Q&A: Character Arc in THE BOURNE IDENTITY
Q: I can’t identify Jason Bourne’s arc in THE BOURNE IDENTITY. He abhors the realization that he was an assassin working for Treadstone, and he continues to disapprove of his past life throughout all 3 movies. But how does he transform?
A: One way of determining a character’s arc is to ask this question: What does this person have the courage to do at the end of the story that he or she was too afraid to do at the beginning? Answering this for Jason Bourne is tricky, because his arc plays out across the entire trilogy. It is of course possible that he has no arc. Many action films portray no transformation for their heroes, no real inner conflict. The emotion grows entirely out of the outer conflict for the characters – the visible obstacles they face and ultimately overcome. But I agree with you that Bourne’s arc concerns his realization of who he was, and who he is now.
In THE BOURNE IDENTITY, he must face the truth of who he is – the identity he has denied so completely that he’s lost his memory of it. His ultimate escape is his attempt to start a new life as a new person, putting that past behind him. His courage in allowing himself to love Marie represents that rebirth.
But he is still trying to run away from the truth of who he was. It’s not enough to just know and accept it – he must repent for it. This he does in THE BOURNE SUPREMACY by seeking out and confessing to the daughter of two of his victims. And finally, in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, he must destroy those who created him – he must find the courage to fully own who he was and purge it from his life. Similar to the resurrection in GRAVITY, his rebirth is represented by his death in the water, and then his return to life as he arises and heads toward his future.
In your own storytelling, look always for your hero’s deepest wounds and fears. Then force that character to face and overcome those fears in the pursuit of his or her deepest desires. This will be the foundation for your hero’s arc.