The Bourne Ultimatum: Rejecting the CIA

Following September 11, 2001, the corporate news media has almost uniformly supported the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the overall agenda of US imperialism. Simultaneously, the mainstream entertainment industry has produced several movies with remarkably scathing critiques of US militarism and foreign policy. Accompanying recent anti-war films like In The Valley of Elah and Lions for Lambs, is this summer’s blockbuster action movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, starring actor Matt Damon. Just released on DVD, The Bourne Ultimatum is the final installment of the Jason Bourne trilogy, which is based on the book series by author Robert Ludlum.

In the trilogy’s first movie, The Bourne Identity (2002), Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, is mysteriously found by fishermen in the Mediterranean Sea, unconscious, with several bullets in his back. After help from the crew’s doctor, Bourne regains consciousness only to discover that he has amnesia and a microchip embedded under his skin, which projects the numbers of a mysterious Swiss bank account. After arriving in Switzerland to investigate this mysterious bank account, Bourne is sleeping at night in a park when he is awakened by police officers who begin to bully him. Without thinking, Bourne fights back and sends both cops to the hospital—now realizing that he possesses extraordinary fighting skills.

Bourne soon learns that he is a CIA assassin, and his gunshot wounds and amnesia have stemmed from a botched assassination attempt on an African leader planning to write a book exposing numerous ultra-secret CIA operations in Africa. Bourne soon realizes that the CIA is now trying to kill him, and after he survives several attempts on his life, he has the inevitable confrontation with his CIA boss, at which point he finally remembers the full details of the failed assassination attempt.

In the second movie, The Bourne Supremacy (2004), he is still suffering from amnesia but can remember some fragments of his past, including several assassinations that he performed for the CIA. Disgusted by his assassin past, he continues his rigorous physical training and also confronts the intense psychological trauma that continues to haunt him. He is particularly haunted by scattered memories of his very first job, where he killed a prominent Russian politician that was opposing the privatization of oil, following the dissolution of the USSR.

As Bourne is hunted once again, this insubordinate, former assassin is forced to use the very fighting skills that he has come to despise. While providing explosive hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, car chases, and a suspenseful plot, the action scenes will satisfy any fan of action movies. However, distinguishing this from the typical action film, it explores Bourne’s deep psychological wounds resulting from his violent past, and his displeasure at having to use violence for his survival. Indeed, the violence is not glorified at all.

This summer’s The Bourne Ultimatum marked the final chapter of this exciting trilogy. After explosive confrontations with CIA “assets” in London and Tangiers, Morocco, Bourne returns to New York City where he finally confronts the man who created him as part of an experimental training program for the CIA’s elite assassins. In the process, Bourne remembers the full details of his “training,” which entailed treatment shockingly similar to the torture tactics used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Indeed, this is how he was made into an unquestioning trigger-man serving the murderous agenda of US global dominance.

“A Movie For Today”

Recently interviewed by CNN about Ultimatum, Damon said that movie’s similarities to the current war on Iraq were no accident. “All of these movies are very much of the time that they were made, and at a time when we had gone into this war. To have this character aware of what he had done and try to take responsibility for his actions I thought was a really good thing . . . It’s this guy who has done these horrible things, but now we see he thought he was doing them for the right reasons at the time he did them, but he realizes he was sold a bill of goods,” Damon said. “So that’s very much a movie for today.”

Having grown up next-door to anarchist historian Howard Zinn, actor Matt Damon is no stranger to radical politics. In his breakthrough film, Good Will Hunting (1997), Damon’s character (a mathematical genius from Boston’s working class) challenges Robin Williams’ character to read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Williams then responds by challenging him to read Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent!

Recently, Damon narrated the documentary about Zinn, titled You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train (2004), and also began a project with FOX Television to create a TV mini-series based on Zinn’s A People’s History, before it was cancelled by FOX.

Damon’s recent films The Good Shepherd (2005) and Syriana (2005) also present a radical critique of the CIA and the general objectives of US foreign policy. In Martin Scorcese’s The Departed (2006), Damon plays a corrupt police officer working for Frank Costello, a real-life Boston gangster with documented ties to the US intelligence community.

