Jason Bourne, an adoptee’s search story in disguise

The film character Jason Bourne has staked out a unique place in cinematic history as an anti-hero on a hero’s quest. The essential conflict surrounds a man searching for his past, who will stop at nothing to find out who he is and how he became that way.

Jason Bourne, a man on a mission, to find out who he is--something most adoptees share.

Jason Bourne, a man on a mission, to find out who he is–something most adoptees share.

For most viewers, Bourne is an uber-sexy and straight-up action hero, who can improvise killing with a ball-point pen, dirty towel, magazine, toaster, and shoelace. For anyone who is an adoptee, who has spent a life wanting to know who they are and where they came from, they will see this rogue agent with amnesia as a different story, about a person intensely wanting to know one’s self. They likely see Bourne’s narrative as their own.

His very name, which means outer limit in old English, also plays on the word’s other usage, as a verb, meaning coming into life from the womb. He’s a man who is literally born anew, without knowing where he comes from.

Bourne’s many opponents, in the dark world of secret U.S. government black ops programs and intelligence, are part of a vast system that works relentlessly to stop and kill him and those he loves. They had recruited him, brainwashed him, trained him, turned him loose to kill, and now need to terminate him to ensure their own personal survival.

Jason Bourne escapes again

Jason Bourne escapes again on his journey of self-knowledge and discovery.

The right anti-hero for a morally ambiguous world

At one level, this is a perfect story for our complicated times of secret rendition and torture, bulk data collection, and little-publicized military and intelligence operations. During the years Matt Damon’s Bourne emerged on the screen in 2002 in The Bourne Identity, the United States was involved in two official wars following 9-11 and supported other military ventures in Africa and the Mideast. The films emerged while U.S. national intelligence services widely expanded data collection programs on ordinary citizens and real and perceived enemies of the state.

The Bourne Supremacy followed in 2004, ramping up the fight choreography and exotic locations where Bourne battles his enemies. The last Jason Bourne franchise film, The Bourne Ultimatum, released in 2007, presciently predicted the later revelations of 2013 by former CIA employee and government contractor Edward Snowden. Real programs like the CIA-run Prism eerily resembled the fictional Treadstone and Blackbriar programs that our hero Bourne was once a member of in the first three Bourne films.

Like many fans of the Bourne series, I and others secretly cheer our hero as he gathers information through clues captured with surveillance gear, deception, impersonations, odd alliances, and direct confrontations with his nemeses. All Bourne wants to know is, who he is and how did he become the killer who can tear apart a U.S. embassy in Geneva as if it were second nature? How and why did he have to kill people deemed to be threats by his handlers?

Throughout the chases, escapes, explosions, and close-quarter death fights, our hero Bourne is constantly looking for answers. He has PTSD-like flashbacks, and tries to figure out his past dashing from Geneva to Paris, from Naples to Berlin. Why would he keep risking his life seeking answers?

The real motive is archetypal and older than Oedipus Rex

The motive is archetypal. Bourne is acting out a natural desire. It is the drive that is the most innate in humans—a quest of self-discovery. This is precisely the yearning every adoptee has. I would argue that the intensity of this desire for any adoptee is as strong as anything we see in the onscreen Bourne. It has a type of intensity that unsettles those who do not relate to this story in a personal way.

For those in the United States lucky to be born when original birth records were once again made accessible, this quest is much simpler than Bourne’s bloody odyssey. But for adoptees who were born in states where their original birth records are still closed, such as Michigan for adoptees who are my age range, they are more like Bourne on his now 14-year journey—denied answers, obstructed at every turn.

Unlike Bourne, adoptees are not trained in combat, subterfuge, and intelligence. They can’t beat up social service managers and storm into offices to reclaim documents that are theirs, such as their original birth certificates. They are mostly on their own. They have to play ball in a legal reality that treats them as second-class citizens, with no chance to hack a safe that holds all of the secrets kept hidden from them.

