the meagre consolation of the truth about her parents. There's no pretense in the movie that this makes the world right, only that it's necessary for Bourne to be true to his humanity.

At every turn, Bourne is driven on his quest by women. Agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is the CIA management-type who starts chasing Bourne to find herself a target in his sights. When Bourne finds the corrupt CIA manager who initiated the plot to implicate him in a murder (Brian Cox as Ward Abbot), he turns down the opportunity to kill him, "because she wouldn't want me to." The she in this case is the murdered Marie.

In each case, the women of the movie show the way to humanity. The orphan of his first assassination invites him back into the human community by listening to his confession. Marie coaches him in recovering his memory. His old Paris contact (Julia Stiles as Nicky) is the one person on Bourne's quest who knows him as something more than an assassin. By the end of the movie Agent Pamela Landy has shown how it's possible to recognize a mistake and make amends.

It may well be that Bourne's redemption this time has been too successful. If there's going to be another Bourne movie we will have to forget the damaged, tortured young soldier has already been welcomed back into the human race.

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