The Bourne Infrastructure

BondBourne, originally uploaded by rodcorp.

In the art bar at the RCA last night with Noam, we started discussing my recent obsession with the dematerialisation of super-villainy.

I haven’t seen the latest Bond movie, but Noam had – and he started talking about how there’s no travel in the new Bond. Or more correctly, there’s lots of travel, but no destinations.

Bond and his various nemeses live in the inter-zone, a bland Super-Cannes. As opposed to the Connery/Moore, hell – even Brosnan films, where you had long establishing shots of exotic destinations, you just feel like you are in the international late-capitalist nonplace.

We started talking about the Bourne movies, and how, particularly the first and the last are set in Schengen – a connected, border-less Mitteleurope that can be hacked and accessed and traversed – not without effort, but with determination, stolen vehicles and the right train timetables.

Again, the triumph of dematerialisation – but with a twist.

Rather than Bond’s private infrastructure expensive cars and toys, Bourne uses public infrastructure as a superpower.

A battered watch and an accurate U-Bahn time-table are all he needs for a perfectly-timed, death-defying evasion of the authorities.

As Rod has already pointed out:

Jason Bourne is the man-as-weapon, never troubled by indecision or doubt, immediately responsive, unbalancing his enemies’ battlefield underneath them. He moves forward constantly, like a shark, and lives in a fast forward that’s the exact opposite of bullet-time – blurred fragments experienced at extraordinary speed – and his reactions are all reflex-fast”

But in addition, Bourne wraps cities, autobahns, ferries and train terminuses around him as the ultimate body-armour, in ways that Old Etonians could never even dream of.

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21 comments
  1. Ben said:

    Fair enough. Except that the second paragraph is wrong.

    There are lots of destinations. Bregenz, Austria; La Paz, Bolivia; Port Au Prince, Haiti; London; Kazan, Russia; Siena and Talamone, Italy to name a few.

    Destinations marked by great big typography at the start of each location change. Great big typography designed by Tomato: http://www.tomato.co.uk/#quantum-of-solace-2

    There’s lots of travel too. Including a pretty clunky advert for Virgin Upper Class, an incident at a private airport and a European jaunt in a wooden boat.

    You are correct that Bourne hacks the city where Bond relies on a no limit credit card, but Bond is a hero set in the 50′s spun for the now. Always has been; witness the Star Wars inspired Moonraker, or the so called regeneration under Brosnan which now feels as cheesy as Moore.

    The latest Bond steals lots from Bourne, especially the relentless brevity. But Bourne is alone and on the run, hence the hacking, Bond is backed by the world’s 4th (and often 1st) largest economy.

  2. ryan said:

    “Bourne uses public infrastructure as a superpower.”

    The city is here for you to (ab)use?

    I have to pick a nit with your take on Quantum of Solace – if there’s no sense of destination in the new Bond, why hire Tomato to design one-off title cards for all the places the action happens? [http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthamm/sets/72157609339642833/]

    Bourne’s enemies can be anywhere, Bond’s (at least in the Craig series thus far) actually are everywhere. Despite throwing out names of cities like they matter to the action, the Bond films’ failure to make us feel like we’re anywhere but the inter-zone. That’s telling, isn’t it? We’ve reached the point in the evolution of these narratives that even when we try to emphasize the notion of place, we fail.

    [Unrelated to the above, but important: Pay attention to how Jason Bourne fights. It's a movie version of mixed martial arts, with a lot borrowed from Krav Maga. Watch closely and you'll notice Bourne never blocks-then-strikes; the moves are ALWAYS combined. All defensive motions are explicitly offensive for him, and the same holds true in his movement across the grid.]

  3. moleitau said:

    Guys – I haven’t seen QoS, so I was purely riffing of what Noam told me… Maybe I should watch it…

  4. Don’t bother with Quantum, it’s devoid of the charm which made the franchise so endearing. Or perhaps do bother and then disagree.
    Bond is trying so hard to become Bourne anyhow…

    I like your point about Bourne though, becoming his environment. Immersing himself in it and letting it become his ally as opposed to Bond’s brashness to his surroundings. I’m reading a lot about geospacial design thinking and I can see it’s where technology might start to do the same for us. Using information to actually help do more than simply navigate.

