Identity Crisis


Of the cohort of boyish leading actors we’ve spent the last decade waiting to see turn into men, Matt Damon is the most surprising. For someone blessed with all-American good looks and a brash, winning grin, he can be surprisingly inward, repressed, or weird-or, as in the Jason Bourne trilogy, haunted and violent. Maybe such ambiguities suit the American character at this particular moment, when our sunny and dark sides seem to run so close to one another.

In The Bourne Identity (2002), Damon’s character was rescued from the Mediterranean by a French fishing boat. He had two bullets in his back, a case of total amnesia-and, embedded under the skin of his hip, a capsule containing the number of a safety deposit box in a Zurich bank. In the deposit box he discovered half a dozen passports, a couple hundred thousand dollars in various currencies, and a gun. What kind of person carries all that around with him? he wondered aloud to his newfound German girlfriend, Maria (Franka Potente). Hmm. Probably not a veterinarian on vacation, anyway.

In that film and in the 2004 sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, Damon ran, swam, leapt, karate-chopped, shot, and strangled his way toward the mystery of his identity. The final installment of the trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, finds him zeroing in on some high-ranking culprits, convinced by now that his amnesia was not simply the result of having been shot, but of a far more...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.