Essay

The spy genre

The spy genre is intellectually satisfying for its thrilling blend of espionage, international setting, assassinations, secret agencies, ruthless villains, and fast moving action. The Bourne Trilogy does not disappoint viewers with a predictable plot; rather it reinvents the genre with an appealing protagonist, Jason Bourne who is regarded with sympathy throughout the narrative of the films, despite the suspicions cast over him at times. The pursuit and pursued formula that characterises spy genres is cleverly sustained in the Bourne films. The Bourne Ultimatum has an interesting twist in terms of the expected spy plot, as Bourne is the pursuer. The films psychologically portray the themes of betrayal, corruption, power, and greed in a way that is glamorised, while at the same time highlighting tremendous injustice.

The Bourne Ultimatum is renowned for its cleverly arranged film structure in that the story is set in several different time frames. These time frames are the story of Bourne being chased, but also Bourne’s numerous flashbacks that take place throughout the film; at 415 East 71st Street, where Bourne meets Albert Hirsch, who ran Treadstone’s psychological conditioning programme many of these occur. Hirsch was the one who broken down Bourne in order to make him trainable as a Treadstone agent. In this scene, there is a particularly spectacular flashback in which Jason is shown, deprived of sleep sitting at a table. Dr Hirsch tells Bourne: “Really give yourself to this programme. [Treadstone]”. Bourne is then shown holding a gun and quickly fires two bullets at a tied up hostage. Hirsch then tells Bourne that he is no longer David Webb (his real name). This is a turning point in the plot as it shows when Jason Bourne lost his real identity.

The film’s structure is also clever in that the majority of the film’s events precede those of the Bourne Supremacy, filling in the interim from when he left Moscow and went to New York City. An example is in London where Bourne meets Simon Ross, a journalist and finds out about Blackbriar. He then tries to protect Simon’s life, as the CIA have picked up on Simon’s knowledge about Blackbriar from a phone call that he made through ECHELON, a call monitoring service. However, Bourne fails to protect him, as Simon does not follow Bourne’s instructions. Another example is when he is Tangier with Nicky searching for Neal Daniels, who was involved in Treadstone. However, Daniels is killed by Desh, a Blackbriar operative before they can interrogate him. Other places that feature in the storyline are Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier, and New York City. The story from these places takes up about two thirds of the film, after which point the conclusion / resolution to the Bourne trilogy is shown.

Another unique point of the Bourne trilogy, but particularly The Bourne Ultimatum, is that the spy genre is more intellectual, and requires more thinking to unravel the story. When Bourne tells Landy to meet him at Tudor City alone, Landy goes, followed by Vosen and his team. Bourne phones Vosen: “Where are you now?” and Vosen replies “I’m sitting in my office.” Bourne then says that he doubts that as if he were in his office, they would be talking face to face. Bourne then hangs up and opens Vosen’s safe ingeniously, using a recording of Vosen’s voice. This scene is fast-paced and set in low light, common in spy-genre films. As Bourne hangs up, fast-paced music, non-diegetic sound starts and the viewer immediately knows that a chase scene will follow. By the third instalment, scenes like this such one are the audience’s expectations, as the spy-genre becomes increasingly more intellectual and involves increasingly more advanced technology with each instalment in the trilogy.

The Bourne Ultimatum has been described as “an oasis in a sea of contrived, overreaching action films” which shows that it is appreciated for its impressive new take on the spy genre. The structure of each film in the series, in detail follows a common pattern with an opening scene of intrigue, followed by a mission that Bourne undertakes to answer questions and concludes with some form of resolve.

In the Bourne Identity, Bourne is found lying in the ocean and is rescued by some Italian fishermen, and cannot remember who he is. He discovers that he can speak several different languages and has a wide range of skills that he can use, as when he ties a knot in a rope on the Italian men’s fishing boat, without thinking. It is later revealed that he has these skills due to his partaking in a programme called “Operation Treadstone”. In Operation Treadstone, the agents would be broken down and then trained to do what was required of them, as in Bourne’s case usually assassinations.

