I Want to Be Jason Bourne

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jason bourne

I want to be Jason Bourne. (But not for the reason you're imagining right now)! I was watching The Bourne Identityfor about the tenth time  the other night. I thought it might be wise to ask myself what is it about this kind of character that is so compelling for me, (and probably 90% of my gender). You see, Jason can handle himself in any situation. He  walks into the room, and has it cased out in seconds. He's always two steps ahead of everybody else. He gets himself out of any situation, and he's fearless in a fight.

Jason Bourne is a thirty million dollar weapon of the CIA, an assassin who is paid, not just to kill, but to be invisible at his job, leaving no trace.  On one of  his missions he hesitates, uncharacteristically, when he realizes  that his target's young son is watching. He who hesitates is shot. He takes two in the back, and barely survives. When he recovers, he is suffering from amnesia. Jason Bourne is in a full blown identity crisis. His sole mission is to find out who he is.

What we have  here is a fairly obvious metaphor of the male condition. We don't know who we are, and what we're searching for, more than anything else is a heart. Enter the love interest, Marie, an innocent waif herself. After agreeing to help Jason escape his first clash with the CIA operatives, she needs his protection. Predictably they fall in love. As  Jason slowly recovers his memory, all he wants is out—so that he can be with Marie.

We have some pretty powerful metaphors grabbing me, and my gender, by the short curlies at this point. Jason is the Warrior, resolute, focused, and powerful. His mission to find himself and to find love is clear, and if he has to kill some bad guys along the way, so be it. But he's a warrior with a heart—and it's this second archetype that seals the deal: the Vulnerable Saviour. What chance does the 21st century man have, between wars, no helpless women to rescue in this post-feminist culture, and a fairly cushy life by any historical standards? What is going to elicit this kind of intensity, commitment, and courage in men today?

warrior poseIt's not the violence that I'm attracted to: it's the Warrior's boldness in standing up for himself, his capacity for resolute action, and his willingness to put it all on the line for his principles. I decided to connect with my own warrior energy. I actually got my body into a reasonable  facsimile of warrior pose. Anger arose for all the ways that I was wimping  out in my life. Not standing up for my principles. Pretending it doesn't matter when it does. I discovered that the warrior isn't actually motivated by anger. The anger (or on the flip side, the depression) is just a symptom  of what is crying out to be defended. And what always is crying out for a little respect are the principles of the heart.

Two nights later I watched the Iron Man. Same basic formula, different  circumstances. Tony Stark is a billionaire, weapons manufacturer. And once again, he is a man in search of a heart. His business is defence, and he recruits his false warrior (angry ego) to defend his defences, which is pretty much the job description of the false self. But when one of his weapons gets into the hands of some bad guys, his own heart is literally blown apart.

iron man Imprisoned, Tony invents an energy supply that will keep his heart going. It's such an exceptional energy source that it also is able, not to merely keep him alive, but also to fuel his mission of defeating the bad guys. This energy source glows for all to see, like a laser beam, from the heart center. Like Jason Bourne, Tony also falls in love—with his personal assistant. This woman has functioned vicariously as his heart energy. when he couldn't manufacture it himself. This is a fairly accurate description of how women have functioned in men's lives historically.

Tony Stark teaches us that it's no longer good enough to simply live. The days of it being enough to merely earn a living and be bread winners are over. We need a mission we can give our lives to in an absolute and unambiguous fashion. We need a mission that recruits the soul as operatives in Spirit's mission. In an interesting departure from other superheroes, like Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, at the end of the film Tony Stark outs himself as Iron Man. He's no longer hiding behind the armor.

The world needs men to step up and be warriors for good, today more than ever. We need male power, passion, and intensity focused on co-creating a better future for the next generation. We can't leave this to our women to do it alone—and I wouldn't say this if I didn't see a trend developing of lots of spiritual warrior energy on the rise in women, but declining in the male gender. Am I wrong? I hope so. There are lots of causes to choose from, but my hunch is that men need to start by reconnecting with the energy source that is the heart. Maybe eventually, we'd be able to step out from behind our armour without losing our fierce commitment to do the right thing. I'm guessing this how the authentic warrior is aroused and recruited in the service of life.


