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The Satisfying Self-Reflection of The Bourne Identity

The Satisfying Self-Reflection of The Bourne Identity

Even if we wanted to, we can never really forget who we are, our innate selves. However, there is a chance to forget the person that people think we are, or make us out to be.

We are told constantly in our formative years what we are, and we formulate that in our own minds, to be who we are. This can manifest in self-doubt and leave you with an uneasy feeling of vertigo almost without a firm footing in the knowledge of who you are.

Things that were drilled into you when you were growing up can have a detrimental effect on how you see yourself and therefore respond in this world. Who wants to go around with the notion that “you’re a dumbass,” or “you can do no wrong,” or “girls are always nice,” etc? Shedding them is a must.

I changed with the help of my meditation. The beauty of a meditation practice in the traditional sense – without the new age frills –  is that it is exactly about ridding yourself of all that you were told about who you are.

Most of us, especially artists, fear shedding the things we think make us artists; it’s like that whole idea about the 70s rockers who stopped taking drugs and feared that they would not be able to create afterward.

I thought after my intensive meditation stint that I would not be able to create anymore. But not true. I became a better writer, because my thoughts became clearer and more organized. The less confused about who I was, the clearer my thoughts and writing became. I wasn’t so hard on myself, which helped the words flow more easily.

Imagine, like Jason Bourne, you know nothing of yourself. You know nothing of your past or even your future. You know only your present. In the film, he first tries to think,  Who am I? But nothing comes. Then he is forced to react. Ah ha!

The way he responds to outer stimuli starts to tell him a lot about himself. Jason didn’t have the knee-jerk reaction that comes from remembering what someone else told him who he was. His trained and resourceful self came through and he was effective in facing every obstacle he came across.

As far as I can tell, identity is fluid. It shifts. A lot of it depends on what we are obsessed with at that moment, who we are hanging with, or what job we have. Identity becomes something other than “who we are.”

In the case of The Bourne Identity, we see this when Bourne realizes that he and other agents have been programmed to be killing machines – and expendable. At one point, he says he doesn’t like who he is. But what people who meet him in the present respond to is not the killer, but the man who spared another man surrounded by children at his own expense. His intuitive innate self began to surface.

Which is his identity then, the killer or the man with a conscience?

All this told me that when you don’t have the conditioning elements anymore, you are free to discover parts of yourself that haven’t been seen. Our identity shifts because motives change, conscience rises, and/or circumstances require adjustments.

Watching The Bourne Identity, a few things became evident to me about not only how we define ourselves, but also how we define the characters we write.

Here are my top 4 ways to define characters the Bourne Identity way:

  1. Through their action. This is not reaction or reflex, it is the action that comes from a combination of ability and intuition, the innate feeling of how you respond to situations as yourself and not what others say you are. At the end of the film, Bourne is about acceptance of where he’s been and who he expresses himself to be naturally. This is conscious action.

  2. Through their reaction - caught off guard, knee-jerk, unconscious movement/response. I loved the moment when Jason grabs the baton of the Zurich police officer and realizes that he has lightening speed reaction time. His surprise and realization of what he is able to do without thinking was fun to watch. He was equally surprised during the assassination attempt shown in flashback that he had a soft spot for children to show a vulnerable side told a lot about not only the man himself, but it also revealed a lot about the “program,” its nefarious goals and the people who run it.

  3. Through their abilities. Talents, idiosyncrasies, expertise, natural talent. His ability to react with lightning speed, have the knowledge no matter how buried to assess a given situation and people, his ability to memorize, shoot with pinpoint accuracy, all told us that he was well-trained through the “program”.

  4. Through the reactions of others. Those that first meet Bourne, those that already know him, or those that are after him, the character relationships are based on the concept of asset vs liability. We have heard the adage, “the antagonist believes that they are the hero of the story.” It is important to illustrate this through relationships with others. It is easy to see Conklin’s (Chris Cooper) identity as ruthless, determined, protective and commanding, but what makes him come to life is how he navigates around his people. It’s a little one sided at first – he starts our ticking clock, he is ruthless. As the movie goes on, we can see his relationships begin to strain because he is “identified” with the success of the program and would do anything to do it. In the end, I suppose you can say karma got him.

I’ve always liked The Bourne Identity because of how it used this to its advantage. I miss movies like this where characters are extremely aware of themselves without becoming neurotic, and have the capacity to shed light on the fluidity of identity which brings the story to an end in a satisfying way.


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