Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Gender, Geopolitics, and Geosurveillance in the Bourne Ultimatum

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Gender, Geopolitics, and Geosurveillance in the Bourne Ultimatum

Article excerpt

  The action film has the double distinction of being both one of the
  most popular and most popularly derided of contemporary genres.
  In main stream discourse, the genre is regularly lambasted for
  favoring spectacle over finely tuned narrative. ... Nonetheless,
  every summer[, when many action films are released,] testifies
  to the genre's pride of place in major studio economics. Action
  films serve Hollywood well, displaying the production values
  that enable American movies to dominate world markets. Ten
  of the twenty-five all-time, worldwide, top-grossing films are
  in the action genre; event films often wear action clothing.
  --Scott Higgins, 2008

Action thrillers are accused of sacrificing narrative coherence in favor of the highly marketable audiovisual thrill of films and related products such as video games. In this article I consider the last of the trilogy of films involving an amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne (Greengrass 2002, 2007; Liman 2002). The Bourne Ultimatum provides an entry point into some of the derided generic qualities of the action thriller (Greengrass 2007). (1) A discussion of the gendered nature of geopolitics, especially as it relates to national security post 9/11, follows as part of this engagement (Campbell 2001; Sturken 2002; Young 2003; Ferguson 2005). Since the interventions of a number of feminist political geographers and colleagues in international relations (see, for example, Enloe 2000; Dowler and Sharp 2001; Gilmartin and Kofman 2004; Hyndman 2004; Malin 2005; Carter and McCormick 2006; Elias 2008), national security and international politics have always been gendered, not least because of the subject positions identified--the protector and the protected--and the objects of security to be protected. The Bourne Ultimatum illustrates clearly how the public sphere of international relations is interwoven with the private sphere of everyday life, including the covert world of intelligence agencies. (2)

As part of this discussion about the gendered nature of geopolitics, I also seek to outline how three key female characters play a critical role in shaping action-thriller qualities. Although the central character in The Bourne Ultimatum is Jason Bourne, his relationships with Marie, his deceased girlfriend, with Nicky Parsons, a former girlfriend and partner who features in all three films, and with Pam Landy, a senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, are critical to the evolution of the gendered narrative and subject positioning. The importance of the three women varies as the film progresses toward its culmination in the rediscovery of Bourne's real identity and the exposure of Treadstone, a secret program that manufactures CIA assassins. For Bourne the personal is geopolitical--and vice versa--and his apparent failure to protect his girlfriend in India haunts him (Greengrass 2004). It also provides a "masculinist logic" for his actions: He is committed to exposing and punishing those who ordered his--and her--death in a quiet beach resort in India (Young 2003, 2).

Like Jason Bourne, this article has a mission. First, I consider the use of the established generic conventions of the action thriller in order to represent simplified geopolitical arguments and place-based intrigue. Second, I explore how national security is gendered and the manner in which different characters perform different roles in this gendering process. Finally, to investigate how geosurveillance is analyzed with reference to mobility and what, for the purposes of this article, I call "field craft." Bourne's mobility is a critical element in the film, but it also enables him to perform in particular ways that are quite different from those of the leading female characters, especially Nicky Parsons. Place, mobility, and surveillance are essential, if highly gendered, ingredients of the war on terror. You, the reader, will judge whether I have been successful. …

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