This article was originally posted at If Darwin Prayed

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  • Comment Link Juma Wood Wednesday, 15 February 2012 22:21 posted by Juma Wood

    Hi Bruce,

    Deep gratitude for tackling this topic. I've recently started to take men's work seriously as a practice. The works of Father Richard Rohr and Robert Masters finally convinced me I was totally avoiding this piece, that spiritual work was something different, something ascending, not descending. How wrong I've been.

    The men's work I was most familiar with was Robert Bly, Iron John, and the Gathering of Men. Contacting your hairy man. I told myself this was unattractive for a variety of reasons: self-indulgent, regressive, etc.

    What has amazed me is the depth of sorrow and grief in my heart. You mention depression as the flip side of anger, which I'd agree with, but both are masquerades or distortions of deeply repressed sorrow and grief.

    And not just my sorrow, my personal story that accounts for deep wounding, but something universal, archetypal, Sorrow at the deepest level of being out of which my story is a localized animation.

    I haven't actually been able to get to the sorrow yet, not really. The layers of anger, identities, personas, avoidance of every sort are still primarily present. Finally starting to release this anger, I've began to actually feel a dent in it. Drilling down, down, until, I suspect, the bottom falls out and underneath, I fear, the deepest sorrow imaginable.

    I won't speculate about how the flip side of this sorrow is absolute, cosmic joy and that eros wholly embodied is exactly this joy from the very mysterious depths of sorrow itself. That would be way way ahead of where I'm actually at, and the work that actually needs doing, that is calling, haunting by imagination, and always has.

    Instead a question. One of the things that has become really apparent is the degree to which men are challenged to be vulnerable. Raw, fully present in their rawness. I'm not using 'I' language here on purpose as, especially in this moment, being vulnerable is less an issue than making others uncomfortable with that vulnerability. You're a minister with I assume all the identities and expectations that come with being a minister. You've captured well the challenges men have to recapturing their heart. A friend told me recently during a mentorship training I'm participating in that he has never seen a teenage boy take advantage of a man who is being vulnerable in his presence. I wonder to what degree you feel capable of being vulnerable in front of a congregation that likely reinforces all the cultural expectations around what type of space a minister is supposed to hold? And what would happen if you were capable of displaying this level of vulnerability. Would people be uncomfortable? Leave? Would they lose faith in what they perceive to be the responsibilities of a church leader?

    It strikes me all the myriad ways we reinforce our repression with the cultural structures and identities we build to hedge us from truly feeling, getting to the raw experience of being human.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Wednesday, 15 February 2012 23:00 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    "He was a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).

    Thanks Juma for modelling vulnerability. My own deepest sorrow arises from the life I missed not living from heart. That was reinforced by gender socialization of course, but its origins were more primal —a sense quite early on that life held an implicit promise, a promise that I showed up to lean into and realize. But very early on, the flame of expectation around realizing that promise had almost been doused. My life became a contract of compromise. Anyway, yes, sorrow for the promises that couldn't be kept for various reasons. I think men carry a particular grief for lost tenderness; we want to touch and be touched more; to be more kind; to live more softly. The whole Bly thing never really spoke to me. I did a workshop with him. He was an asshole. I was a wrestler, an athlete, a guy, with no shortages of opportunities to howl. What I needed was to be held, beheld, ecstatically enjoyed.

    With regard to being vulnerable as a leader of the church, people realize by now that the pulpit is a no-bullshit zone. I say only what I know, and if I don't know I ask for help from others. I learned early on that it was important to be able to poke fun at one's self. It's really an exercise/practice in self-emptying (kenosis). I'm not really tempted at this point to be other than who I am. Did that for awhile, early in ministry, and got depressed. So, it's pretty much what you see is what you get.

    People don't leave when I display vulnerability. They are relieved. I can't play the victim (but that wouldn't be true vulnerability), and I don't have a right to leave people thinking that they need to rescue you me. They need to know that I have people I can turn to for support, and that I do. For example, my congregation knows that I see a therapist weekly.

    "It strikes me all the myriad ways we reinforce our repression with the cultural structures and identities we build to hedge us from truly feeling, getting to the raw experience of being human."

    I couldn't agree more, Juma

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Thursday, 16 February 2012 00:19 posted by Juma Wood

    Thank you Bruce.
    I'd be interested to hear your experience with Bly some day. There is an anecdote of Bly saying to Richard Rohr that the reason his work reached and ceiling and Rohr's continued is that Bly could not use the G word.

