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Bourne Ultimatum—An Ancient Paradigm Comes Out of the Closet

Bourne Ultimatum—An Old Paradigm Comes Out of the Closet

I just caught “Bourne Ultimatum” last night (opening night in San Francisco)—the third installment of the amazing film franchise staring Matt Damon. Don’t worry: no spoilers within. I have to say, the action is riveting, the tension unrelenting, the premise compelling.

Most action films engage only your adrenal gland—adrenaline is pumped into your system while the ridiculous plot turns and transparent appeal to emotion coax your brain to slowly shut down. Not so with the Bourne Ultimatum.

Of course, this spy flick has the twist of involving a sort of “anti-James Bond”—this guy does NOT want to be here, does NOT want to hurt anyone (not really), does NOT want to be who he has become. If there is such a thing as a squeamish assassin, Jason Bourne is it.

But that is not what interests me. What does interest me is Jason’s . . .well, perfection.

Yeah, ok. I don’t mean to gush. But there is something startling, even arresting about Jason Bourne’s absolutely seamless unity of ability, temperament and function. Quite simply, although Jason appears at first blush to be the government’s worst nightmare in a spy, he is, in spite of and because of his lack of enthusiasm for knocking people off, the perfect killing machine.

Not that Bourne doesn’t have passion—it just happens to be the sort of passion that allows him to simultaneously stay completely “in the game” and objective enough not to get caught up in the emotion, not to get sidetracked by ego and not be sidelined by hubris.

Of course, Bourne also brings all the technical savvy required by a 21st century spy—he speaks a dozen languages (and the right ones) like a native, can drive anything, carries a hefty punch and has some pretty cool ninjitsu moves.

Bottom line: if I was recruiting for spies rather than lawyers, he would be on the top of my list of targets.

And that is the point. There is a consistent and powerful theme throughout much of American—and perhaps all of “Western”—literature—and that is of the perfect hero; the man or woman that exemplifies all of what is necessary and all to perfection. What we are talking about is a powerful social drive to seek out and shamelessly laud what in essence is not more and not less than successive inheritors of old Beowulf’s mantle.

Okay. I can feel your patience wearing thin—who cares? I’ll tell you: our powerful societal striving towards exemplifying perfection and unity of practical, mental, emotional, and, frankly, spiritual, virtues now combines with ubiquitous and perpetual communication. Thus, there are no more “small ponds” in our world. We are moving rapidly toward a single, universal pond of human endeavor. This means that, in short order, we will all know of the greatest and best of us all. The rub: we are all now being judged by perfection, not some bell curve of mediocrity.

And so I say all this to warn you: whatever level of productivity, whatever heights of sophistication, whatever quiver of skills you have thought heretofore would get you where you need to go: they are all suffering from a “radiation”, a “hyper-inflation” in light of the blinding perfection that the very few can exemplify—but all soon will be expected to live up to. We are in, in sum, a new arms race—an arms race of intelligence, insight, endurance and creativity.

The Jason Bournes of the world have been unleashed—and suddenly you are a much smaller fish and in a much bigger pond, than you ever thought you would be.

Get in gear, ramp it up, or get run over.

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