The second film in the series, The Bourne Supremacy, concludes with Bourne confronting his murderous past and telling actress Oksana Akinshina’s Irena Neski character, the daughter of two Russian activists, that he killed them and that she should know what he did to her mother and father. It’s a scene worth sharing again:

Jason Bourne Confesses

Jason Bourne discovers he is a murderer, and confesses his crime with the daughter of a couple he killed on assignment–his Oedipus Rex moment of truth and catharsis.

Bourne: Does that mean a lot to you?
Neski: It’s nothing. It’s just a picture.
Bourne: No. It’s ’cause you don’t know how they died.
Neski: I do.
Bourne: No, you don’t. I would want to know. I would want to know that my … that my mother didn’t kill my father, that she didn’t kill herself.
Neski: What?
Bourne: It’s not what happened to your parents. I killed them. I killed them. It was my job. It was my first time. Your father was supposed to be alone. But then your mother … came out of nowhere, and I had to change my plan.
Bourne: It changes things, that knowledge. Doesn’t it? When what you love gets taken from you, you wanna know the truth.

This is one of the most moving scenes of the entire series, reminiscent of classic Greek tragedy. It brings instantly to mind one of the most famous adoption narratives ever, Oedipus Rex. In the play by Sophocles, the audience learns that king Oedipus was orphaned as a child to escape his planned murder by his father, King Laius, all because prophecy foretold a terrible future of regicide by his son.

A baby Oedipus was later adopted by a shepherd, never knowing the truth about his past.

Oedipus eventually becomes king of Thebes after killing his then-unknown biological father, King Laius, on the road along the way and solving the riddle of the Sphinx. He is rewarded for defeating the Sphinx by being married to the dowager queen who is his biological mother, Jocasta. The plague that grips the land, we learn, is because of his abominations. But our hero pursues the truth to learn that he is both a murderous adoptee and someone who slept with his own mother—a very stern warning against the adoption from our Greek forebears. He blinds himself plunging a knife into his eyes, and then leaves the throne.

Bourne, unlike Oedipus, does not blind himself. He does, however, confront all three of the father figures in the first three films who failed, in succession, to have their rogue agent killed: Chris Cooper’s Alexander Conklin, Brian Cox’s Ward Abbot, and Bourne’s brainwasher—knocked off in the only Bourne film without Damon—Albert Finney’s Dr. Albert Kirsch. With each character, he chooses not to kill them. He acts more humanely than the “fathers” who wanted him murdered for his quest of discovery.

To put it mildly, the confrontations are cathartic in the truest Greek sense of the word. They bring to stormy conclusions the hidden secrets and the hero’s willingness to accept the consequences for the truth.

Jason Bourne Is Back

To succeed in your journey, you need to be resilient and ready for what you do not expect. Also, you can never just let it be, ever, like Jason Bourne, who comes back in July 2016.

Catharsis and its inevitability for anyone on this journey

For an adoptee who does find out who they are, and who are lucky enough to either meet their birth families and/or find their original birth documents, there will be catharsis.

There will be realizations that the fantasies about one’s past need to be thrown away. There may be realities of knowing who one truly comes from, good and bad. It could be both, but it could be far worse or better than imagined. These moments forever change the lives of the families who tried to keep the information secret, such as the fathers who impregnated and abandoned many single women, or the mothers, who realize that a past that brought so much turmoil must now be confronted.

This is not a place for anything but mythical, archetypal storytelling. It is good that the messenger is someone who is as resilient as Bourne.

I for one am very anxious to see how our hero, Bourne, resolves his journey in the fourth film, Jason Bourne. He will re-emerge from shadows and back into the light. Will he accept himself and find what he needs to know? All we know is that nothing will stop him. For that reason, I will be in the theater, cheering him on, knowing that the journey is worth the burden and obstacles.

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Some wisdom gained from years of running

Rudy Owens Running the Kendall Catwalk, 2011

Rudy Owens Running the Kendall Catwalk, 2011

I am a lifelong runner. I have been running regularly since I was 15 years old, only taking time off to recover from knee surgery when I was 22. I have literally run thousands and thousands of times, and covered tens of thousands of miles, in North America and abroad.