    I sense this hunger to be held connects to Vanessa's piece this week. For me it's a visceral sense of somatic disintegration into beauty, love, attraction, intimacy, what have you.The anger, though a genuine and real emotion (more compelling, i believe, when it's subtly recognized and felt than carnally projected), seems largely a tangle of frustration at the ways inauthenticity has been programmed.

    You spoke of the warrior. I'm drawn to that warrior. That warrior as naked wide open vulnerable strength, how you describe your ministry work and which I've witnessed. Strong without avoidance, vulnerable without leaking. Still without being vacuous.

    I love your description about that broken promise. The mentorship training was about recapturing the fire of our teenager. In the process of reconnecting to that fella, it was uncanny how every man recognized the essential quality of hope and promise that in part defined that boy. How that had been disappointed, even rejected in the hard give and take of surviving the world. The sadness that emanated from that. The shame at having not only disappointed that boy but also having judged and shelved him.

    Circling back to the Bly-Rohr anecdote. With no context to place this work such practice becomes an end in itself. At the same time, the work is badly missing from much spiritual yoga today. Tricky to allow the sorrow that underpins our humanity truck to express. Not sure though I know any true warriors whose heart isn't broken today.


  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Thursday, 16 February 2012 02:13 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    I probably broke some kind of Beam's protocol calling Mr. Bly an asshole. To be more descriptive, he behaved toward me like a bully. On the playground we called those kind of guys assholes. Just my experience. He's a fine poet.

    You nailed it there, Juma, with your longing to dissolve into beauty, love, attraction—there's a sense that you just want to completely surrender to the allurement of love. Much of my work these days is about precisely that...falling in love with love and absolute beauty. It's kind of a 2nd person face of God practice.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:11 posted by TJ Dawe

    This is great, Bruce. I hadn’t thought of either movie in these terms before.

    One point about Jason Bourne - in his amnesiac state, he finds he possesses deadly fighting skills. He’s unaware of this until confronted by two policemen, who he takes out before realizing he’s done it. If we see Bourne as a symbol of Man, or rather “Men,” this could be seen as the legacy of our inherited role as warrior, hunter, protector. We evolved these capacities, these instincts, these drives, but just like Jason Bourne out of a job, we don’t know what to do with them. We’re confused and ashamed by the role we seem to have been thrust into by evolution. I’m the killer, the destroyer. It’s not too far of a leap to conclude: I’m bad. I’m an agent of thanatos. And I’m not even needed to do that anymore. What good am I?

    Iron Man II shows Tony Stark having apparently brought about world peace, on his own terms, to complete public acclaim (what an egoic male triumph!) and then lapsing right back into the alcoholism and hedonism that characterized his life before his moral awakening and transformation into Iron Man. This is a good reminder: your accomplishments alone won’t save you. If you don’t deal with the hole in your heart, you’ll keep circling back to the same frustrations and the same self-defeating behaviour that’s been dogging you your whole life and driving you to relentlessly accomplish, achieve and prove to yourself, your father and the world that you’re worthwhile.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Thursday, 16 February 2012 13:08 posted by Gail Hochachka


    Thanks for sharing this! I just watched Bourne Supremacy again tonight and realized this triology are part of my 'favorite action movies'...and I was too feeling into why. For me, there is something profound about the story, very reminiscent of David's battle with Goliath. Though there isn't an overt spiritual link, Bourne's high level capacity to be a few steps ahead surely seems like spirit-in-action (or at least a very transcendent stage in that particular line!). We do need more warriors for love today, especially in the face of what seems to be impossibility. Thanks again.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 17 February 2012 05:22 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Nice addition T.J.

    It's interesting as well that other superheroes like Batman and Spiderman are required to choose between love and the warrior. They have this romantic yearning for love that can never be fulfilled as long as they remain the hero. We seem to be stalled at at an evolutionary impasse.

    Gail, so interesting to hear that a woman is into action movies - now there's a gender stereotype. My wife has pretty much zero interest. I like your connection of Bourne with Spirit-in-action, with the hero being a few steps ahead. Like a Jesus or Buddha being the future present.

  • Comment Link Dawn Odenwald Friday, 17 February 2012 17:36 posted by Dawn Odenwald

    As a woman, I am intrigued to think of Bourne as a metaphor for the male condition. I love these movies and find myself always drawn to the depiction of the warrior, who when faced with conflict draws into a place that seems almost calm. This pure energy of the unconflicted human. And once the conflict has passed, the warrior can return to the annonymous (I suppose as shown through the comic book costumed super heros)

    For men today, I would think the battle is not as obvious - is it even ok for you to fight? - and the periods of calm, also, not clearly defined, what do you do if you're not seen to be fighting? As Bruce said "What chance does the 21st century man have, between wars" And, in my opinion, women don't make it any easier as we put ourselves in conflict with rather than support of our men.

