Saturday, August 11, 2012

All Points Of Convergence: The Bourne Legacy & Programmable Behavior

Just as the black bars in the poster "blocks our view" of all the information in the poster (all the visual elements) so we as a culture/society are having all the elements of the information about the state of the country blocked from our view, especially as it relates to the economy, which Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) symbolizes like so many of the leading men in recent films (more on this next week in Hollywood Scorecard #2). But Cross is also being "erased" by his own government basically because of the files which Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) passed onto Pam Landy at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum and the government trying to protect itself.
There is only one reason the film is getting reviews like, "Enjoyable but disappointing," and that's because it's anti-socialist and liberal reviewers don't like that one bit. I hate to do this, but this post, regrettably, will probably seemed very unorganized, because it is. The vastness of the story line and its points (and everything I would like to cover) makes it exceedingly difficult to be coherent, but I promise to do my best, and hope you will bear with me. This was the very first trailer released for Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy; not all the dialogue in the trailer takes place in the actual film, and it's not necessarily in this order, and it occurs only as a flashback:
Why is the overall "style" of the trailer--with the black bars coming in and out of the picture, covering the image partially, then going out again--important? Two reasons. One, it's a form of "censorship" we are familiar with (black bars over exposed body parts, for example) and two, it's a method of "erasure," of removing something, and in a film about nine secret agents being killed (read, "erased") by their own country, that's an important statement. Why would the film use this device now? Next week I will be posting Hollywood Scorecard #2 and comparing the method in The Bourne Legacy to The Dark Knight Rises, but for now, suffice to say the film wants audience members to understand that it understands that information and even people are being "censored" and "erased" from our country by the current government. This is partially where the film takes on so much complexity, because five years after the Matt Damon mega-hit The Bourne Ultimatum, we live in a totally different country, and The Bourne Legacy is literally going back and re-interpreting what happened in the "old USA" by what has happened in "today's USA" (and more on this in just a moment).
On one hand, this is the "light at the end of the tunnel"; in this scene in the film, Cross is fully enhanced, so the highlighting of this scene as one of the main film posters particularly stands out as being important: when Cross is fully enhanced, that will be the light at the end of our tunnel, too, as a country. The tall, narrow walls emphasize Cross' choice: this is between a rock and a hard spot, but Cross chose to get down into that position (he jumped down to where we see him in this image from above) and those tall narrow walls accentuate that there is no escape from this predicament, but to go towards the light, which he does. Even though there might be questions of free will at different times, Cross chose to become a part of the program and he has made his own choices along the way; the theme of free will is an important one because it establishes the identity of the individual as separate from a mob or horde, and Cross--even though he's part of the Treadstone Program and is continually likened to Jason Bourne--is his own man. 
We have to remember, The Bourne Legacy is being released today and taking place now even as it is converging with The Bourne Ultimatum of 2007. At about :20 into the trailer above, please stop it and take a good look--through the censoring bars--at how Kenneth Keitsom looks in this shot. We have no idea how he got into this state (even in the film) but the right-side of his face is "pock marked" with blood, his hair is balding (it's imperative to know that he's wearing a plastic "net" atop his head) and his left eye is filled with blood and swelling shut. Why are these details important? It symbolizes the state of the economy. The right-side blood marks look like disease, and the blood in the eye means something like our judgment and ability to discern has been impaired by suffering.
