The series both begins and ends with a lifeless body in the water. In the opening scene, looking from below, we see Jason Bourne (a.k.a for David Webb) floating lifeless on the face of the dark and deep ocean, … complete with driving rain, turbulent waves, and lightning flashes. At the end of the movie, looking from below again, we see his lifeless body submerged in the dark and deep waters of the East River with light shinning in from above. In both cases we are left to ponder what will happen to this lifeless form. When Marie, Jason’s girlfriend, dies in the second movie, the jeep goes off the bridge and into the river. Jason tries to revive Marie underwater but she is swallowed up by the deep. Much like ancient cultures, the watery depths seem to be symbolic of chaos and death. Chaos and evil seem to be everywhere about Jason, threatening to swallow him up.
Two other important scenes involve water. In the first movie, Marie gets sucked into Jason’s world of intrigue. As Marie begins her life on the run, she cuts and dyes her hair. The movie shows her with head under the running water. When she lifts her head she is a new person with a new mission. In the third movie, Jason’s helper Nicky, also gets caught up in the web of intrigue and must go on the run. She also cuts and dyes her hair. Once she covers her hair with running water, emerging with a new identity and with a new mission.
But there is one more important use of water. At the end of the last movie we learn that Jason had signed up to be the first in an elite group of black operations agents. He joined out of patriotism for his country. But in pursuit of that worthwhile mission he submitted to being brainwashed. He learned to kill without reflection on his actions. The method of brainwashing focused on water-boarding with David Webb repeatedly being submerged until his will was broken and he emerged as Jason Bourne. There are repeated flashbacks to the water-boarding.
At the end of Bourne's training, the program mastermind, Dr. Hirsch, orders Webb to shoot and kill a hooded man across the room. Bourne knows nothing about the man. Webb wrestles over the decision before finally executing the man. Hirsch says Bourne's training is complete. We see that his identity has changed. David Webb is dead. He has now been baptized as Jason Bourne. In essence, the serpent tempted him with being superhuman while in fact making him a subhuman killing machine … an impersonal government “asset.”
We eventually learn the reason Bourne was found floating in the ocean by a fishing trawler at the beginning of the first movie. Bourne had stowed away on the Yacht of an African leader to assassinate him. Having approached his target from behind while he is sleeping on the couch, Bourne realizes that the man’s little girl is playing in his lap. Apparently, despite his training, there was something in Bourne that would not let him kill under these circumstances. His hesitation does him in. Bourne is shot as he leaps off the Yacht and that is what leads to his unconscious body floating on the water where the first movie picks up the story. We learn that there is a seed of good left from David Webb and it is in conflict with Jason Bourne. Our amnesiac protagonist must piece back together who he is.
The first movie begins with Jason unable to remember anything. He has completely lost his past and with no past there is no identity. He desperately wants to find out who he is. Yet at each step along his journey he becomes more and more troubled by what he learns.
As the story progresses we see Bourne seeking to understand the evil that has consumed his life. First he seeks to escape the evil, hoping the evil doers will leave him alone. But his connection with the evil is too much. It ends up killing his lover and destroying the new life he has tried to build. He determines that he must put an end to the evil and goes actively in pursuit of its destruction.
But it isn’t a reckless war of revenge. As he figures out more of what he has done, he repents and seeks to make amends for the evil he has done and who he has become. Toward the end of the third movie, Bourne spares the life of an assassin ... an “asset” like himself ... sent to kill him. At the end of the movie, on the rooftop of the Treadstone training facility, the asset has Bourne in the cross-hairs once again. The grace the asset received from Bourne causes him to ask Bourne why earlier he didn’t take the shot and kill him. Bourne asks the asset if he even knows why he is there to kill him. “Look at us. Look at what they make you give,” Bourne says. After a pause, Bourne turns and leaps off the building into the East River. The assassin lowers his weapon and allows Bourne to jump, even as Noah Vosen, the operations chief takes a shot. But apparently, through grace, the spell has been broken for this "asset."
It is also a part of the story that Jason is not alone in his quest for truth and righteousness. Characters like Nicky Parsons and Pamela Landy grasp the nature of the quest and come to his assistance. His pursuit of what is right draws others into the pursuit of what is good as well. By doing what is right he makes it possible for others to make their contributions toward what is right.
Confronting Self and Rebaptism
But the critical scene is the scene just prior to the rooftop encounter. Jason has found and trapped Dr. Hirsch in the training facility. Hirsch reminds Bourne of all the details of how he became Jason Bourne. He explains that Treadstone did nothing to him that he didn’t sign up for. He patiently explains that it was David Webb who made the decision to become Jason Bourne … implying that Treadstone had no culpability. He freely chose to become Jason Bourne. How could he fault Hirsch and Treadstone for his decision?
Hirsch asks Bourne if remembers and Bourne says he now remembers everything. He then declares that his is no longer Jason Bourne. But rather than executing Hirsch and making a hero out of Hirsch, Bourne will let judgment take its own course.
A pursuit then ensues by agents that leads to the rooftop conversation I already mentioned. Bourne leaps ten stories into the East River. Then there is a scene where the camera angle is looking up through the waters at a motionless body with a light shinning from above. The movie shows a clip of Pamela Landy giving testimony about the corrupt Treadstone and Blackbrier programs at a congressional hearing. The movie then shows Nicky Parsons at a café watching a newscast about the unraveling of the covert programs. The movie keeps cutting back the lifeless body submerged in the water. At the end of the news report Nicky is watching, the reporter says that a man name David Webb, a.k.a., Jason Bourne, was responsible for unraveling the program, but was shot and fell from a roof into the East River. After three days, no body was found. Then a knowing grin comes across Nicky’s face. The camera cuts back to our lifeless body. It suddenly comes alive and David Webb makes his way to the surface. The movie ends.
He went into the water as Jason Bourne who had renounced his identity. He emerged as a new David Webb. He had been baptised anew. He had become unBorune to be reborn.
So what to make of the religious imagery? It occurs to me that there is no savior in the story. Our maybe the savior is ourselves. Salvation comes from understanding your own history and owning it. It comes from embracing what you “know” to be right … how ever that “knowing” is achieved … and being faithful to that truth.
But if there is no savior there is certainly a Satan. We are all vulnerable to being seduced by powerful ideologies and their metanarratives that pragmatically dehumanize people in order to perpetuate themselves. Repenting from those ideologies … and the machinery that supports them … is formidable but possible. Others are on the journey as well and we will find each other if we have the courage to fight for the truth against all odds.
In many ways, the Bourne trilogy strikes me as postmodern parable about salvation that draws heavily on Christian ideas of identity, sin, repentance, justice, baptism and rebirth. What do you think?
If you want to view the last five minutes of the movie, I've got a clip at YouTube that begins during Bourne remembering when he made his decision to become Jason Bourne. He has just killed the unidentified hooded man. Click here.