Secular Wisdom from the Movies: The Bourne Identity

In this series, “Secular Wisdom at the Movies,” we hope to offer student leaders a resource – whether for summer programming or just regular teaching. So often we overlook biblical insight from the secular world. The movies in this series each offer a unique Gospel perspective that we can bring to our students. To read the last post in this series, click here.

One summer in college, I worked on campus cleaning dorm rooms after conferences. It was hard work that didn’t pay much, but as a Canadian, it allowed me to stay in the US so I could be closer to the girl I would end up marrying a couple of years later. One day after work, I found a book in the lost and found: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. I mumbled the title under my breath as I observed the front cover, and a co-worker replied, “It’s good. It’s about a spy with amnesia.”

My girlfriend wouldn’t be back in town for a few days, so I took the book home with me. I started reading it while eating dinner and fell asleep still reading it at 2:30am.

In 2002, Doug Liman made The Bourne Identity into a movie and I was as giddy as Homer Simpson on National Donut Day. It didn’t matter that it didn’t stick particularly close to the book, the story was intact and the movie quickly became an all-time favorite.

At the center of the movie (and the entire Bourne trilogy) is this question: “Who am I?”

The movie begins with Jason Bourne, riddled with bullets and barely alive, being pulled out of the Mediterranean Sea onto a ship. The ship’s doctor, after removing two bullets from Bourne’s back and a bank account key from his hip, looks deep into his confused eyes and asks, “I am a friend. My name is Giancarlo. Who are you? What is your name?” Terrified, bewildered, and longing for clarity he responds, “I don’t know…”

Jason Bourne’s true identity and true purpose is a mystery. Even when he thinks he knows who he is, his understanding of his purpose is called into question as he begins to learn more about his ‘creator,’ Treadstone (a top-secret black ops program). The adolescent’s journey is similarly marked by the question “Who am I?” – and the understanding of the answer is defined (and comes into more clarity) as each of us enters into greater knowledge and intimacy with our true creator.

The question Jason Bourne asks has an even deeper layer of questioning: he is trying to shed one identity (super assassin) in order to discover his true identity. He was made to be “Jason Bourne.” But he does not want this identity, and has a sense that it isn’t actually his true identity. He is in search of who he was in the beginning of things: David Webb. Not who he has been turned into: Jason Bourne.

The Bourne Identity illustrates well the identity-tension that so many teenagers (and adults) live and struggle with. They are who they are becoming (new creations), while still feeling the effects of the sin and brokenness of their former selves.

NT Wright, in his book Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, writes (describing 2 Corinthians 5:17) that when the Apostle Paul “looks at other people, other Christians, himself, anyone, he sees them in a new way from how he did before… ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!’ The ‘new creation’ in question refers both to the person concerned and to the world which they enter, the world which has been now reconciled to the creator.” Jason Bourne, through his amnesia, begins to see himself and the world in a new way. Before his “death” at the beginning of the movie, he was a slave to Treadstone, programmed for their work. After his “resurrection,” when he is pulled from the water by the fishermen, he begins a journey of discovery, fighting for freedom from his past. He begins to see and experience life differently. He begins to believe that the possibility of a different life awaits him; one filled with things other than fear, brokenness, and death.

As Bourne struggles to makes sense of the dichotomy of his past life with his new life, Marie, the woman he meets and falls in love with, provides much needed support. She supplies him with transportation and a place to stay. But much more than these basic things, she supplies him with hope. When he can’t find the strength to believe he could be any more than what he used to be, Marie sees the goodness in who he really is and (perhaps more importantly) who he is becoming. She is a prophetic witness to his redemption and transformation.

Besides being an epic, action packed adventure for the ages, The Bourne Identity and the rest of the trilogy (soon to be a tetralogy, or quartet) is a story of identity and becoming. We were made for and created for something by the Father. But our minds are filled with lies about what we should be like and what we are really for. But, like Jason Bourne, we have all been freed from sin and death through the cross. “The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.


Kris currently serves as Director of the Kansas City Fellows and has been a youth ministry practitioner for more than 20 years. In addition to loving Jesus and loving teenagers, he also has a deep appreciation for all things coffee, cycling and Djing. He recently completed his Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary and is a Sticky Faith certified coach. He's been married to his wife Heather for more than 20 years and has two daughters.

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