She's not creating something, she's manipulating it. The film has to walk a tight wire to make a point yet keep the audience sympathetic to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Socialism is basically the government of animals and that's why George Orwell's parody Animal Farm succeeds to this day in bringing out the true nature of what it is to live in a socialist "experiment." The doctors in the lab experiment on the agents like lab rats, and this has devastating consequences to them. One lab tech, Dr. Fiote, is given the okay to do a experiment by Shearing and then the next time we see him, he shoots everyone in the lab except Shearing (with whom it's suspected he's in love). While Shearing thinks he took some of the behavioral modification drugs, we are also led to the possibility that he was turned by Byer to kill the doctors so there wouldn't be any leaks about the failed Black Ops programs, but there's no evidence in the film to support either presupposition. Rather, because he starts treating the agents like animals, he starts treating everyone like an animal to be exterminated at his will; he doesn't let Shearing live, he tries to kill her, but he's wounded by a cop and then kills himself. Animals breed animals. In a socialist government which has no respect for human life and individual dignity, everyone starts treating everyone that way, which is the reason why Aaron Cross is so human and tries to desperately to connect with others at every chance, to fight that socialist influence. Experiments as socialist experiments and the non-reality of their schedules the pills used as "leashes" to hold them back, just like the plane in The Dark Knight Rises. Two keys to understanding who Marta Shearing is: first, she does the work she does for the sake of the science and, two, her house. Like the references to the Nazi war crimes in Cowboys and Aliens, science for science's sake is the trap of a socialist government that has no respect for its people and abandons all morality. The house which Shearing lives in, an abandoned fixer-up in derelict condition, symbolizes the soul (houses house the body the way the body houses the soul) and its run-down condition illustrates how she herself has "bought into" socialism to "fix it up" the way many are fashionably becoming socialists today with the idea that they will apply the lessons of capitalism to socialism and make it better so it will work this time (that's not why the government is doing it, just mis-led lay voter sheep).
Because the head is the "governing function," it controls the rest of the body, Kenneth's head symbolizes what the government has done to him (and hair symbolizes/reveals our thoughts and thinking/reveals our state of mind) which is covered by the plastic net as a metaphor for the "social net" the Obama administration using in its economic policies and the "propaganda" of what the government says it's doing when it's really doing something else.  (Of course, the re-make for the anti-communist film Red Dawn being shown as a  trailer before The Bourne Legacy certainly creates a context for the film as well).
Cross willingly taking the greater risk of going over the mountain meant he lost his pills but he arrived two days faster. Not seeing the Outcome agent in the tree? That prefigures that Cross won't see the Larx agent coming to get him or that the government will turn on him. Why do they put their "chems" in the little box they do? Because it looks like a sardine can which is exactly what human beings are to a socialist government (remember what happens at the end of The Chernobyl Diaries?). The pills he has to take, one blue and one green, symbolize collectively wisdom and hope, but the scientists have weaned the agents off the green pills (hope in the government) although they still have to take the blue ones to "leash them" so they can't get out of control. In the wilderness, Cross wears a red jacket, possibly denoting that he is a "communist" (red and black are the colors of the international socialist movement) but it's more likely that red is what he wears because red is the color of love (one is willing to die/shed your blood for the one you love) and so Cross' love for himself as a person and for others will help him fight socialism (the bad red).
How can we be definite that the film wants to make an anti-socialist statement? As always, there is always more than one way to read any work of art, but if someone wanted to make this an anti-capitalist film, these are facts of the narrative negatively reflecting socialism which they would have to deal with to prove their point. First, Keitsom says that he lived in a "state home" in Reno, Nevada (I haven't been able to determine if it's a veterans' hospital, psychiatric ward, mentally ill institution; if you are from the area and know, please drop me a line!) and granted, while there are "state homes" in a capitalist country, this has to be taken as a socialist run "state home" because we also find out that when Keitsom was in the army fighting in Iraq, his recruiter had to "fill his quota" for new recruits and that's how Keitsom got recruited for being in the Outcome program (I think Cross suggests that his IQ before he entered the program wouldn't have qualified him for it and from the lack of intelligence he displays when he has his flashback about not wanting to go back to the state home in Reno testifies to that).
Edward Norton playing Eric Byer, the head of the heads who decides that all the agents have to be killed. His role in the film perfectly illustrates what happens in a socialist government: the government does whatever it wants because there is no one there to oversee it. In a capitalist economy, corporations and individuals do bad things, but the government is there to enforce laws and maintain the social contract (regulating when necessary) but in a socialist government, there is no one there to stop/correct/oversee what the government does because the government is self-controlling, there are no "free elections" for the people to put in party members of their choice and so government kills and aborts at will. This is apparent with the Larx agent, that Turso (Stacy Keach) gets angry about having been an idea that was on the drawing board and up and running without him knowing about it and Byer coolly turns to him and says, "Consider yourself informed." That's a socialist government at work, no checks and balances anywhere.  
