The Bourne Identity Plot Synopsis
The Bourne Identity wastes absolutely no time getting right to the heart of its drama. As the movie opens, we cut to the sea late as night as an unknown man lies face-down, bullet holes in his back. After being rescued by some Italian fishermen, he sets out to discover just who he is and why he ended up in this predicament in the first place. The only trouble is, he’s a marked man.
Assassins are after him and he soon finds himself on the run, evading the authorities while wrestling with his troubled, unknown past.
Who is this amnesia-stricken man?
As we soon find out, the man in the water is a guy by the name of Jason Bourne. Bourne is an extremely competent covert operative who’s suffering from amnesia after going rogue following a botched mission. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves here, we’ll circle back to this later on!
For now, there are more pressing issues at hand, specifically that involving Treadstone.
What is Treadstone?
Operation Treadstone is the code-name for a black ops program. In the novels, it’s known as Treadstone71 and it’s a top-secret black ops program kept under wraps by the CIA.
This program essentially recruits US service members and turns them into nearly superhuman assassins. Highly controversial, the methods here include a behaviour-modification program to break down morality and effectively make these living weapons. It’s worth noting that we see a lot more of this in Bourne Ultimatum.
This would also explain the numerous headaches that Bourne and his associates suffer from, typified by a sniper assassin later on in the movie who bemoans about terrible headaches he suffers from.
How does Bourne escape Switzerland?
After evading the swiss police, Bourne offers $20k to Marie Kruetz, a 26 year old German woman, to drive him to Paris. Bourne knows she has financial issues, and she’s erratically living from place to place. According to the CIA operatives who later look into her, she “pops up on the grid erratically.”
Anyway, Marie agrees to help and the pair drive to Bourne’s residence in Paris, where he learns more about his shadowy life. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. An assassin busts in but Bourne defeats him with a pen. What a badass. Anyway, he doesn’t get much from him save for a wanted poster, as the man suddenly springs up and launches himself off the balcony to his death.
Now, while all this is going on, the head of Treadstone, Conklin, activates all his best agents to “bring Bourne in a body bag by sundown.” He’s under extreme pressure from Deputy Director Abbott, who has problems of his own following a failed assassination attempt on an African Dictator called Wombosi.
What happened with Wombosi? Why did Bourne fail his mission?
As the film progresses, snippets of the past start to bleed through. After dispatching several different operatives, including that aforementioned sniper, Bourne manages to track down Conklin, who’s with his logistics technician, Nicky Parsons. He holds them both up at gunpoint and demands the truth.
Conklin reveals that Bourne was given the mission to assassinate Wombosi. He used the alias of John Michael Kane to gather the intel needed to bring the fight to Wombosi. And he was in. After choosing the striking point – the yacht out at sea – Bourne recalls flashbacks where he had Wombosi at gunpoint.
However, Bourne lost his nerve whilst seeing Wombosi surrounded by his children and fled, shot in the back during his escape and falling into the sea. He chose this secluded, isolated spot as it would make it seem like one of Wombosi’s men had him killed, rather than the CIA arranging a hit.
Anyway, this catches us up to the moments at the start of the film, explaining what happened to bring Bourne into the water in the first place.
After learning the truth, Bourne decides to resign from Treadstone and warns Conklin not to follow him. After dispatching a bunch of grunts en-route to the house, Bourne leaves but there’s one final twist to come.
Who does Manheim kill? And why?
Throughout the movie we’ve seen snippets of another operative lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. Thanks to some clever editing, we’re led to believe that this guy is going to kill Bourne when in reality, he steps out his car and confronts Conklin, shooting him numerous times with a silenced pistol.
He wasn’t actually under orders from Conklin but instead hired by Abbott, who decides to clean up this mess once and for all. Conklin had caused chaos across the organization, exploiting Treadstone, costing the company precious resources and money, as well as leaving the whole operation in disarray. Killing him seems like the most logical way of resolving this.
How does The Bourne Identity end?
Abbott shuts down Treadstone, before pitching his new project, codenamed Operation: Blackbriar, to a committee. We’ll see more of that in The Bourne Ultimatum.
After earlier telling Marie to leave and let him deal with Treadstone alone, Jason Bourne tracks down Marie and finds her shacked up in a scooter renting shop in Mykonos.
The two reunite on the Greek island and seemingly live happily ever after…but will that change in the sequel?
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