Later in the film, he regains pieces of his memory through stimuli, like when Conklin says: “For Christ’s sake, you’re the one who picked the yacht as a goddamn strike point!” He then has a flashback and remembers the attempted assassination where he was supposed to kill Nykwana Wombosi, an African dictator. At the end of the Bourne Identity, he goes to a scooter rental shop in Greece where Marie is working. The camera zooms in to a medium close up shot in order to show Marie & Jason’s reactions other after last seeing each other at Eamon’s house in the French countryside. Non-diegetic sound, namely the theme music (Extreme Ways by Moby) starts to play signifying the end of the film and that they are reunited. This non-diegetic sound

In the Bourne Supremacy, Bourne and Marie are together in India and Bourne does not wish to work for the CIA and wants to be independent, as cited in the Bourne Identity, when Bourne tells Conklin: “You’re gonna go tell them [the CIA] that Jason Bourne is dead”. This is said in a commanding way and highlights Jason’s desire to be free from his pursuers. Marie is later killed by a Russian assassin, who was targeting Bourne. Bourne travels to Italy to find out why he is again being pursued. Bourne is pursued by the CIA for the murders of two men, of which he is framed by Ward Abbott who has his fingerprint planted. Bourne later interrogates Nicky Parsons, a CIA agent who was involved in the logistics arm of Treadstone, and discovers that Conklin was not the head of Treadstone, rather it was Abbott. Bourne goes after Abbott and records a conversation with him, and holds a gun to his head, Abbott in response saying: “Go ahead, go on. Go on! Do it! Do it!” at which point Bourne replies “She [Marie] wouldn’t want me to”. This shows Jason’s love for Marie, even after her death. After this Bourne goes to Moscow, where he is pursued in a car chase by Kirill, a Russian Blackbriar operative. Bourne eventually kills Kirill by forcing his car to crash into a concrete divider in a tunnel. He then goes to see Irena, the daughter of Vladimir Neski, the Russian politician that he killed. He tells her that he was responsible for their deaths and on leaving, says “I’m sorry.” The viewer is sympathetical toward Bourne in this scene, because they know that Bourne was trained as a Treadstone operative and thought at the time that he was doing the right thing.

At the end of the film, Pamela Landy is speaking on the phone to Bourne and says: “Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about it.” Bourne replies “Get some rest, Pam. You look tired.” At this point Landy looks out of the window trying to pinpoint where Bourne is. Bourne is then shown walking through New York City. The way this sequence is filmed is interesting, as in the Bourne Supremacy, Landy is shown speaking, however Bourne is also shown speaking, allowing the viewer to see his reactions to the phone call. In the Bourne Ultimatum, this is shown once again, but with different camera angles. Bourne and Landy are shown speaking on the phone, but there is a flashback during the phone call, which is evoked by Landy telling Bourne his real name, David Webb and his date of birth. During the conversation, Noah Vosen and a group of CIA agents are listening in on the conversation and attempting to trace the phone call. As Bourne tells Landy that she “looks tired” the agents and Vosen realises that Jason is very close.

In the Bourne Ultimatum, before the events that lead up to the phone call mentioned, Bourne is a fugitive in Moscow. He manages to evade the Moscow police long enough to treat his wounds in a pharmacy. He is confronted by an officer, whom he renders unconscious. He holds another officer at gunpoint. The officer asks Bourne not to kill him, and Bourne replies in Russian, “My argument is not with you.” This is typical of spy-genre films, as most spies featured in the genre will only kill people who they have to, or who are directed to kill. There is a role-reversal in this Bourne movie, as Bourne is the pursuer. Bourne is then shown in Paris, where he meets with Marie’s stepbrother to inform him of her death. Bourne searches for the individuals who trained him in Operation Treadstone throughout the film, through many sources; namely Nicky Parsons, Treadstone’s former logistics and mental health manager and who is suggested to have had a romantic relationship with Bourne before the Wombosi incident. He discovers that Neal Daniels was one of his trainers. Daniels is killed in Tangier by Desh, a Blackbriar operative who then goes after Nicky under CIA instructions. Bourne kills him and sends Nicky away on a bus for her safety. Bourne then searches through a burnt briefcase that belonged to Neal Daniels and discovers the charred remains of a CIA document, with the CIA New York substation’s address on it. Bourne then enters another building and spies on Pamela Landy and Noah Vosen in the CIA building. Bourne notices that Vosen has some documents on Blackbriar in a safe in his office. He then calls Pamela Landy: “I hear you’re still looking for me. What do you want?” Landy: “I wanted to thank you for the tape. It’s all tied off. It’s over.” Landy then tells Bourne that his real name is David Webb and his birthday is 4/15/71 (US date format). This is the same scene as at the end of the Bourne Supremacy. After telling Pamela, that “she looks tired”, a chase ensues after Bourne sends Landy a text message telling her to meet him at Tudor City. It is later found out that Bourne’s birthday is actually 13/9/70. The CIA immediately picks up on this and discovers that it is a code to the former Treadstone training facility. Here he meets Albert Hirsch, one of the men who trained him as a Treadstone agent. Bourne points a gun at his head, but does not kill him as he says that Hirsch doesn’t deserve “the star that they give you at Langley”, a reference to stars on the wall in the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia that are a memorial to agents killed in action.