I love the activity and the way it gives me a clear head and improves my overall physical health. Few things in life give me greater satisfaction than a long run on a trail. Given the mileage I have literally put under my belt, I believe I have earned the right to offer some wisdom on the sport and also the fashion.

Remember, running is now a multi-billion dollar industry. The sale of footwear alone topped $3 billion in 2014, and clothing accessories remain a huge market. However, step into a running store now, and you are mostly surrounded by everything but the shoes—the shorts, the jackets, the shirts, the tights, the hydration systems, the high-tech food, the running belts, the electronics, the hats, and more.

Athleta appeals to the huge fashion segment of the running market with a colorful display of running gear, like these tights. Is it about fashion, function, or both?

Athleta appeals to the huge fashion segment of the running market with a colorful display of running gear, like these tights. Is it about fashion, function, or both?

Running is a fashion statement, a lifestyle, a social activity, a life philosophy, and a very competitive sport nationally and internationally.

Human nature and the work of clever marketers have transformed running into a fashion show, and millions of people have embraced the idea of “my run is a fashion runway.” These include behemoth sports companies like Nike and more niche companies like Athleta, which promotes a vision of unbelievably attractive, fit women as the standard, providing functional and fashionable gear that far exceeds anything designed for men.

Athleta and the Impossibly Beautiful Runners in their Stylish Running Clothes

Athleta brand favors the use of impossibly beautiful female runners in their stylish running clothes

These developments are fine, but it can be funny at times to see how this plays out if those embracing fashion do not honor the sport.

ASICS GEL-Kayano 2006

The ASICS GEL-Kayano 2006 was perhaps one of the greatest running shoes ever, and then Asics stopped making shoes as good shortly after. Why?

I steer to the “functionality” camp. I also have developed some firm ideas on products that improve the experience and those that can make some practitioners look, well, silly. The silliest runner I think is one who does not know he or she looks silly, but then again silly is in the eye of the beholder. It is sort of an Emperor’s New Clothes test: it is obvious but maybe everyone but an innocent child is afraid to speak about it.

Because the United States is a fashion free county (something I rejoice at given the alternatives), you have the right to look the way you want. Yet, others also have the right to comment on how you look and this beloved form of exercise.

So here are a few of my pearls of wisdom. Remember, I at least have practiced the craft long enough to know a few things about function. I simply have not embraced fashion, unless and only if it first provides function.

  • Gel Kayanos from 2005-2007 where the BEST running shoes ever made. Period.
  • For guys, shorts that have thigh-length liners are always better–less chafing, and you look less like a dork.

    I say to guys, really? You like to wear these? Your run, your show.

    I say to guys, really? You like to wear these? Your run, your show.

  • Tiny shorts on guys look really really stupid. What are they thinking? (Note, these seem to be favored by many competitive endurance runners, so there clearly is a functional value by those who do the sport most competitively.)
  • Compression socks that cover the calves have zero credibility of improving performance according to science. It is fashion. I am not impressed, but your target may thinks it is cool.
  • Waist bands that can fit your wallet and keys and maybe some goober snack are da bomb.
  • A fanny pack that fits a 1/2 liter bottle and some snacks and possibly another layer are a runners best friend in any weather.
  • It is best to bring that extra layer, or two, in foul weather. They tie easily around your waist.
  • Always carry ID when you run. You never know when you might slip, get hit by a car, or run into a bear.
  • I am totally fine with running tights, for women. They look great. I still laugh when I see guys in tights. Sorry, it is just who I am. And the more colorful the tights, the better, for women. Women always have better fashion than men. I for one would like some cooler designs for jackets and shirts for men.

    If you dress like this when its freezing, what are you proving to your audience? I am not sure.

    If you dress like this when it is freezing, what are you proving to your audience? I am not sure.

  • Running with practically no clothes in really cold weather proves nothing. But it is a free country. You can look silly if you want.
  • For super cold conditions, nothing beats XC Sport Hill winter skiing/running pants. Mine are 10 years old and I still use them all the time.