    I like Bourne's character in that he puts away the warrior when the warrior is not needed, but he does not then have to act weak or vulnerable(a la Clark Kent). Although he struggles with love, he is not against it. The struggle perhaps more being whether or not to let love in.

    Letting someone love me, might be one of the hardest things I've had to convince my warrior spirit to accept. So when our modern society puts the warrior in opposition to love, loving, tenderness - one being strong the other showing weakness - how does my man convince the warrior in him to... LET ME love him?

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 17 February 2012 20:41 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Dawn,

    Did you happen to watch Warrior? It's about a couple of brothers wounded deeply by a father they can't/won't forgive. Neither can they love each other. They are both ultimate fighters, and end up fighting each other in the finals. One has to literally break the other in order to be able for love to break the cycle of pain and violence.

    I don't know what it is that breaks men, that takes us from this either/or stance (either love or warrior), and moves us toward recruiting the warrior in the service of Heart. For me, I think it was loneliness, and the deep fatigue of perpetuating the illusion of separation, of not knowing how to rest in the arms and heart of another.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 18 February 2012 02:31 posted by Chris Dierkes

    great piece and really rich comments thread.

    I wonder how Matt Damon as Jason Bourne figures in here. He's not the standard action movie hero. And yet he pulls it off pretty well.

    In 40 Year Old Virgin, Paul Rudd's character is watching Bourne Identity and says:

    "I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but I think he's rockin' the shit in this one!"

    I've never read the books so I don't know how well this balance of love and warriorship is reflected in the books (or not).

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 18 February 2012 02:32 posted by Chris Dierkes

    As compared to say Robert Downey Jr who was born to play Tony Stark--only thing he needed was the suit really.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Saturday, 18 February 2012 04:28 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    That's great, Chris.

    Think about Damon in Goodwill Hunting. Kind of the same character. Three steps ahead of everybody else at MIT in the math department. Again, a guy who knew the solution to the problem without having to calculate—downloading the future. Knew how to handle himself too as a street fighter. And again a case of lost identity, an orphaned hero looking for his heart.

    Robin Williams, as the therapist, having to break him down/break through ("It's not your fault..), so he could use his intellectual capacities for a higher purpose, and not merely as his primary line of defence. Men are going to have to go through a lot of sorrow/grief to integrate warrior and heart. I'm not sure we've done this work yet.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 20 February 2012 04:48 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Bruce. Good call he did show signs of doing both toughness and tenderness in that one.

  • Comment Link Jeffrey Slayton Tuesday, 21 February 2012 22:02 posted by Jeffrey Slayton

    I love this article! I just rewatched The Bourne Identity this weekend. I have a similar but slightly different take. The amnesia resulted from the gun shots, the gun shots resulted from seeing the children and not wanting to pull the trigger. Bourne's program on what the world is and his place in it is profoundly jarred in this moment of openness with the children. It is actually at that moment when Holy Amnesia enters his being. Bourne's fundamental nature is revealed to him and the rest of the movie he is trying to figure out what to do with his life with this new (not knowing) knowledge. He is in for a lot of pain because of the actions he has performed that were in accordance with who he thought he was and what he thought the world was before. This is unavoidable. I think we see the joy and the pain of awakening reflected in the days following his enlightenment-assassination. I love how he tells his super-ego at the end, played wonderfully by Chris Cooper- " I swear to God, if I even feel somebody behind me, there is no measure to how fast and how hard I will bring this fight to your doorstep!"

    We all need to figure out what to do with the skills we have acquired prior to the sacred moment when we realize that we don't know who/what we are.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Wednesday, 22 February 2012 05:43 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Nice riff, Jeffrey

    Especially imagining Chris Cooper character as superego—the controller, speaking with the voice of the authority of our identity before we awaken.

    Also the Holy Amnesia as the unknowing, the dissolution of the rigid identity so that the fundamental nature can emerge.