Why are the "quotas" important? Because that's how a "command economy" (socialist) works, the government deciding quotas regardless of the reality of the need or demand for something (the government might decide to make only 10,000 rolls of toilet paper, for example, but also make 10,000 pieces of glass that no one has any need of, whereas twenty times the number of toilet paper rolls are needed). So not only does The Bourne Legacy show us the very worst illustrations of socialism, but also the prevalence of injustice.
The dark blue Cross wears in this scene communicates to the audience that he's depressed, which isn't difficult to tell because of the conversation he has with the other Outcome agent, but it's consistent with the way his clothes reveal more about his state of mind then perhaps he himself does.  I am still working all the details out, but the opening "training sequence" with Cross in Alaska is a "chaos map" of the larger events that are going to be taking place in the film if we know how to read them (this was also done in Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst). Cross lying flat down in water invokes our memory of both how Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) was found floating in water (for not doing an assassination the way Cross doesn't want to do immoral things for Byer) and how the end of The Bourne Ultimatum happened. Water is a two-way symbol and can either refer to the sacrament of Baptism and the cleansing of sins, or to sexual intercourse and the cleansing of lust. Because nothing physical happens between Shearing and Cross, and because Cross is retrieving something from the bottom of this natural pool, I think it's safest to say that it refers to a soul cleansing and the "package" is what he's obtained from deep within himself (depths often invoke self/inner meditation). This probably refers to the four days that Cross "fell off the grid" and why he was sent to Alaska, but what he learned about himself in the process. When Cross gets to the cabin, he talks to the other agent about the wolves tracking him, and how wolves don't track people (this might be a reference to The Gray with Liam Neeson). We can say with confidence that the wolves symbolize other CIA agents and Byer's team of researchers because in a clip that didn't make it into the film, Cross, talking on the phone says, "You should have left me alone," just as he says to the wolf that he sets up in a trap and snares, infecting with the tracking device that he himself had been wearing. The female moose Cross sees being brought down by a pack of wolves foreshadows how Shearing will be attacked by the CIA agents in her house. The incredible jump he makes across the mountain, from one side to other, correlates to the jump across the rooftop after he gets viraled off the blue chems (that clip is below) and the climbing up the sheer face of the mountain, in between those rocks is how carefully he and Shearing make their way to Manila to get the meds. I want to say that Cross going back to the cabin after he's blown up the drone (the drone foreshadows the inhuman Larx agent that will chase him) and seeing all the blue and green chems dissolved in the snow, is his realization that Shearing doesn't have any chems at her house or the lab, and his hopes are "dissolved" likewise. The film is too well constructed for those all those actions not to be invested with meaning, but I have only seen it once and after thinking on it a bit more, I am sure I will be able to figure out the rest of the intended message.
We know, at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, that what Pam Landy was doing was right in publicizing those documents and exposing the corruption in the Black Ops programs of the CIA. What The Bourne Legacy does is re-interpret the ending for what is happening in our world today: Pam Landy is accused of treason, not the ones who are actually guilty being accused of treason and there is a great monologue regarding Landy's guilt and her not doing what's in the best interest of the country, when in fact, it's her superiors who have committed the treason.
Obamacare, anyone?
