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The Bourne Identity, an Analysis

A long time ago, someone in Hollywood thought it would be a good idea to make a movie from a book. The conversion from book to screenplay was highly subjective and often times the movie looked nothing like the original source materials. Recently, however, we have moved to a state where if the movie is not like the book, audience members who are either fans of the book or have read the book at all will criticize the movie to the point of marketing death. The similarity from book to screen is not always a good thing, as represented by scenes in the most recent Twilight Saga movie. However, I find the dichotomy between movies and their book counterparts fascinating and wished to explore it further, discussing movies that are past the statute of limitations for posting spoilers. My first adventure: The Bourne Identity.

Character Development And Dichotomy

His name is Bourne. Their name is Treadstone. Aside from the reuse of character names, these are the similarities I found between the book, The Bourne Identity, and the movie of the same name. Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. Jason Bourne is found at sea without any memory. He is found by a fishing boat off the coast of France and is nursed back to health by a doctor by the name of Geoffrey Washburn, who has found a bank account number implanted in Bourne's hip, which goes to a bank in Zurich. This much is basically the same between the two instances of the story. (Sidenote: I don't want to nitpick between the two versions, pointing out details such as timing, so I won't go into detail about facts like, “Bourne stays with the doctor, studying, training, and generally trying to remember who he is, for around six months in the book, while in the movie, the timing seems more like mere days.”) In the grand scheme of the story, timing is irrelevant in an action-genred movie because everything is expected to be disjointed and fast. In this instance, the story splits here and we are only a few scenes into either version of the story. Who and what Jason Bourne is or was prior to the accident that starts each chain of events is the premise of both mediums.

(I am going to spoil the ending now.) Jason Bourne is an assassin, created by the government, but if you have only seen the movie, the reasons are not what you think. In the movie, the character Jason Bourne is a government-trained killing machine (and the best one that ever came out of the Treadstone program), who is sent on a mission to assassinate a terrorist leader named Wambosi, but in the process of carrying out the job, Bourne chokes. We find out later that the reasoning for this is due to the presence of Wambosi’s children in the seconds before pulling the trigger. The book, written by Robert Ludlum, is not that cut and dry because books can be series while fulfilling the need for a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the book, the character Jason Bourne is a government-trained killing machine. He is employed by a deep-cover, government section called Treadstone and was chosen as the best trained man that ever came out of the Medusa Project. Bourne’s mission is to draw out a terrorist assassin named Carlos by being a formidable opponent and stealing his business. We do not find out in this book why Bourne is shot in the head at the beginning of the story, but the premise remains the same: Bourne is left without memory and races against the clock to find out who he really is.

Without spoiling too much of either instance of the story, I would like to delve further into the differences in each plot line, which are numerous and confusing if the above explanation is any indication. Marie St. Jaques is a gypsy woman and a love interest of Bourne’s that develops as Bourne tries to evade police in Zurich because he has been recognized. This is true, at least, in the movie. In the book, however, St. Jacques is a leading financial agent in the Canadian government at a conference in Zurich who is abducted by Bourne, as he tries to escape agents of the man named Carlos. Their relationship develops in this instance during acts of violence and passion, as both their lives end up in danger. Each of them brings insecurities as well as knowledge to the table that lead them through the confusing dichotomy of story line.

Treadstone is a faction of the United States government that has chosen men from military service to train as assassins to carry out the government’s dirty work. On the other hand, Treadstone is a faction of the United States government that has chosen one man from a group of men in a Vietnam military program, called Medusa, to become a rival to a worldwide assassin known as Carlos in the attempt to draw out and kill Carlos to end his reign of terror. As the movie, book explanations of what is the Treadstone entity are respectively treated above, the intentions are emphatically different. Herein lies one of the major issues between the movie and the book. The government in one is seen as a bad guy, trying to tie up loose ends, while the other portrays a government whose end game is the save the world from a known murderer and terrorist.

The known murderer and terrorist named Carlos is not a character in the movie, even though he defines this books and the books thereafter, which also have movie counterparts. If this information is any indication, the first movie/book dichotomy creates a steady rift in the story lines that lead to the end of the original trilogy written by Ludlum.

Timing And Social Implications

(Another Sidenote: I feel like I need to say something on the subject of the differences between the movie and the book and how they have been affected by the times during which they were created.) Put very simply, the movie was released 2002 and the book was published in 1980. Not only are the technological advances in that time difference making up an infinitely long list, but the social implications of the movie and the book are nowhere near the same. As it is, in 1980, the personal computer had not been fully realized, let alone the Clinton or W. Bush Administrations and 9/11. Even in a post-9/11 world, the subject matter of the story is relevant across the twenty year gap.

The 1970s spelled out the end of the Vietnam War, a war that was disliked more than any current situation happening currently and the political climate is fairly similar with a government that is not well trusted and a public who is continually looking for more honesty from elected officials. However, the thing that has changed is the face of technology is the way we interact with each other. There is no way to get around the fact that cell phones did not exist in 1980 like they do now. So changes to the story and the details are made to facilitate these changes in dynamic. In the movie, it would not make sense to reference the Vietnam War, even though in the book it is a major part of why Bourne exists in the first place. In the movie, it wouldn’t make sense to rid the world of cell phones and computers in order to stay true to the books limited knowledge of the future of technology.

Finally, the movie states something about the way we think about terrorism. The book makes a similar statement about the idea of chasing down terrorists and making sure the world is safe. The inherent differences are based on why the terrorists must be caught: personal vendetta or international safety, as well as who it is doing the catching and why. In a world where Ludlum wrote about deep cover operations and government secrets in order to take down known murderers away from the public eye, how likely would it be for a government to wage all out war on countries due to one or two enemies within the Axis of Evil?


What I ended up gaining from this side by side is irrelevant, but Bourne is a character that is fascinating no matter what time period in which you place him. His story answers an unasked question about what a man would do (or have to do) when left without is memory to wake up and find himself in the middle of a life of unanswered questions. While watching or reading, each person asks themselves how they think they would cope or what they would do in that situation. The answers to those questions, I believe, are the reason for the story, so no matter what the back story or the details that make up the man known as Jason Bourne, we all think and decide who are we, really. Do you know?