Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum: an Anti-Government Film

We saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” last night. It’s a very entertaining, fast-and-furious thriller continuing the saga of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), a CIA agent who, having lost his memory, is desperately trying to recover it. His quest for his past is the driving force of this and all the Bourne movies. He is searching and on the run, not from standard-issue bad guys, but our own CIA, which is out to eliminate him, because he knows too much, is finding out too much, and will expose the agency’s criminal behavior.
The whole movie is an exciting chase with Bourne outwitting his pursuers at every turn. In his ability to survive the murderous campaign against him, he is essentially a supernatural character, a messiah saving us from our government.
I don’t remember another popular entertainment that so effectively showed the evil that is expressed in a secret, lawless government. Last summer’s James Bond epic, “Casino Royale,” in contrast, made no political statement. Indeed, James Bond always does the government’s bidding without a murmur. In “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Bourne realizes that he was duped into volunteering to serve his country and to “save American lives,” as his erstwhile mentor reminds him. Of course, instead, he has killed many people, each of whom, he says, he remembers. His memory is a grisly “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) that torments him.
His volunteering is clearly meant to be emblematic of the trust shown by all the hapless souls now dead or still fighting our secret, lawless, futile wars. They, unlike Bourne, were not indestructible messiahs. For their trusting volunteering, they have achieved no “victory,” and for those who’ve died, we cling to the hope that they are in “the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22).
In the movies, we can relax and let Bourne be our messiah; in life, we should realize that we have work to do if our world is not to be destroyed by war and lawlessness. If we ask what we should do to help avert catastrophe, we can remember the rich man who, not finding himself in the bosom of Abraham, wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that living a heedless life like his would result in the torment of Hades. Abraham’s answer is good advice for us: “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” (Luke 16:29) I would add: Do what they urge us to do.
Unfortunately, Luke’s story does not end on a happy note. Abraham continues, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (v 31)
Our Messiah has come to us from the dead, we don’t listen to him, and so we’re on our own. Given our predicament, we need the luck of Bourne. Alas, I fear that’s only in the movies.

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