Friday, November 11, 2005

Bourne again

So I'm watching The Bourne Identity, and I'm deciding that Jason Bourne is the most irresistible representation of of masculinity ever commited to film. It's a great movie. It's brilliantly shot, even more brilliantly cut, and as H pointed out at the time, glamourises Europe in a way that hasn't been managed since the heist flicks of the 60s. But all this is as naught against the hypnotic magnetism of our hero.

He speaks German and French and has bullet holes in his back. He can kill a guy with a ballpoint pen. He can escape from the US Consulate in Paris by flinging a security guard down the stairs and ripping the evacuation map off the wall; lose the gendarmes by doing a handbrake turn into the oncoming traffic at 60mph in a stick-shift mini. And (this is the killer) he has no idea who he is.

He breaks a German policeman's wrist with the kind of masculine proficiency that usually goes with a flinty, Vin-Dieselesque detachment, but instead bewilderment struggles with purposiveness in his eyes. (Sidebar: no mean thespian feat, that. Kudos to the criminally underused Matt Damon). He paranoically wipes the hotel room for prints and then sits quietly in the corner watching the girl sleep. His eyes are limpid with relief upon coming upon the first passport, for it contains A Name, only to have the hurt, betrayed bewilderment return with throat-constricting disappointment in the face of another name. And then another. And another. He takes the handgun out of the safe deposit box as though he has handled a firearm thousands of times, but there is a gingerness about it, because he doesn't want to know this about himself.

He looks at a map like he is the Terminator processing information, he runs as though escape is important but he is afraid of nothing, he drives like the car is an extension of his hands, he fights with the brutal grace of the man thinking of nothing but outcomes, a man unworried by his own power -- he can do anything, but he has no idea what to do.

The completely rampant sexiness of this combination is a stroke of narrative genius. Which is part of the reason that The Bourne Supremacy made none of the fatal missteps that usually make sequels so insipid. Sequels so often screw it up because the bewilderment is gone, the force of not knowing is gone, the whole thing jumps the shark because the epistemological imperatives are all taken away, the motivation withers to nothing and all we are left with is a car chase. Or some SFX. Or another prize fight. Or whatever. But Bourne's second outing doesn't make this mistake. Jason knows the score by then, he knows what to do ... except he doesn't. Bewilderment still struggles in his eyes along with the purposiveness.

He still has no idea what he will do next. This makes for awesome cinema. Especially since it might be using a toaster to blow up a house.

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