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The Anti-US Bourne

Sometimes I feel like criticizing Bill O'Reilly is so easy I must be falling into a trap, like he designs what he says not to actually say anything but to elicit the sort of impassioned immediate rebuttals from the left … Read More

By / August 30, 2007

Sometimes I feel like criticizing Bill O'Reilly is so easy I must be falling into a trap, like he designs what he says not to actually say anything but to elicit the sort of impassioned immediate rebuttals from the left that can often end up sounding self-righteous, hysterical. That said, this gem written for the Jewish World Review is ridiculous—and not even really because of my politics, but because Bourne was actually an awesome movie. But I refuse to quote him. At Slate, Mickey Kaus defends O’Reilly’s claim that The Bourne Supremacy is a typically anti-American movie:

 I wish I could say Bill O'Reilly was wrong about Paul Greengrass' Bourne Ultimatum being an anti-American film, but I saw it last weekend and O'Reilly's right. It's not just that the script plays on opposition to Bush anti-terror tactics–waterboarding, etc. Or that in a moment of calm hero Matt Damon utters maybe 15 of the 40 words he speaks in the film and explains that he's simply trying to apologize for … well, the CIA's sins, or maybe America's. Just because you oppose waterboarding and believe the U.S. has a lot to apologize for doesn't make you anti-American. The problem is the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right. It is a big hit overseas. …

 The film also made me feel guilty, because I watched Greengrass' United 93 and left convinced it was a searing indictment of Bush's behavior in the hours after 9/11. (Air controllers spend much of the film trying to locate the AWOL President so they can obtain an order to shoot down the hijacked jet.) I didn't know anything about Greengrass, and the film looked like it had been based on actual records by a meticulously dispassionate observer. But Greengrass' Bourne film undermines his credibility and retrospectively dissolves United 93's anti-Bush power. I don't trust anything the man makes. … P.S.: Has Big Hollywood made a single non-anti-US post-9/11 film I missed? I can't remember one (aside from Team America: World Police, which was a self-mocking puppet cartoon).. … And don't say World Trade Center. That passed up several potentially epic patriotic moments (e.g. the Dave Karnes story) in favor of a soggy tribute to the fraternity of New York transit cops. … Next up: In the Valley of Elah, a well-made version of the Scott Beauchamp Story. … Is it the international market that makes our studios behave this way? I sense an underserved domestic niche. …

It being several days later, Christopher Orr has pretty much said what needed to be said in response to the “jingoistic nonsense” claims that the movie’s anti-American, here and here and here. I’d only add that at this point you’d think it was obvious that the conflation between the American government and institutions and America itself is something that should be deconstructed, not perpetrated, by Americans. The “this isn’t Us” line is clearly, and justifiably, anti-CIA, which really is the patriotic position to take. As Orr notes, the movie does put forward an alternate version of America, which is one in which Bourne the individual reclaims morality from bureaucracy—the fact that he only says 15 or 40 words is a nice alternative to shrill empty protest, too.

Also, I would hope that the international market pressures our studios to make self-critical films. World Trade Centert did try to be patriotic, and thought it was responding to American demand, but failed and failed boringly (bring on Any Given Sunday II, Stone!) finding out it wasn’t (so did Greengrass' United 93, I think, which, somewhat understandably, wasn't brave enough to tell any sort of made-up story, hiding in the robes of objectivity, instead). O’Reilly was, however, sort of right about his “impressionable audiences”: movies shape the sentiment as much as (probably more than) they reflect them, which is why 50 years later a movie like The House on 92nd Street, which I saw as part of the NYC Noir series at Film Forum a few weekends ago, has us laughing, and unusually loudly, where our parents seriously hooted and cheered. 

Oh and right: if you  love/hate America, read these. 

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