It’s New Year’s Eve, approaching midnight, on this ship that is upside-down but nobody realizes it yet. We check in with all our main characters once again before disaster strikes. The working-class Rogos fight, then kiss and make up, the waif Nonnie sings, the lonely Mr. Martin (surrounded by young ladies) takes his vitamins, the Rosens kibitz, The Captain relaxes, Acres pours champaign, Rev Scott waxes hippy, Susan lusts for Rev Scott, and little Robin interrogates the Purser, who will soon become a pivotal character. The Purser, explaining himself to Robin, is the ship’s manager — not the owner (the businessman), not the captain (the leader) but the manager, the middle-man of song and story. Now that we’ve met everyone and examined their strategies for dealing with the chaos of a world upside-down, the world goes ahead and actually turns upside-down. Read more
So, let’s remember, the metaphor in play in The Poseidon Adventure is “the world is upside-down.” The important thing to remember about this metaphor is that it’s already in play before the ship turns upside-down. That is, the world is already upside-down for the characters on the Poseidon, the tidal wave only serves to make the metaphor literal.
The Poseidon Adventure was the first new, “grown up” movie I ever saw. I think the last movie I had seen previous to it was The Aristocats. People generally feel The Poseidon Adventure to be ham-fisted, stale and clunky, but in the winter of 1973 it was pretty mind-blowing, especially to an 11-year-old boy, and it changed the way I felt about movies forever. I would never be happy with Herbie Rides Again or The Apple Dumpling Gang after I had seen mass death and gripping adventure in the passageways of a capsized ocean liner. Read more
Jason Bourne has killed his brother, The Professor, in self-defense. The Professor was sent to kill Jason at the behest of Conklin, who is both Jason’s and The Professor’s father. Conklin has pitted brother against brother to save face in the eyes of his own father Abbott. Abbott wants Jason dead and the whole Treadstone project to just kind of go away so that he can save face when reporting his budget to a Congressional committee. And so a political aspect of The Bourne Identity presents itself: an older, powerful white man feels discomfort about covering his ass, and that discomfort sends ripples down through the chain of power that results in young men, spiritual brothers, killing each other in a foreign land. The king’s discomfort results in the serf’s murder.
Act III begins as Act II did — with an explosion of activity from Conklin back at CIA headquarters. Here, he barks orders at all his kids about how to pinpoint Bourne, crosscut with him reassuring his father-figure Abbott that Bourne will be caught and killed. Abbott, we learn, is upset about Bourne solely because of a budget meeting he has coming up with his Congressional overseers and Treadstone looks to be a big fat failure. So we see that, as is often the case in familial disputes, it all comes down to money.
Jason and Marie have gone, in two days, from strangers to lovers. Marie, once spooked and then terrified by Jason, is now totally into the whole Bourne lifestyle — although she doesn’t really know what that means yet.
So now Jason Bourne has a dependent. Marie, who was already pretty messed up to begin with, has just seen Jason beat up an assassin and the assassin throw himself out a window. Jason wants to give Marie an out, but she’s in shock. Seeing the kindly old landlady shot in the head in the foyer doesn’t help. The point is, Marie is having her own identity crisis: is she, she must decide, the kind of woman who puts her life in the hands of a man like Jason Bourne?
Bang! Act II of The Bourne Identity begins with a dizzying montage of activity. In CIA headquarters, Conklin’s sons bring up “the grid,” the international web of electronic checkpoints that can pinpoint just about anybody at any given time. (When people talk about being “off the grid,” that’s what they’re talking about — they cannot be traced through electronic channels.) Conklin wants Bourne dead: quite a bad father indeed. It’s one thing to be cold and distant, it’s something else again to want to kill your son. Worse, he’s decided to “wake up” all of Bourne’s fellow Treadstone assassins — in essence, his “blood brothers.” Conklin wants to set brother against brother. There are families where no one ever talks about anything, but Conklin is running a family where the brothers don’t even know each other’s names.
So Jason Bourne has gone to a bank to find himself. It turns out, a bank is not a good place to find oneself. But he does have a name now, a whole handful of names actually, and he heads out into his mysterious new life. His first instinct is to phone himself. It must be an odd thing, to phone oneself. Logic dictates that no one can possibly answer when you phone yourself, but Jason does. Why? Does he hope he will pick up? Does he hope someone else will pick up? Or is he just looking for confirmation, that there is, in fact, someone named Jason Bourne who actually has a telephone number, one of the many societal indicators that he does, indeed, have an identity?
He doesn’t get very far before he’s pursued by police. Why are the police after him? We, like he, don’t know, although we, like he, figure that a box full of money, a stack of passports and a gun don’t add up to a strictly legal identity.
Jason Bourne has left the fishing boat, which is his metaphorical home town, has said goodbye to his foster father, and has set out to seek his fortune in the world. That sounds like the opening of a Grimm tale, which might seem odd for a fast-paced, big-budget espionage thriller. And yet, it just goes to show that storytelling hasn’t really changed since Grimm — there are still orphans, literal and figurative, leaving home, looking for themselves, looking for their identities. (Hanna took this to much more explicit ends.)
(Further reflection on my part connects Jason Bourne to Melville’s Ishmael — another orphan of the storm fished out of the water — but that’s a discussion for another time.)