At the end of the film, Bourne is shown on the run from the CIA. A Blackbriar operative then points a gun at him, but after hearing Bourne’s speech: “Do you even know why you’re supposed to kill me? Look at us. Look at what they make you give”, the agent spares Bourne’s life and Bourne is shown running toward the edge of the rooftop. However as he jumps off headed into a river, Noah Vosen shoots at him. He falls into the water, the viewer neither knowing if he survived or was killed and his body is shown not moving in the water with eerie downbeat music starting to play. The focus then switches to Pamela Landy giving a speech to US senators. She tells them of the Blackbriar programme, saying: “The file indicates that Ezra Kramer [Director of the CIA] authorised six illegal…” the focus then switching to a reporter’s voice on a television, with Nicky watching. The reporter says that there is “a growing scandal” over “an alleged government assassination programme code-named Blackbriar”. It goes on to say that, Ezra Kramer is under criminal investigation, Landy obviously having managed to have him prosecuted. The reporter then says that Hirsch and Vosen have been arrested and “Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the fate of David Webb, also known as Jason Bourne, the source behind the exposure of the Blackbriar programme”. It says that Bourne was reported to have been shot and fallen from “a Manhattan rooftop into the East River ten storeys below.” Finally, the reporter announces that even after a three-day search, “[Bourne’s] body has yet to be found.” Nicky smiles at this, realising that Jason must still be alive. The theme music (Extreme Ways by Moby) then starts to play, and Bourne is then shown swimming away down the river. This leaves a hint that possibly the series is not over, and that there is room for a sequel. In many films of the spy-genre, there is a hint that the series will carry on, and the Bourne Ultimatum is no exception.

The language used in the three films is cryptic and there are many codenames used. Operation Blackbriar is a more advanced version of Operation Treadstone that allows the CIA in the Bourne Ultimatum to use lethal action if required, without consent. It is referred to frequently throughout the film, including when Simon Ross, the journalist who has been informed of Blackbriar, is hunted down; his source later turns out to Neal Daniels. The way that the characters speak also plays a major part in the film. Their way of speaking in emotionally detached, but not business-like, as they do not always explain all clearly to the audience. Usually this is rectified later in the films. The main people who speak in this way are the CIA, namely Pamela Landy, Abbott, Conklin, Kramer and Noah Vosen, amongst others. They speak in this way so as to create a theme of mystery and intrigue, which leaves the viewer curious, wanting to see more of the film.