What about Cross' body? How does performance enhancement play into the story? It's actually confusing, because the body being so enhanced makes me think of a well-oiled, lean capitalist business "working at peak performance," however, I think the film makers are actually invoking an old lesson that we knew in 1985 but have forgotten: Rocky IV was about the American Rocky going up against the Soviet, artificially enhanced body of Drago the communist at the height of the Cold War, and Drago's trainers emphasizing only the performance of Drago's body whereas Rocky trains his body and his mind/soul; it's not enough to be able to hit hard, but to think and reason, to have soul and love (for the dead Apollo) behind what you are doing as well as the differences (in the computer tracking) of Drago's physical performance and the "invisible hand" guiding Rocky in his training of where he knows he is weak and needs improvement:
The scientists in The Bourne Legacy use only periodic check-ups and blood tests to see how the agents are doing and have no relationship with them whatsoever or knowledge of what it is they do in the field (Cross even makes fun of Shearing for her thinking that they can just call a time out to send off their blood work because the lab needs it, and this is how inefficiently socialist governments run). Now, in light of this, the "number 5" conversation between Cross and Shearing makes even more sense than previously:
There is always a conflict in art, especially literature and film, between the hero's ability to be good and fight evil or himself/herself being tainted by evil tendencies; is Cross telling Shearing to lie about her name and what they are doing? As mentioned previously, I don't think this is a lie at all, rather, like a "chaos map," it gives us another perspective on a deeper reality of the film. "June Monroe" has "lost her wallet." How many of us have "lost our wallets" the last four years? It's not just that our financial worth has plummeted and the cost of living skyrocketed, but Dr. Shearing has lost her livelihood because she was a part of the Operation Outcome which was terminated. So in its way, it's not a lie at all, and that's how the unconscious works. The most important part, however, is that Aaron Cross is "Number 5," merely stats and data records, because, again, that's exactly how socialist governments and programs work (Obamacare). Where else have we seen blood work being done? The Hunger Games, when there is the drawing for the Games and Katniss and Primrose have their blood drawn to be registered. Why does he choose the name "June Monroe?" Because he finds her very attractive, like "Marilyn Monroe," (remember when she was examining him and she mentioned the cameras on them) but Cross also knows that she's a good person, and he has a kind of "angelic" understanding of her (we can't say he has any other positive females in his life) so this maternal interaction--as she takes care of him in a sense in being his doctor--leads him to identifying her with "June Cleaver," of Leave It To Beaver, the All-American Mother.
Cross has just been given the blue chem "live virus" to wean him off so he will be permanently enhanced and not have to worry about "chemming up" anymore. Earlier, when he was viraled out of the green chems, he got a "mystery flu" that nearly killed him; this symbolizes the false hope (the green pills he was viraled off of) of the government bail outs of the auto industry, wall street, Fannie and Freddie, the trillions of dollars in economic stimulus the government fed into the economy that nearly killed it instead of making it better, and the way the government artificially held back economic recovery (as The Dark Knight Rises suggests) because a weaker economy is easier to control. The Bourne Legacy reminds us, just as Cross gets really ill in being viraled off the blue chems so the economy will get sick in being viraled off the artificial support of the government, but if it's not, it will be forever leashed to it and never be free to grow.
There's another characteristic which would be easy for us to overlook: Cross' physical capabilities and mental problem solving. Before seeing the film, I noted that the differences between "play" and "game" would be important, and a clip such as this clearly demonstrates Cross' ability to be more creative with what is at hand than his "socialist" rival, the Larx agent:
In American films, heroes have unlimited free will, i.e., when Aaron Cross wills to jump an impossible length that the average person couldn't, they make it; when they will that they will know the exact spot a bad guy will cross so they can shoot them through a closed door, it works (trust me, it wouldn't work for me). But in the context the film creates, this isn't about the superhero aura (like Iron Man, for example), rather, how capitalism forces us to be more creative (like Rocky's training style in the clip above) and socialism relies on science. Why does this happen? Creativity is a part of our intellect, which is a part of our soul and our individuality; socialism can't exist if there is individuality, it holds that are all equal and there is no soul (hence, we are all animals). The whole character of Aaron Cross, all his emotions and feelings and struggles, are purposefully and skillfully woven together to manifest an anti-socialist statement.
Aaron knows you can't enhance the body without enhancing the soul and  providing for the soul. He knows intuitively that he has to balance his superior physical capabilities with a steady emotional life and he knows it so well that's how he knows the Outcome agent at the cabin "fell in love" and ended up being put on the sidelines, because that's what would happen to himself. Cross mentions to the other agent that he "fell off the grid for four days," but we never get an exact reason why. I think it's possible, at least, that after Byer tells Cross what a "sin eater" is, and Cross has to get his wounded leg stitched up, that's when Cross "escapes" and does some soul searching, prompting the CIA to send him to the Alaskan training ground as a "slap on the wrist" for dropping out of sight, but this is only a suggestion.
Later in The Bourne Legacy, after they have decided to go to the Philippines to "viral out" Cross' body off the blue chems, Shearing asks Cross why his physical enhancement is so important to him and he responds that it's not but he knows the misery he will go through being weaned off the chems and what it will do to him (death). The trip to the Philippines illustrates this because of the Philippines have transferred their economic approach from the time of the dictator Marcos to the market economy that is starting to grow there, hence, the call for America to undo the "dictatorship" of Obama and wean ourselves off the "chems" (the artificial enhancements/safety nets of the government) and go back to a capitalist state.
