Monday, February 11, 2008

into the wild & the bourne ultimatum

Last week for my "Faith, Film & Young Adults" class we watched Into the Wild but I won't post my whole analysis so I won't give away the movie, since probably most of you haven't seen it. It just came out of the theaters and isn't on video yet but my professor managed to get it for us (legally). I recommend it. A young man just after college decides to leave the security of his upper-middle-class life, and sends the money he was supposed to use for law school to a non-profit. He heads off “into the wild,” at first traveling around the lower 48 United States (with a sojourn in Mexico) penniless, and then heading up to Alaska to live off the land for as long as he can. Along the way he meets interesting people with whom he connects, but his ultimate dream is to prove himself by making it on his own in the wilderness. I, too, have been drawn to this romantic ideal of living off the land, and I think it's common as Americans to want to make it on our own, to show we don't need anyone else, to go off in the woods by ourselves in order to find out who we are without all those pesky people who try to shape us one way or the other. This movie shows the romantic side of this dream as well as the not-so-romantic side. It was well done and I felt like it was a good movie.

For one of my "choice" movies I watched The Bourne Ultimatum with my husband. I'd seen it before, but we own it so we watched it again. It's not my favorite movie, or my favorite genre (action, violence...) but I had a lot more to say about it than I thought I would. (I'm going to give away pretty much this whole movie, so if you haven't seen it and want to, you probably shouldn't read this part.)

“Jason Bourne,” who has been a top-secret agent for an undercover government agency that assassinates world leaders for the US government, has been on the run for several years. This is the third movie in the trilogy. In the first movie he had amnesia and had to figure out who he was and why people were trying to kill him, and in this movie he is attempting to fit together the last pieces of his identity and show the injustice of the agency he was working for by making it known to the country. The agency is still trying to kill him, but they have trained him well enough that he's smarter than them, and he eventually gets the documents he needs and has the agency exposed. He also goes back to the place where he was “trained”: where his identity was erased and he was made into a machine to do the bidding of this agency. He confronts his father figure there, and refuses to kill him or others (as much as possible) even while they are constantly attempting to kill him. He learns his true name, escapes, and is able to, presumably, live a fairly normal life from then on, since the agency he worked for has been dismantled. The film deals with the themes of identity formation, seeking roots, and uncovering “lies” one has been told or ways one has been coerced into living that it turns out are not just.

This film, like many others, is about the issue of authority, and the misuse of power. Specifically this is about the misuse of power by the American government, which is a fairly common plot in our culture. It speaks to our culture's uncertainty about whether it can trust its own government, but it also speaks to us about how we view those in authority over us in general. “Jason Bourne,” whose real name is David Webb, trusts this government agency and gives his life to it. Then one day he wakes up and realizes what's going on. He can remember the face of each person he's killed, but can't remember their names. He wants to apologize, but he can't find words or actions deep enough. He doesn't know who he is apart from this evil system, but he knows he is better than it, that he can beat it, and that it is evil. He has a sense that he needs to go back to the beginning of it all, confront the ultimate authority figure, and show up the evil system by his own goodness and sense of truth, right and wrong. I found it interesting that in this film, the “good” is represented by the young, the intelligent, and women. They are less willing to be coerced into using evil means to attain a good end. The personifications of the evil system are all old men.

I liked the suspense, the fact that good was fighting evil and good won, and the criticism of the abuse of power. I didn't like all the violence. It's too bad it seems impossible for our culture to show a powerful overcoming of evil without the “good” side using violence—even though it's less violence than the other side uses. I liked that women were shown as being less coerced into “ends justify the means” thinking, but I didn't like that the women were still powerless to stop those who were thinking this way. The women could help Jason Bourne, but he was the only one who could “save” them and show up the injustice in the system. He also literally saved the lives of women who could only stand by passively, trying not to get shot.

A "holy moment" occurs in Bourne's moment of honesty that he could remember all the faces of those he'd killed, but not their names, and his confession of feeling powerless to be forgiven of those acts. His ability to admit his powerlessness was a holy moment, a moment of paradoxical forgiveness and redemption. Also, the fact that he was not willing to stoop to the level of those who were trying to kill him was a holy theme. Of course it's necessary to do this with the protagonist—it seems that filmmakers know the Just War criteria better than those who run real wars, and they use these criteria to make the protagonist look good: he doesn't use force unless necessary, and then only in proportion to the threat. He doesn't kill innocent people, he doesn't even kill those who aren't innocent if there's another way. He only uses violence when he is threatened, not before. Although in some ways he is seeking revenge, it is not a revenge that requires the lives of everyone who has wronged him. Instead he seeks justice: the exposure of the unjust agency for which he was working. He seeks, as Romans 12:21 puts it, to “overcome evil by staying in the good” (my translation). It is also perhaps a “holy moment” to think about how and when we have trusted an authority figure/institution and then realized they were abusing their power—even authority figures in the church.


Amy P said...

Hey, the college part of Into the Wild was filmed in Macy at Fox! I was visiting Tami a couple of years ago when they were there. I haven't seen it yet to see if you can tell or not...

cherice said...

I totally forgot about that, Amy! I'll have to go back and watch the college sequence when it comes out on video/DVD.