One scene of intrigue is when Bourne is with Simon Ross in Waterloo Station Concourse. Bourne has read one of his news stories about Jason Bourne and goes to meet him. Meanwhile, the CIA has picked up on a keyword that Ross said on a phone call through ECHELON. He becomes hunted by a number of the CIA’s Blackbriar operatives. Bourne meets Ross near a newsagents in Waterloo Station. The lighting is low, and there is a lot of diegetic sound; passengers talking and announcements in the train station. Bourne asks Ross: “Who’s your source? What’s his name? What’s your source’s name?” Ross asks Bourne: “Look, what’s going on? Why are these people after me? Bourne replies that the reason is because Ross found something and spoke to someone involved with Treadstone. Bourne asks again, who the source is and Ross replies “You know I can’t tell you that.” Bourne tells him that he underestimates the CIA, and that they will kill him if needs be. Ross asks him if they are after him because of Blackbriar. Bourne discovers that it is a “Treadstone upgrade” as described by Ross. Bourne then sees one of the Blackbriar operatives; the first time that he realises what operation they are working for and tells Ross that they have to move. Fast-paced action music starts to play, indicative of the start of an important action sequence. The mise-en-scene at this point is a terminal swarming with passengers. This makes the scene slightly harder for the viewer to follow, and makes them pay more attention. Bourne tells Ross to answer his phone and Bourne continues giving him instructions via his phone. As Bourne is walking at a distance behind Ross, he notices numerous CIA operatives and tells Ross to tie his shoelace. The agents walk past and Ross unnoticed is told by Jason to walk along the far wall. Ross does this but sees a man with a waste trolley and believes him to be one of the operatives. He thinks that the man is reaching for a gun and runs through the crowd away from him. Meanwhile, in New York, Vosen and his team are watching the CCTV cameras in the station and see Ross running through the crowds. The operatives are given the location of Ross and once again try to catch him. The lighting during this scene is bright/daylight, which means that the operatives, Bourne and Ross must be careful of their actions. One of the operatives them follows Ross and Bourne tells Ross to move into a shop, while Bourne knocks the asset unconscious. Bourne then tells Ross to go into the back of the store and locks the door. Ross does, but as he does this, two operatives see him and try to open the door unsuccessfully. They are seen walking out of the store by Bourne and he follows them, as they try to find another way into the back of the store. One aims to shoot Ross, but as he does so is rendered unconscious by Bourne. The music is fast paced at this point and in the back of the store, the light is artificial and bright. Numerous other operatives then enter the room and Bourne manages to knock them all out. Diegetic sound is in the form of grunts from the men as Bourne does so. The mise-en-scene is bare, albeit with bodies strewn over the floor. Bourne realises that there is a camera in the room and that he and Ross have now been seen. Vosen in New York sees these images and believes Jason to be Ross’ source; that Ross is in league with him. There is a tense atmosphere in the CIA room, with computers and high-tech gear everywhere. Vosen is watching the station through CCTV on three large screens. He orders for all the exits of the station to be blocked and for Bourne and Ross to both be assassinated. While this happens, a Blackbriar operative has climbed a stairwell and is now stationed behind a revolving billboard. Bourne and Ross are now in a small room and are watching through a small window in the door for any operatives. Jason confronts Ross and tells him that he is going to get them out of there, but that Ross has to do exactly what he says. He confronts Ross, who is panicking and tells him “this isn’t some story in a newspaper. (A reference to him being a journalist) This is real. You understand me?” Ross replies “OK” and Bourne exits the room, on the lookout for any operatives. The Blackbriar operative is seen behind the billboard, in a dark dingy environment, readying a sniper rifle. Vosen is then shown in the CIA substation again and tells his team: “Call all agents back. Give Bourne’s location at the back of the store to the asset. The asset then receives a message showing Bourne and Ross’ identities. Vosen orders the cameras to be “killed”, specifically not pointed at the concourse where the sniper would presumably be firing. Bourne is still communicating with Ross by phone. Bourne tells him that he feels that “something isn’t right” (an excellent perception by Bourne, which shows that he has been trained as an expert). Ross says to Bourne via phone: “I can see the entrance from here. If I go now I can make it. Bourne tells Ross to remain. Ross then tells Bourne that he does not think they should wait and, panicking again says he thinks, “Someone’s coming”. Bourne meanwhile has seen something move when the billboard revolves. Ross then says, “I’m going for it.” Bourne, desperate shouts at Ross “No, no, no, no, no!” but Ross does not listen and tries to run quickly out of the room. The sniper then quickly shoots Ross in the head from behind the billboard. There is diegetic sound commotion is this part, people screaming and police officers’ whistles. Bourne manages to take Simon’s notes from his pockets and slip away unnoticed. Meanwhile, the sniper searches for Bourne in the crowd, but sees him coming closer, and realising that Bourne knows where he is, quickly starts to escape. A chase between Bourne and the sniper, with Bourne as the pursuer quickly ensues. Bourne spots the sniper and runs after him, chasing him down a dingy stairwell and a London Underground station. The camera movement in this scene is shaky and handheld, and adds to the excitement factor that the music already brings. The sniper manages to slip onto a train and the doors shut just as Bourne reaches it. Bourne then comes face to face with his enemy as the train leaves, a moment of extreme tension. The focus then cuts to Vosen.

