Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Straying from the Party Line: The Bourne Identity, Part 2 (When Invisibles Go Too Far!)

This movie has a surprising number of deviations. Will it get away with all of them?
  • Deviation #2: There is a HUGE missing beat in this movie: A guy wakes up with amnesia, realizes that he’s probably a US secret agent, and goes to the nearest US embassy to report in and find out who he really is. So what goes wrong with that plan? Well…nothing. For some reason, while he’s in line at the embassy, waiting to talk to somebody, he just suddenly changes his mind and decides to go on the run instead, figuring out for himself who he is using a few scant clues, instead of just asking his boss.
  • The Problem: This should be a huge problem, right? Basically, there is no inciting incident. The entire plot is unmotivated. Sure, he doesn’t remember anything, but he knows that the answers are just a phone call away or embassy visit away. So why doesn’t he just make the call and end the movie?
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, for two reasons: The first, amazingly enough, is that most viewers don’t even notice this huge whole the first time through. The second is that, when we spot it on subsequent viewings, we know enough in retrospect to explain it.
This moment was explained by “invisibles” in Tony Gilroy’s script:
  • BOURNE on the U.S. line. Standing there trying to think. What's he gonna say? What can he say? With the cops outside, and the incident in the park, then the bank... A WOMAN CLERK waving him forward. BOURNE trying to think -- what the fuck is he doing? -- what's he gonna say? -- now he's at the window, and if he was looking for a friendly face, he came to the wrong place -- But he's already bailing, walking away from the woman, the window, the room -- he's out of here – 
But while I’m usually a defender of invisibles, in this case they push it too far. Even an actor of Damon’s caliber can’t convey this life-shattering choice entirely through facial expressions without having a chance to explain himself.  Instead, they just zoom past it...and that works! I only noticed the problem later, and by that point, I could see in retrospect that Bourne’s crisis of conscience is beginning to re-assert itself, and that’s why he realized it would be wrong to turn himself in...but it was a hell of a risk on the filmmakers’ part.

But wait there’s more: Tomorrow we’ll have a record third day of deviations!


j.s. said...

I don't know if this is as big a potential problem as you make it out to be. There's a reason that the audiences just went with it and it's not because Damon -- a very good actor even then who's since become better -- sold that whole paragraph full of invisibles on his face. It's that he sold enough of them, or the only ones that really matter. All we have to understand at that moment is that he's trying to get to a safe place and has the sudden realization that the embassy, far from being a place of refuge and answers, might be the worst possible place he could have gone. He's in effect preemptively denying himself that safe space and it turns out that he's exactly right. It's another manifestation of his unfailing instinct for trouble that we've already seen in action.

Matt Bird said...

Yeah, I agree with that way of looking at it.