Bourne Again

This is the third and final part of our series on the salvific movement of the Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon. Part 1 and part 2 examined the first two films respectively.

The Bourne Ultimatum picks up almost immediately after the second film in the series, The Bourne Supremacy, ends. When we last left Jason Bourne, he had just solved a complicated embezzlement plot within the CIA and attempted to make restitution for a wrong he committed in his former life as a black ops assassin. Unfortunately, he’s not free of his pursuers yet, and he has yet to get to the bottom of why he is what he is.

The Bourne Ultimatum is, in my opinion, the best film in this series.  It is more layered and subtle than the first film and deeper than the second. The plot is also clearer and less convoluted than the second, and I think that’s because we’ve left back story behind and are aimed with sniper-like focus on Jason’s attempt to regain his true identity.

The cast is also improved in this film, which is saying a lot, because the Bourne films feature a cavalcade of the best character actors working today. While Chris Cooper was excellent as the main villain in Identity and Brian Cox was equally sinister in Supremacy, the role of corrupt government bureaucrat is taken to new heights by David Strathaim in Ultimatum. Where Cooper was desperate and Cox was greedy, Strathairn is downright power mad. Joan Allen also reprises her role with great aplomb as Bourne-advocate Pam Landy, and Julia Stiles’ role is expanded and nuanced. Matt Damon is excellent as always.

The movie is as tightly made an action film as you will find. Ultimatum moves forward with a relentless pace, and yet it never feels rushed. There is an economy of story-telling taking place here that is easily overlooked. The characters are complex, motivations are nuanced, and twists are unexpected and satisfying. Nothing ever feels forced. It is no accident that this film won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Editing, the meaning-imparting method in filmmaking.

I also love this film because of how it brings resolution to Jason Bourne’s story. This is my favorite ending to any story since I read The Lord of the Rings. For me, the way this series ends illuminated and informed all that came before. If not for the way this film ends, I would like these films, but I wouldn’t adore like I do. Major SPOILERS follow.

Jason spends the duration of this film trying to get to the root of his problem. He wants to know what happened to make him the killer that he is. He wants to go back to the beginning, where it all started, so that hopefully, he can (re)set things right.

Have you felt this urge? Do you share this desire to get to the root of your own twisted-ness? I do. I am particularly prone to probing my past trying to figure out where I went wrong. Like Jason, I imagine that if I can figure out how I broke, perhaps I can be fixed. The Church teaches me that I’ve been broken from since before I can remember, perhaps even from, more or less, the beginning of time and that in Christ alone I can be fixed.

Most of the CIA bureaucracy thinks that Jason is on a mission to undermine their institution, but Pam Landy and Nicky Parsons disagree. They believe that Jason is a good guy at heart and worthy of their help. Parsons points Jason in the right direction, and Pam tells Jason who he was before. She gives him his true name, David Webb.

I have been helped along by people who believed in me as I’ve struggled to become “made right” in my life. If not for the friends and family and “parsons” in my own life, I would not have found my way to Christ. I would not have learned my true identity either.

Jason finally finds his way to the site of his original sin, and he meets the very man who twisted him, a mirthless psychologist, Dr. Albert Hirsch. Hirsch confronts Jason with a very simple truth: no one made Jason who he is. He chose to become Jason Bourne. He willingly killed, and the man he was before, David Webb, ceased to exist. As David died, Jason was born.

I too, on my journey to Christ, was faced with a similar truth. I am a sinner. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I sin, and therefore I die. When faced with this truth, Jason, to his credit, doesn’t try to turn the blame around on Hirsch. He accepts his sin. I too had to accept my sin without blaming anyone else for my faults.

Upon accepting his sin, Jason turns from it, he repents, and says, “I remember. I remember everything. I am no longer Jason Bourne.” He takes on a new identity – his true identity. “So now you’re going to kill me,” Hirsch responds. “No,” Jason says, “You don’t deserve the star they’d give you on the wall at Langley.” He truly is a new man who has put violent ways behind him.

I too was drawn to repentance. My sinful self was crucified, and I was able to reassume my true identity in Christ. I too am called to a new way of living devoid of the sinfulness of my former way of life. In Christ, “the old has gone! The new has come!”

After Jason-now-David chooses a new way of life, he runs and doesn’t hurt anyone again. Another assassin catches up to him on the roof as he is running away and holds Jason at gun point. Earlier in the film, Jason let this young man live when he could’ve killed him. The young man now asks Jason why he didn’t take the shot when he had the chance earlier. Jason replies, echoing the words of the assassin in the first film, “Look at us. Look at what they make you give.” reminding the young man of his own humanity and calling him to a better way of life.

Jason Bourne/David Webb becomes an evangelist, just as I have been instructed by Christ to share my faith as well.

One final image should not be overlooked. To escape his pursuers, Jason/David leaps from the roof of the building into Manhattan’s East River. The movie shows him from below submerged beneath the waves. After stepping into a new way of life, he is subsequently baptized and comes up re-bourne, um, I mean, reborn. I still remember my own baptism as a young man in the swimming pool of one of my small country church’s elders. I too came out of the water into a new way of life.

I once had the opportunity to speak with one of the screenwriters (who prefers to remain anonymous) for this third film, and I explained to him all that I’ve written here. This writer was raised Catholic, though he doesn’t confess any faith currently. He smiled as I finished explaining what I saw in the plot and said, “Well, yeah. That’s it, though I can’t take credit for the last line. That was all Tony (Gilroy).” He confirmed what I had seen in the movies – Jason’s Bourne’s process of confession, repentance, and baptism was entirely intentional and meant to echo the process of salvation practiced by Christians. It’s not allegory – it’s not meant to instruct or prosthelytize moviegoers – but it is a borrowed motif.

So, it makes sense then that within this high quality cinematic entertainment I see a picture of my own journey with Christ. As so often happens when I go to the movies, the Bourne trilogy reminds me who I was and who I have become.