Another interesting scene is the scene in which Bourne and Nicky enter Tangier via ferry. As they enter the ferry terminal there is a lot of diegetic from passengers and low, action music with a quickening beat. The focus then switches to Desh, a Blackbriar operative. He leaves Tangier airport, where diegetic sound can be heard, aeroplanes taking off and landing and airport announcements. He is shown entering a taxi. The focus switches to Vosen quickly, a man saying, “Asset has arrived at the airport”. The use of the word asset shows the CIA’s ruthlessness; if an asset is killed, another one can be used. Bourne and Nicky are shown walking down a busy street, full of civilians. They are shown entering a hotel room and Nicky sets up a laptop. In the meantime, Neal Daniels is shown hurriedly leaving a taxi. Vosen is shown in the dark CIA substation in New York and says: “Give the asset subject [Daniels] location and the route between the subject’s hotel and the bank.” Desh is shown in a taxi receiving this information. Nicky logs in securely to the CIA on her laptop. Desh is then shown entering a dark gloomy garage, where a motorbike is parked. All the time these events happen, anticipative music is playing in the background. Nicky then searches on the CIA’s service for Daniels’ location, but is blocked by the firewall. She tells Bourne “They’ll get one of the operatives to terminate him.” Again, this highlights the CIA’s ruthless nature. Bourne tells her to “find out who.” They discover that it is Desh. They plan to follow him in order to find the location of Daniels. Desh is shown preparing for the assassination when Nicky sends him a message, telling him to meet her at a local café. He then closes the phone, and a remote-detonating bomb is shown. He then sets off through Tangier by motorbike. An aerial image of Tangier is shown, as in many spy films there is an international setting and this interests the viewers further to see the skyline of the city, which sets the scene. Vosen and his team are shown in New York again, and a woman tells Vosen: “Sir, the asset is deviating off course.” Vosen responds by saying not to take any action. The deviation is of course due to Nicky telling Desh to meet her at a café, specifically “Café de Paris”. A congested street is then shown with diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound, the diegetic being the honks of car horns and the non-diegetic sound being the tense music building up to scene of climax, of which there are numerous in this film. Bourne is shown behind a tree watching Desh go past on moped, while Nicky is sat at a table in Café de Paris. Desh stops and gets off the moped, while Bourne watches, unnoticed and Vosen and his team see Desh’s “unscheduled stop” on a digital map. Desh picks up the phone that Nicky has left on the table for him, and Bourne then follows him, ingeniously grabbing keys for a moped from someone’s hand without their knowing; another indication of Bourne’s intensive training. Bourne is then shown starting the moped, ready to follow. Vosen’s team are shown and tell him “Subject is on the move, en route to subject. [Daniels]” Wills, part of Vosen’s team then tells him that there has been a breach of the CIA protocol. They discover that instructions were sent to Desh, and then discover that they were sent from Nicky Parsons’ computer. Vosen asks where the deviation occurred, and when he is satisfied tells a member of the team: “When we’re finished with Daniels, send the asset after her” (to assassinate her). Pamela Landy asks what he is doing, and he refuses to answer. She asks him on what basis he is continuing the operation on, and he responds that on the basis that Nicky has “compromised a covert operation”. Landy responds by saying that the operation is about the assassination of Daniels, not of Nicky. Vosen believes that she has betrayed them, whereas Landy believes that these could be exceptional circumstances; she could have been pressured into sending the message by Bourne. The conversation intensifies and Vosen says that she is in league with Jason Bourne; he believes that this is sufficient evidence to kill her. Landy shouts at him: “You do not have the authority to kill her!” “Oh yes I do.” Responds Vosen, “And you had better get on board.” Landy argues, saying that Nicky is a member of the CIA, and that: “You start down this path, when does it end?” Here Landy is saying that once he kills one member of the CIA, how many more will he kill? Vosen defends by saying that “It ends when we’ve won.” Here the intense argument ends, but Landy stares at Noah grudgingly, and there is a huge sense of tension in the air. Desh receives a message from the CIA, telling him to kill Nicky and Bourne after he kills Daniels. Desh looks in the motorbike’s side-view mirror and sees Bourne, realising that he is following him. Vosen tells the bank in Tangier to release the funds. This is used as bait for Daniels to leave the hotel. He receives a phone call telling him this and leaves the building, while Desh continues on the moped. He stops and parks the moped, and Bourne does the same, albeit a distance away, as Bourne believes that Desh has not noticed him. Daniels is shown driving not far away. Desh drops a backpack near a car and as he sees Daniels come down the road, stands in the middle of the road telling him not to come further, when Bourne realises that Desh has tricked him, and the bomb is located on a moped parked directly next to Daniels’ car. Bourne tries to warn Daniels, but fails as Desh detonates the bomb, destroying his car and ultimately killing Daniels. Bourne, who is very close to the bomb’s impact, is knocked to the ground, and Desh seeing this believes that Bourne is dead and goes after Nicky.

The success of the Bourne trilogy is in the fact that it reinvents the spy genre, by including increasingly more intellectual elements and being unique from other spy films because of this. Jason Bourne, the protagonist of the series has a strong appeal to the viewer throughout the series, despite the viewer knowing that he is an assassin and has killed many people ruthlessly before. Thus, throughout the series at no point does the viewer lack sympathy for Bourne, as they realise that his actions are dictated by desperation and the need for survival of him and those close to him, Marie for example. The themes in the film are of a serious tone, such as the idea of the CIA sending countless people after Bourne and those close to him, for him and those people mentioned to be assassinated. In the films however, particularly The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, there exist a number of less serious themes, such as Bourne’s affection and love toward Marie in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, and his innocence throughout the series, particularly in the first film, when he cannot remember who he is. Overall, the series is pleasing for the viewer as it presents a unique take on the spy genre, with a more serious tone, yet still managing to mix less serious themes with these.

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