24 août 2007

The Bourne Perception


David Borwell's recent post Unsteadicam chronicles discusses Paul Greengrass's use of technique to obscure reality in the most recent Bourne film. As good as this piece is, I think it misses one significant effect of Greengrass's style. For me, the main effect of Greengrass's stylization is to represent Jason Bourne's subjective perception as different from our own. Greengrass uses style to explore the notion of Bourne's, well, supremacy.

Some quotes from Bordwell's article (all emphases mine; not quoted in their original order):
"Later in Supremacy, the camera jerks across a computer display and suddenly focuses itself, evoking the jumpy saccadic flicks with which we scan our world."

"Essentially, intensified continuity is about using brief shots to maintain the audience’s interest but also making each shot yield a single point, a bit of information. Got it? On to the next shot. Greengrass’s camera technique makes the shot’s point a little harder to get at first sight. Instead of a glance, he gives us a glimpse.

"In United 93, the technique could work because we’re all minimally familiar with the geography of a passenger jet. But in The Bourne Ultimatum, could anybody reconstruct any of these stations, streets, or apartment blocks on the strength of what we see? Of course, some will say, that’s the point. Jason himself is dizzyingly preoccupied by the immediacy of the action, and so are we. Yet Jason must know the layout in detail, if he’s able to pursue others and escape so efficiently. Moreover, we can justify any fuzziness in any piece of storytelling as reflecting a confused protagonist. This rationale puts us close to Poe’s suggestion that we shouldn’t confuse obscurity of expression with the expression of obscurity."

"But our point of view isn’t confined to what Bourne or anybody else sees and knows. The whole movie relies on crosscutting to create an omniscient awareness of various CIA maneuvers to trap him. And if Bourne saw his enemies in the flashes we get, he couldn’t wreck them so thoroughly."

What we're really learning here is that Jason Bourne's perception - and ability to put 2 and 2 together in order to respond to the situation - is superhuman. We get flashes of enough length to understand that the information is both too fast and too little to be adequately processed - by everyone except Jason Bourne.

Update: In the comments, I admit I was stretching this point, and propose a related thesis.

4 commentaires:

Daniel a dit…

Yeeees, but, as I point out in my review of this film, this analysis falls down a bit because the scenes not within the range of Bourne's subjectivity are styled in the same manner. Which is fascinating in its own way, as I point out. However, it is not as classically justified as subject style determined through protagonist focalization.

dave a dit…

point taken. there's a quote I left out from Bordwell's article that supports your point more than mine: "As a friend points out, we understand that Bourne is wielding a razor at one point chiefly because we hear its whoosh." Which gets to the heart of your point - this is an overall storytelling strategy not a subjective use of the perceptual dynamic I talked about. I don't know, I think I was stretching it, but I feel like I haven't made an argument in this space for a while and I'm feeling that lack fairly seriously at the moment.

Daniel a dit…

I didn't mean to cut down your argument, I found it, like the Bordwell article very interesting. Far more useful and provoking than the overall dismissal of, say, Michael Atkinson's blog entry against Greengrass' style in the film. It may not work (or it may), but I like that you and DB are taking it seriously.

dave a dit…

I think the problem is simply that Greengrass doesn't use the strategy I mentioned. If cinematic space and time were attended to differently in Bourne's scenes, then I would have a more compelling case. I think my case now has to be: information is never whole, complete and processable; the CIA, like Bourne, is trying to deal with this fractured information; only Bourne is up to the challenge. Is this an indictment of CIA information anaylsis that refers to agency incompetence with respect to 9/11? Or a recognition that only a superhero could have handled that job?