  5. AG said:

    Bourne-as-you-depict-him would seem to have the true operator’s sense of staying inside his opponents’ OODA loop, in a way that derives particular benefit from an intimate knowledge of the way the world actually works. Another, albeit clichéd way of putting it: “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.”

  6. We’ve reached the point in the evolution of these narratives that even when we try to emphasize the notion of place, we fail.

    Well, I think the distinction that needs to be made is that Bond has many destinations, but they still seem to be very much un-places (as Marc Augé would say); they’re generic interzone, and the only way we have of giving them identity is through those title cards, or through whatever language is being subtitled this time around.

    Other thought: Bourne emphasises movement and motion, not just in his free-running antics and brawling fights, but also in his constant running from the man; by contrast, if there’s anything that the Bond films have emphasised it’s travel: the act, the luxury, the other-worldliness of international travel. Bond travels a lot, but the destinations are rarely ever the point.

    (Thinking further: I’m sure there’s an interesting digression on the homogeneity on fashion, as well, culminating in Bond’s iconic dinner suit. It is a cultural leveller but also a culture export, most places he ends up wearing it; uniform, rather than fashion statement. One of my favourite outfits Bond ends up wearing in Casino Royale is his sportswear-casual fleece-and-trackies look; nice to be reminded he wears comfy, ordinary clothes when he’s hungover. In QOS, he’s back to never being out of tailoring, and it just feels colder, more aloof).

  7. Simon said:

    Riffing off Bourne’s use of Krav Maga (interestingly Bond also uses it in the stairwell scene of Casino Royale) – Krav is (simplistically) an explicitly defensive martial art. In fact much of the training is on how to avoid dangerous situations. Even the stance (hands forward, plams outward) is passifying. However, once the line has been crossed then the response is quick and brutal and sometimes psudo-preemptive (for want of a better word). Fights should be over decisively and almost instantaneously.

    This mirrors Bourne’s situation – he is reluctant to engage but, when forced he does so quickly (see the scene in the US Embassy).

    “I don’t want to do this anymore. I swear to God, if I even feel somebody behind me, there is no measure to how fast and how hard I will bring this fight to your doorstep.”

    If I was to wank slightly firther then Krav is very much a post-modern martial art (is there an equivalent to Godwins Law for mentioning post-modernism?). Unlike far-eastern martial arts there is no spiritual component, no sense of tradition or reverence for history. It constantly evolves and branches (in a manner, not dissimilar to the rapidly growing github trend) ruthlessly evolving and assimilating new concepts – again mirroring Bourne’s utilisation of the environment and also the Bond franchise’s reinvention of itself.

    Right, that’s quite enough 6th form level pretension from me.

  8. MATT said:

    Interesting thoughts guys but surely Bourne is an imitation of Bond
    Jason Bourne = James Bond

  9. Flung Far said:

    Bourne is god. Bond is god. I’m so tired of god.

    I am at the point in my life where NOT watching the escape IS the escape.

    We engage Bond and Bourne to escape yet this is what THEY do, escape.

    It is all escape. To where?

  10. nick s said:

    We started talking about the Bourne movies, and how, particularly the first and the last are set in Schengen – a connected, border-less Mitteleurope that can be hacked and accessed and traversed – not without effort, but with determination, stolen vehicles and the right train timetables.

    Or, impishly, in the manner of American students’ backpacking tours of Europe, which in turn is a successor to National Lampoon’s European Spying Vacation.

  11. muthacourage said:

    Maybe Bourne is a renegade version of the new IDF? instead of “From now on we all walk through walls!” Bounre walks across intersecting timetables, alternating penumbra and corona of infrastructure….Hollow Field?

  12. Trevor said:

    Perhaps I missed a bit of info, but I believe the references to Bourne/Bond’s Krav Maga are a bit inaccurate: the fights in both movies (the Bourne trilogy and Quantum of Solace) are choreographed by the same chap; specifically, they’re Filipino Kali.

    I’ve read both this post and “Who Stole My Volcano” now; good stuff.

  13. Pingback: Clouded Judgement

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