The Bourne Identity Has One of the Best-Implemented Sex Scenes in a Thriller

[Originally published Jun 4, 2016]

Thrillers are about keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat, giving grammas heart palpatations, and making suburban moms exclaim “He’s got a gun!” to the whole damn theater. These types of movies are about action, but they’re also just as reliant on their quiet moments. Films don’t work with constant action. The viewer needs a diverse understanding of the characters, and action simply can’t deliver the depth necessary to establish these characters. This is why even movies like Crank have slower bits – to give the audience something more to care about than the size of an explosion. It’s good to give viewers a nice lil break, and The Bourne Identity does so with a master class sex scene.

Most action/thrillers include a romantic subplot. Gotta have a juicy romance, say the producers. Identity is no different, though Marie’s well-employed characterization validates the inclusion of a romance. Throughout the film, we’re fed information about her – she’s a bit of a weirdo outsider, she’s flat broke, and she’s got problems with authority. This is why she and Bourne work well together – they’re both alternative types ultimately trying to discover themselves. The attraction culminates in a seedy hotel, just after the pair has evaded the police. Bourne attempts to step out of the bathroom, and she stops him, moving within smooching range. Because he’s a big idiot boy, he doesn’t pick up on the signal, and tries to scoot around her. She stops him again, and he realizes what’s going on. She gives him a light, gentle mouth kiss, and waits for his response. He hesitates, thinks, and then reciprocates. Cut to exterior. Camera pans up. Lovemaking occurs.

There’s so much going on here to pick apart. It’s not often we get to see the female lead take the dominant role when the time comes for our characters to boogie down. It’s also a cool, interesting inversion of our expectations – Bourne’s the one who’s a stone-cold cool man, so you’d think he’d be the one to take charge. This inversion really highlights the depth of these characters. Think about it – Bourne’s good at beating ass and being sneaky, but he’s at an extremely vulnerable moment here. He has no idea who he is, or why he seems so innately capable of incredible violence. Hard exterior, sensitive shining baby boy interior. Marie is the opposite. She’s also a fish out of water, but she’s also kind of a bad-ass. A civie holding her own alongside THE Jason Bourne? That’s one tough cookie. Since she’s not skilled with her fists or her gun, that side of her isn’t as prevalent – but that’s what makes the sex scene so effective. When they’re separated from the goings-on of Treadstone and assassin’s, she’s the one who’s in control – not Bourne. She’s still dynamic, however, and retains a bit of sensitivity – as she allows Bourne to decide whether to reciprocate her initial kiss. It’s kind and respectful, even in a moment where she’s clearly the party in control. It’s a genuinely interesting character moment – both for its inversion of our expectations, and the way that inversion is used to expand our understanding of both characters. Each actor has genuine motivation to reciprocate a very real and well-realized attraction, and it’s nice to see that in a thriller movie every once in a blue moon.

Jason Bourne hits theaters on July 29th, and heralds the return of series vets, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. Look forward to the closest we’ll ever get to a good Splinter Cell movie.

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