The Bourne Ultimatum: rejecting the CIA
By Hans Bennett
Following September 11, 2001, the corporate news media has almost uniformly supported the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the overall agenda of US imperialism. Simultaneously, the mainstream entertainment industry has produced several movies with remarkably scathing critiques of US militarism and foreign policy. Accompanying recent anti-war films like In The Valley of Elah and Lions for Lambs, is this summer’s blockbuster action movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, starring actor Matt Damon. Just released on DVD, The Bourne Ultimatum is the final installment of the Jason Bourne trilogy, which is based on the book series by author Robert Ludlum.
In the trilogy’s first movie, The Bourne Identity (2002), Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, is mysteriously found by fishermen in the Mediterranean Sea, unconscious, with several bullets in his back. After help from the crew’s doctor, Bourne regains consciousness only to discover that he has amnesia and a microchip embedded under his skin, which projects the numbers of a mysterious Swiss bank account. After arriving in Switzerland to investigate this mysterious bank account, Bourne is sleeping at night in a park when he is awakened by police officers who begin to bully him. Without thinking, Bourne fights back and sends both cops to the hospital—now realizing that he possesses extraordinary fighting skills.
Bourne soon learns that he is a CIA assassin, and his gunshot wounds and amnesia have stemmed from a botched assassination attempt on an African leader planning to write a book exposing numerous ultra-secret CIA operations in Africa. Bourne soon realizes that the CIA is now trying to kill him, and after he survives several attempts on his life, he has the inevitable confrontation with his CIA boss, at which point he finally remembers the full details of the failed assassination attempt.
In the second movie, The Bourne Supremacy (2004), he is still suffering from amnesia but can remember some fragments of his past, including several assassinations that he performed for the CIA. Disgusted by his assassin past, he continues his rigorous physical training and also confronts the intense psychological trauma that continues to haunt him. He is particularly haunted by scattered memories of his very first job, where he killed a prominent Russian politician that was opposing the privatization of oil, following the dissolution of the USSR.
As Bourne is hunted once again, this insubordinate, former assassin is forced to use the very fighting skills that he has come to despise. While providing explosive hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, car chases, and a suspenseful plot, the action scenes will satisfy any fan of action movies. However, distinguishing this from the typical action film, it explores Bourne’s deep psychological wounds resulting from his violent past, and his displeasure at having to use violence for his survival. Indeed, the violence is not glorified at all.
This summer’s The Bourne Ultimatum marked the final chapter of this exciting trilogy. After explosive confrontations with CIA “assets” in London and Tangiers, Morocco, Bourne returns to New York City where he finally confronts the man who created him as part of an experimental training program for the CIA’s elite assassins. In the process, Bourne remembers the full details of his “training,” which entailed treatment shockingly similar to the torture tactics used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Indeed, this is how he was made into an unquestioning trigger-man serving the murderous agenda of US global dominance.
“A Movie For Today”
Recently interviewed by CNN about Ultimatum, Damon said that movie’s similarities to the current war on Iraq were no accident. "All of these movies are very much of the time that they were made, and at a time when we had gone into this war. To have this character aware of what he had done and try to take responsibility for his actions I thought was a really good thing….It's this guy who has done these horrible things, but now we see he thought he was doing them for the right reasons at the time he did them, but he realizes he was sold a bill of goods," Damon said. "So that's very much a movie for today."
Having grown up next-door to anarchist historian Howard Zinn, actor Matt Damon is no stranger to radical politics. In his breakthrough film, Good Will Hunting (1997), Damon’s character (a mathematical genius from Boston’s working class) challenges Robin Williams’ character to read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Williams then responds by challenging him to read Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent!
Recently, Damon narrated the documentary about Zinn, titled You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train (2004), and also began a project with FOX Television to create a TV mini-series based on Zinn’s A People’s History, before it was cancelled by FOX.
Damon’s recent films The Good Shepherd (2005) and Syriana (2005) also present a radical critique of the CIA and the general objectives of US foreign policy. In Martin Scorcese’s The Departed (2006), Damon plays a corrupt police officer working for Frank Costello, a real-life Boston gangster with documented ties to the US intelligence community.
Robert Ludlum and the Radical Spy Novel
The recent Bourne movies are based on the trilogy written by best-selling author Robert Ludlum, a WWII veteran who passed away in 2001. The original Bourne Identity was written in 1980, so the new movies have been updated to correspond with recent history. The only real similarities in the plot are that Bourne is a wounded CIA assassin, with amnesia, who is being hunted by the CIA. In the book, Bourne is severely traumatized by his experience leading a US death-squad in the killing fields of the Vietnam War.
In contrast to conservative spy fiction authors like Tom Clancy, who glorify the US National Security State, Ludlum’s many books presented a profoundly critical view of authoritarianism, ruling class power, the military-industrial complex, violence, and the US intelligence community.