Robert Ludlum and the Radical Spy Novel

The recent Bourne movies are based on the trilogy written by best-selling author Robert Ludlum, a WWII veteran who passed away in 2001. The original Bourne Identity was written in 1980, so the new movies have been updated to correspond with recent history. The only real similarities in the plot are that Bourne is a wounded CIA assassin, with amnesia, who is being hunted by the CIA. In the book, Bourne is severely traumatized by his experience leading a US death-squad in the killing fields of the Vietnam War.

In contrast to conservative spy fiction authors like Tom Clancy, who glorify the US National Security State, Ludlum’s many books presented a profoundly critical view of authoritarianism, ruling class power, the military-industrial complex, violence, and the US intelligence community.

Inspired by the emergence of The Trilateral Commission, The Matarese Circle (1979) is Ludlum’s Cold War classic. Two arch enemies (one Russian and one US master-spy) both make themselves wanted fugitives of their respective agency, when they unite to bring down a covert international ruling class network which owns most of the media and the world’s military industries. “The Matarese” have effectively created and supported global wars (including between the US and the USSR) both for war profiteering and to further their overall power over the global poor.

Many of Ludlum’s books focused on US political and economic collaboration with the Nazis, as well as post-WWII Nazi plots to retake power, including The Holcroft Covenant (1977), The Apocalypse Watch (1995), and The Sigma Protocol (2001), whose historically accurate summary of US corporate ties to Nazi Germany, is truly chilling. One of Ludlum’s last books, The Janson Directive, is a harsh critique of liberalism, arguing that alleged motives of “humanitarianism,” often serve as a cover for the sinister agendas of the global corporate elite and the governments that serve their interests.

A movie adaptation of The Chancellor Manuscript (1977) starring Leonardo DiCaprio is due out in 2008. Here, Ludlum addresses US industrialists’ ties to Nazi Germany, illegal CIA domestic spying, and the US military’s murderous racism. The main story is about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive blackmailing of other powerful people, which he used to further his own racist and authoritarian agenda. The book suggests that Hoover was assassinated by someone who then stole his extensive files that he had long used for blackmail. Perhaps he finally blackmailed the wrong person?

The Subversive Action Movie

Popular musicians like Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Bruce Springsteen, and the young Bob Dylan, have garnered the support of major record labels and have subsequently been able to bring very radical political analyses into mainstream US culture. In a similar vein, with the support of big media, exciting action movies like The Bourne Ultimatum have been able to present scathing critiques of the status quo to mainstream audiences that simply enjoy a good action movie.

Along with the previously mentioned films, two other post 9-11 spy thrillers are highly recommended. The 2007 film Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover, is based on the book Point of Impact, about the fictional ex-Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, written by The Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter. Interestingly, in the beginning of Shooter, the disaffected Swagger (played by Wahlberg) is seen viewing the prominently displayed the radical-activist Znet website. After Glover’s character talks him into doing one last favor for the government, Swagger is double-crossed, and proceeds to use his Marine skills to hunt down the private military contractors and politicians who skillfully framed him for a murder that he didn’t commit.

The 2004 version of the 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate, starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, is a riveting critique of the post-911 climate of fear-mongering, the power of transnational corporations like Haliburton, and the chilling real-life history of experiments in mind-control similar to the CIA’s MK-Ultra program.

Check them out!

Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based photo-journalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners for over five years. Read other articles by Hans, or visit Hans's website.

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  1. simuvac said on January 27th, 2008 at 10:06pm #

    Don’t forget The Bourne Ultimatum is an explicit echo of MK ULTRA.

  2. Hans Bennett said on January 28th, 2008 at 2:15pm #

    Yes, I think it was largely an echo of MK-Ultra, but it seemed to be more in sync with the Abu-Ghraib style of sleep and sensory depravation, instead of MK-Ultra, which had more of an emphasis on LSD.

    MK-Ultra is an important “American story.” Martin Lee’s book “Acid Dreams” give an excellent account.