Favorite screenplays: The Bourne Identity part 3


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.

He heads to the American embassy.  Why?  He must sense that, if nothing else, he’s an American.  Or, the top passport in his stack is American.  Or, he has no idea if he’s an American or not (English seems to be his first language, and he has a definite American accent, but he’s also fluent in pretty much any language he wants to speak), but he knows that the police will stop looking for him if he goes into an embassy, and the American embassy is close at hand.  This last points to Jason’s most salient characteristic, his ability to think on his feet.  Jason Bourne works best when he stops thinking and starts moving.

He gets inside the embassy, where he spies Marie, a young woman at a loose end.  What does Marie want?  It’s not clear, but we see that she is, like Bourne, in the midst of an identity crisis.  Her papers are not in order, and she has no fixed residence.  “No address, no money, no time, no visa” is what she tells the clerk at the embassy.  That is, no identity.

(It occurs to me that people still get arrested for vagrancy — that is, being outside without money.  Having money is an individual’s best defense against the law.)

Jason has no time to linger on Marie and her problems, because suddenly there are embassy officials, guards and marines after him.  And so we get the first nice big set piece that shows just what Jason Bourne is capable of: he can turn the tables on a seemingly endless stream of enemies, hide in and escape a heavily guarded, heavily patrolled government building, all without killing anyone.  In fact, for the third time in the movie, he leaves a gun behind when it would obviously aid in his escape.  He is a supremely capable young man, his actions are fluid and intuitive.  The various members of the embassy staff are bound by rules, etiquette and military hierarchy, but Jason Bourne seemingly knows no rules, he knows only how to survive.  And so, in this way, his lack of identity works in his favor — this whole situation is strange to him, there is nothing in his remembered experience that should tell him how to escape an embassy when there is a platoon of marines after him.  For all he knows, these people could be his friends and family, but none of that will stop him — the rules of common behavior don’t apply to him, because he does not know who he is.

He escapes the embassy and tries to make his way to the roof, but suddenly he drops his bag down into an alleyway.  He’d like to move on, but he must retrieve the bag — it has, literally, his identity inside it.

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, Zorn breathlessly informs Conklin that Bourne has shown up at the embassy.  This is all very baffling to Conklin, who has no idea that Jason has amnesia.  But built into the scene is both a contrast between Jason and Conklin and Zorn and Conklin and Conklin and Abbott.  Conklin is Jason’s distant father, and Conklin, a very bad father indeed, says “I liked it better when I thought Bourne was dead.”  Abbott, on the other hand, doesn’t want to know what Conklin is doing at all.  Zorn, in contrast to both, wants to be daddy’s favorite, and, essentially, tattles on Jason.  He is Conklin’s “good son,” as Jason is his wayward son, soon to be his prodigal son.

Back in Zurich, Marie still doesn’t have a visa (that is, an official identity), and to make things worse, she’s gotten a parking ticket.  Jason comes along and offers her a deal: $20,000 to drive him to Paris.  This is, to say the least, unusual, but Marie is at a loose end, and she senses, perhaps, that Jason, like herself, is just another orphan caught in the storm.




2 Responses to “Favorite screenplays: The Bourne Identity part 3”
  1. Jason Langlois says:

    He’s calls the number, I think, because either someone will pick up the phone and he can talk to them, or he’ll hear an answering machine message and can confirm or deny that the number is him. He also heads for the American Embassy because he has an American passport and his Treadstone training tells him its the best place to shake the cops, who will not be able to enter American soil (which the embassy represents).

    When we see Bourne acting, it’s almost always because of his Treadstone training; as you say, when he stops thinking and relies instead on what memories he has. It’s fascinating to watch how, scanning people in the embassy lineup, he tags on the one person who would possibly be in desperate enough need to help him in exchange for money (Marie), even though at that point he doesn’t need her.

    Two things during the embassy escape that again tell us how good Bourne is… when he goes back for the radio, to monitor the search for him, and when he grabs the map off the wall so he can walk directly to the exit he needs. He walks patiently and calmly, because he knows Embassy protocol will be to search every room and floor, and so he has the time to get to the top exit. Again, that training is constantly and quietly shown to us.

  2. Peter Erwin says:

    Why are the police after him? We, like he, don’t know …

    Interestingly, I never found that particular point mysterious — I assumed the police were after the dangerous young man who had beat up two of their own in a park the previous night.

    (Technically, since the is Zurich and not Bern, it would be an American consulate, but that’s really picking nits. And since Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city, having a relatively large consulate there wouldn’t be very surprising.)