Cross has been viraled off the blue chems and is suffering the illness of the live virus; he's so sick, he thinks he's going to die and he gives Shearing last minute instructions on how to take care of herself, but he gets better and overcomes the illness to reap the benefits of his enhancement to save them both.
Quickly going back to the differences between Rocky and Drago in Rocky IV, we can see the emphasis on body vs body and mind also in Cross and Byer: Cross wants to do what is right and Byer wants to do what he thinks is right, the problem is, as discussed above, when there is a socialist government, there is no one to tell the government what it can't and shouldn't do, hence there are "sin eaters":
As this begins, please note that Byer wears dark sunglasses just as the robotic Larx agent will do later; the eyes are the windows of the soul, and Byer "blacking out" his soul in this scene means that he's blacking out the reality of what is taking place and just seeing what he wants to, namely, that sin can be eaten and forgotten, not that it has permanent effects on individuals and society (the phrase "wearing blinders" also is applicable). Cross' hand, at :08 seconds, is bandaged, because hands/arms symbolize our strength, that his is bandaged means his strength has been weakened by this whole "sinful" incident. To demonstrate this (and this came across better at the theater on the big screen) please notice how "dirty" Cross is, with all the dirt stuck on his face and mixing with the sweat. Why is this important?
Here, in the final chase scene, we see Cross wearing dark glasses just as I am accusing Byer and the Larx agent of wearing glasses (and the Larx agent is wearing dark glasses in this very scene); what, if any, is the difference? In the "sin eating" clip above, there is a play on whose eyes are being opened (Cross') and whose eyes are being closed to reality (Byer's even though he takes off the glasses); in the chase scene pictured above, the Larx agent is the last option for the CIA to take out Cross and he's the agent that doesn't have the "emotional complications" of Cross, he lacks empathy and doesn't have "moral hang-ups" the way Cross does. Larx, then, is a great example of the perfect "socialist" machine ready to do the government's bidding in any affair, regardless of how sordid, and the dark glasses he wears (covering his eyes, the windows of the soul) lets us know that his soul is dead (black is the color of death) and he's dead to his own will and pain (he gets shot several times after crashing into a vegetable stand--because he is a vegetable--then gets up and chases Cross more). Cross wears black glasses because he, too is dead in that he's not taking this chase "personally," because that's what capitalists do ("it's just business") like we learned in Moneyball when Peter (Jonah Hill) had to trade one of the players. What capitalists consider "death," (the Larx agent) is life to socialists and what socialists consider life is "death" to capitalists.
When the CIA decides--at Byer's insistence--to kill all their Outcome agents, they bleed from the face; why? The face is the seat of our identity, our face distinguishes us from others more than any other of our features (remember, please, The Skin I Live In); the blood coming from their face communicates to the audience how the life in Outcome has taken their life just as the dirt on Cross' face in the scene above demonstrates how his work for Byer is "soiling" his identity.
In Total Recall, the "vehicle" of capitalism was called The Fall, and in this "fall" between two walls, we can see a correlation because Cross is just now experiencing his full viral enhancement. I will discuss this further next week in Hollywood Scorecard #2, but for now, we can see how two different films utilize the same device to communicate different concepts although both of them are pro-capitalist.
Byer is typical of socialism in another way that has been demonstrated in films lately: thinking the patient is dead. Several people, in the beginning of the film, voice their concern over Byer's decision to kill all the agents but Byer insists the whole thing be wiped out, just like Obama talking about the big mess and problems he inherited from Bush; Obama is talking about what capitalists talk about in terms of interest rates and the stock market, Obama is talking about the mess of the capitalist framework in general that he inherited and how the whole thing has to go in order to get America "well" according to socialist standards.
