Jason Bourne and identity — who am I?

Who are you? Are you the sum of your experiences, your actions, your memories? Are you your dreams, your plans, your aspirations, the person you’ll someday become? Are you your past, or your destiny or your present?

The best films in any genre are always the ones that touch on essential human questions. What is it to love? How do you measure success? Will the everyday man find the courage to rise up and be a hero? What is the nature of goodness, of evil? Is there something divine at work in the universe?

Among the questions that fascinate me most, though, is the one confronting Jason Bourne. Who am I? At yet another moment in time ripe for another re-invention of self, I am asking: who am I?

Fishermen pull an unconscious man from the ocean, his slate wiped clean. No name, no memories, no past. He has only the moment in which his being exists…and a tantalising array of talents. Multi-lingual, able to navigate ocean charts, and an odd micro-device surgically extracted from his body which displays a numeric sequence. He befriends the crew, particularly its captain, takes on the role of a fisherman for the duration of their journey. But nagging at him always is the question, “Who am I?”

What he turns out to be is ruthless when threatened, but honourable, respectful and kind when not. What he turns out to be is a trained assassin seeking redemption…no, not so much redemption. There’s a sense to it that the past is done, that the assassin was a different man than the newly emergent Bourne, despite the lethal skills and knowledge. What he wants to be is a man who’s severed himself from the world of assassination, if only that world would leave him alone.

His past does not determine his full nature, nor his training, nor does his boss or anyone else. Who he is, that’s a choice he makes every moment of every day. The ruthless assassin has been thoroughly trained into him, but he discovered mercy one night when called upon to assassinate in the proximity of children. On another night, he discovered love. Those qualities are the ones he chooses for his identity, places at the center of his being. They even seem to come naturally to him, must have been a part of him from the beginning, or he would never have strayed from the path prepared for him by the assassin’s training.

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