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Last night I watched the third installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum, with Matt Damon playing the title role. I found myself laughing at most of the action because it is so implausible. The plot, the action, except for 13 year old boys or conspiracy theorists, is ridiculous. And then, I thought, what is an action-adventure movie but a piece of mythology.

In this case, American mythology.

Mythology is not about stories that no longer have meaning. Mythology explains our culture to us and illuminates who we are as a people. Modern fiction is able to reflect us inwardly as well as the stories of old did. Once I started watching Bourne as I would a movie of some ancient character, like an Odysseus, the story took on its real meaning.

Here is some background on the book series. There are 12 books in the Bourne series. The first three were written by Robert Ludlum. The remaining 9 were written by Eric van Lustbader.

The Bourne Identity, the first book, by Ludlum, was released in 1980. The background story included the crappy ending of the Viet Nam war, the Cold War and the assassin, Carlos the Fox. In 1988, a mini-series, starring Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne, aired. It was a 4 hour movie that followed the plot of the book very closely. There were no follow ups with The Bourne Supremacy or The Bourne Ultimatum.

Chamberlain, 54 at the time, was closer to the age range that a Jason Bourne would be as a world weary assassin who has forgotten who he is. That Bourne had an intellectual life. What his story has to say about the American consciousness at that time is this. We were embarrassed that the Viet Nam war had ended so badly, we were still involved in the Cold War and we were spooked by this assassin who could murder others without getting caught. Carlos made us feel like we were not in control of the world.

The world weary, middle aged Jason Bourne is like the hero Theseus in his middle age. The glory days are past. Now, like any middle aged man, he wakes up to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings at a loss as to how he got there and who is he anyway. Think about it. Aren’t the middle age crazies are a sort of amnesia? The middle aged man has questions about where his life went and what is he supposed to do with the rest of it? Ah yes, he must, once again, go on a hero’s journey because somewhere along the way of his life he misplaced himself.

This 1988 version is the one Boomers need to watch now.

The second rendition of the Bourne series has a background that is oh so post 9/11. The character is now played as a millennial, which is to say he’s a fast paced, automatically reactive character. He is all youth with no world weariness, no experience to draw on. He’s the young hero on his journey. This Bourne doesn’t wonder where time has gone, or who has he become. He wonders just who the hell he is, period.

Mythologically speaking, Bourne is the stand in for Americans. We wonder, who are we as a nation? We seem to have an amnesia about our past. Like the younger Bourne, we can’t see a future. Like the middle aged Bourne, we wonder how we lost our way. Have we become what we thought we would?

The younger Bourne will search for his “father” so that he can confront him. The older Bourne wants answers so that he can retire to safe waters. The younger Bourne, however, is a better model for us since we are a young nation. We are still in search of our identity.

The “father” figure in this movie is the CIA, in the person of Dr. Hirsch who trained Bourne. The CIA, then is the government stand in. It is out of control and drunk with its own power. The son, Bourne, is nothing more than a tool for this father. If need be, he can be eliminated. After all, the son himself eliminated in the name of the father. (Think Chris Kyle.)If he is willing to do unto others, then he must be willing to have it done to him. Or so the father rationalizes.

The “mother,” in the person of Pamela Landy, wants to save her son. The female CIA leader in this story, represents what is still good about America. That her power should not be used to destroy. She will tell her sons and daughters who they are because what she has borne (nice play on words, no?) she would have live.

Bourne does confront his evil father, and while he’s at it, he sets the stage for his mother to gain control of the evil players by shining a light on them.

We have only to look out at America to see we are a nation out of control. We are confused by our old mythology that told us we are a brave, generous and fair people. Yet, in our name, terrible things are done to other people, here and on the world’s platform. We are frightened as we watch the old myths shattered and replaced by this unpleasant reality, that we are not who we thought we were. Is it any wonder that this Bourne trilogy resonates with us? We want to know who the hell we are now? What was our original intent? What have we become? Who did this to us? How are we complicit? How did we lose our way?

Before things can get better we will have to confront our demons. Until then, our collective malaise will continue. We must go home to find out what we are, to tell the father he cannot destroy us, that we have a right to our own lives. Our lives, not someone else’s version of what that life should be. Not a European or Asian idea. The idea our Founders put forth.

At the end of Bourne #3, he jumps into the river as the wicked brother(Noah Vozen) shoots him. The imagery is perfect, for what happens next is rebirth.

Okay America. Time to jump into the cold water and shake off this fear. Move those arms and legs, swim to the top, and then destroy the destroyers. Just like Bourne, once you find yourself, you can do something about the situation.


Written by lcrockett

January 27, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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