Why does Cross re-name her June Monroe? I speculated earlier that it might be due to June Cleaver and Marilyn Monroe, and I am going to stick with that. June Cleaver was the caring, loving and dutiful mother and wife that was an icon and role model and Marilyn Monroe, the orphan with nothing, worked her way up the ladder to success and fame (let's not talk about what she allowed to happen to her though, those were bad moral decisions). The point being, Cross asks her in the exam room about his condition and she reminds him they are on camera and he replies, "Is that the reason why you always look so good?" and she tells him to count back from one hundred. This reference to looking good on camera not only reminds us of the blond bombshell's film career, but that he's attracted to her and needs to bond with her. Shearing asks Cross later if he knew June Monroe and he replies, "Not anymore," and while the meaning is ambiguous, symbolically it probably refers to the greater identity of America as being both the June Cleaver role-model for the world (moral and familial) as well as the place of outstanding success and fame (Monroe) and that part of America has died but it's up to Shearing to "be" that from now on, which she does in abandoning her socialist values and killing the Larx agent (more on that just below).
This is part of the reason why it has to be Marta Shearing who kills Larx, the symbol of the socialist police (in the final chase scene, Larx uses both cop cars and motorcycles to chase Cross and Shearing showing how he's a fake enforcer of the law). Cross has been shot but the Larx agent is still chasing them; Shearing pushing the Larx agent's bike away from them, causing it to crash into a pillar is her pushing socialism away from herself and choosing the "pillars" of society in its place (like Cross and another pillar of society, justice; remember, pillars play a big role in The Dark Knight Rises wherein catwoman has to kill Bane because what Bane symbolizes is what she would have become).
So what about the ending? As I said, the final "viraling out" of Aaron Cross in the Philippines is probably because of the transition the Philippine economy is making from the previous dictatorship of Marcos. As they sail away from the mainland, we see the man who helped Shearing and Cross wearing a gold watch Aaron stole from the shop keeper at the lab where he was viraled out. Did Cross steal the watch? No. The factory where the live viruss manufactured is America's solution to ourselves "viraling out" of the economic betrayal in which we have found ourselves. The watchman is like Cross in an important way so the factory watchman from whom Cross takes the watch is really a double for himself.
When Cross told Shearing her name was "June Monroe," he also said he name was James; his middle name is really James in the film, but James is also the name of the corporate gate keeper at the science lab where Shearing works, creating a dual role for Cross as himself being the gate keeper, not for the "science for science's sake" company, rather, for the capitalist way the company works and operates, so when he takes the watch, the watch symbolizes time and the gold something valuable, so it's the "valuable lessons from history" that Cross takes with him when he has "viraled out" of his dependence on the chems. This is the same watch he gives (in payment) to the boat owner they sail on in the end.
The name of the ship they sail on is Sabrina, probably invoking the film with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden about class mobility. What's important is how it symbolizes the"ship of state" and they are their own captains, charting their own course, not being told what to do by the government. That the captain wears the gold watch means that the "valuable lessons of history" is it's better to man your own boat than let the government do it for you.
While the world of The Bourne Ultimatum might appear more exciting, with a greater world stage and the high stakes of justice and treason in the balance, that was a world that Bourne film makers are telling us no longer exists: Pam Landy, the innocent CIA officer trying to bring corruption to transparency and accountability, has become the victim of corruption, and whereas, in 2007, audiences could finish the film with total trust that the machinery of government still protected the innocent and prosecuted the guilty, in The Bourne Legacy, film makers have made an incredible re-interpretation of their own faith and hope to show us how the blackest change has come over the country to the point that Aaron Cross can't fight for justice, only for persopnal survival, just like most of us today.
The "leap of faith," or, as Total Recall might call it, "the fall." Please note the expanse between the buildings which Aaron Cross jumps (as he did in the beginning of the film from one mountain ledge to another). This "gap" has been explored in the pro-socialist films Ice Age 4, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows, as well as the pro-capitalist films Total Recall and The Dark Knight Rises. It's a simple device, yet effective: the leaving behind of the old and the leap of faith to something new; in terms of the pro-capitalist films, it's more about an "escape from," as we will discuss in Hollywood Scorecard #2 this week.
The film, based on a "chaos universe" and not a socialist's preferred Darwinist universe, strives to show audiences the devastation government intervention and policies cause us, not only economically, but personally as well. As in The Amazing Spider Man, both films seek to "find the formula" for decay rates and viraling out so there is no dependency but both heroes can still do what they need to do (e pluribus unum).  The question is, are we brave enough to "viral out" and save ourselves? Eat Your Art Out, The Fine Art Diner