  • Comment Link Benjamin Swartout Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:59 posted by Benjamin Swartout

    this whole page was great. Would just like to Thank You all and also offer whatever perspective emerges through my fingers in the moment. I think that one of the interesting points is that Jason Bourne seems to be going it alone. Aside from the one girl he has along with him, who "saved his heart" when he was lonely and didn't know what to do. Could this be a punishment left of from the karma of past actions that he is not involved and engaged with human beings in community. Some people prefer to be in recluse, however, it seems what we are lacking so despairately is the community and togetherness that comes with tapping into the higher power individually and collective working through culture and society to overcome the obstacles to human potential. In any case, I would propose some sort of league of exraordinary gentlemen so that we may show up in all of our greatness. I may only be 23 and still dreaming, but I believe that there is still a way to save this world and the we are responsible for helping to do that, co-create the much more beautiful worlds that our hearts tell us is possible. Any one in?

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 02 March 2012 03:35 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Benjamin,

    Sign me up for that League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I'm sure some other Beamers are qualified.

    And I agree that we need to do this in community. I find it very inspiring that you are following this path at 23. Gives me hope.

  • Comment Link stratum Monday, 12 March 2012 05:48 posted by stratum

    Jason's kind of a male Mary Sue.

    How does that change yr wanting to be like him, or yr observation of yr wanting to be like him.



  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Monday, 12 March 2012 17:39 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Stratum,

    I didn't know what a Mary-Sue was, but looked it up on Wikipedia.

    Good question.

    The last paragraph reads: Author and radio host J.M. Frey, who has written several papers exploring fan behavior, analyzes Mary Sue type characters and their possibilities in Water Logged Mona Lisa: Who Is Mary Sue, and Why Do We Need Her? Frey believes that Mary Sue is a self-gratifying, wish-fulfilment device, but argues that they can be transformed into "Meta Sues" who "investigate the self or marginalized subjects in media texts."

    Meta-Sue is kind of appealing to me. Sort of like our dream characters, that come to us/as us in larger than life proportions, revealing unintegrated aspects of ourselves. Which is what happened for me with Bourne. He was kind of an archetypal figure, laying out before the viewer — especially men — our deepest fears and longings. Jason Bourne, in this imaginal realm, is us, a wounded, amnesiac, looking for a heart.

    Just as Bourne has been wounded by the system, so we have been wounded by patriarchy, and trying to imagine what being a man is in the 21st century. He doesn't need to represent the final model of course, but the film nevertheless presents us with a version of our dilemma and could even offer a supply of psychic energy for us to engage the journey.

    Thanks again,


  • Comment Link stratum Monday, 12 March 2012 21:38 posted by stratum

    It's hard to separate the desire to be like JB from the fact that he can so handily & kickassedly win any fight he's exposed to--so kickassedly that he's essentially never in threat. He's perfect. Even if he were to lose, he'd never be *shamed* (onlookers would say: whoa, it took fifty guys to take him down, his name would live on, etc.) He has always-already triumphed over shame; there's no real test; even the 'shame' of his past assassinations isn't really shame, it's like it was imposed on his body without his consent. He gets to have the masculine validation of the kill and yet claim victimhood by virtue of it, without having to take responsibility for his past actions.

    Men are primarily manipulated through shame, so a "warrior" model which evades this issue & forestalls any serious journey through it comes off more as easy wish-fulfillment.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 13 March 2012 02:53 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Good points.

    Your observation about men and shame holds true for me as well, although it's pretty subtle (yet powerful).

    In this sense, Damon's role in Good Will Hunting, more genuinely depicts the journey around shame.

    Thanks for you thoughts

  • Comment Link stratum Tuesday, 13 March 2012 04:08 posted by stratum

    Or Moneyball, which you've discussed. The shame of early failure as a player haunts everything else and defines the protagonist's courage in several complex ways.

    There's a great quote by Kenneth Burke which I can't find, to the effect that men who performed feats of great physical courage in WW2 returned to become civilians who were afraid to go out without the proper hat.

    That is: men will volunteer for suicide missions to avoid being shamed before their platoon, but it's exactly the same shame mechanism that makes them conform to social expectation under civilian life (& patriarchy).

    So long as "the warrior" hasn't broken that collective shame entrancement, he's just a hired killer for the state or warlord, murdering without asking questions in order to be a man. That link *is* broken for Bourne, and he turns his energies back upon the entrancers, which sort of makes him available for mythmaking as you say.

    But he has the break handed to him at the start of the narrative; he doesn't have to achieve it, which is actually the really hard thing.

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