Jason Bourne versus Woody Allen

I have a game I sometimes like to play when I’m watching television with Dutch, and I got a chance again last Sunday. Flipping through the television schedule to kill time between playoff football games, I saw what I was looking for; I turned to the station I wanted and waited. Dutch was only half watching the television as she lounged on the sofa reading one of my issues of the New Yorker (yes, I do subscribe, and no, it’s not from snobbery) or one of her issues of Runner’s World (of which I am an arch-enemy for reasons I will have to discuss in a later post some time). I tried to be non-chalant as I eyed the program and glanced occasionally at her.

On the television, a man used a pair of tweezers to wrest a bullet from another man’s back and plop it into a metal tin. I saw Dutch’s face turn to an expression of disgust, then back to her magazine. The TV man then used a scalpel and the tweezers again to extract a strange, perhaps inch-long, metal object from the man’s back. Another grimace from Dutch, back to the reading. A few more minutes went by before Dutch said, “What is this?”

I smiled mischievously. “This doesn’t look familiar?” Matt Damon’s face appeared on the screen, and Dutch shook her head.

“Is this another Bourne movie?”

“This is the Bourne movie,” I said. We watch perhaps ten or fifteen minutes more, but the game was effectively over. It’s called “How Long Can I Watch a Bourne Film Before Dutch Notices and Shakes Her Head.”

It’s not that she doesn’t like the movies; we have all three of them on DVD, and she’s the one who bought them. Partly she doesn’t understand why I would watch them on regular television when I can watch them without commercials any time I want. Partly she’s probably a bit tired of seeing them. Partly she doesn’t understand how I can be flipping through the channels, see any moment of any one of the three films, and become immediately engrossed. And “engrossed” is the word.

The funny thing is, I am not, in general, an action movie fan. There are a number of classic westerns I enjoy, and I’m a huge fan of old film noir, but in general most of the action films of the past twenty to twenty-five years don’t hold much interest for me. I’m really much more of a Woody Allen guy, truth be told, and Jason Bourne as portrayed by Matt Damon is about as anti-Woody Allen as you can get. So what is it that so fascinates me? In a word, it’s “decisiveness.” In his way of talking, in his very way of movie, the Bourne character acts. He does not hesitate; he does not hem and haw; he does not deliberate. He makes decisions and executes them with certainty, even improvising on the spot to remove any obstacle that might materialize.

I have to confess that as a struggling writer sitting in his basement at 5 a.m., in the dark both literally and figuratively, the idea of action is highly appealing. I have spent most of my life hemming and hawing, deliberating, wondering, imagining the worst, shrinking from too much risk, ruminating over what I might or might not have done wrong, weighing choices, and often deciding “Well, maybe I’ll come at this again later (tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, after I have died and been reincarnated).” In short, I live life like a Woody Allen character.

Now for those who, like Dutch, cannot think of Woody Allen without thinking of young-girl-creepiness, you must understand that for a young man like myself growing up in the mid to late 1970s, the heroes of Allen’s films were people I could identify with: small, thin, bespectacled, smart-aleck writer types, readers who somehow managed to get the interest of attractive women and a modicum of respect. These films gave me hope, both personally and artistically that my own perspective might find a place in this world. But, by and large, this has not proven to be an age for contemplation, rumination, or reflection. None of the candidates for president spends much time touting his powers of deliberate analysis, or his willingness to pause and take time to consider all the alternatives and long-term consequences before acting. This is the Age of Bourne, the Age of Action, where we all aspire to be–as George W. once described himself–The Decider. Apparently I, too, have been caught up in that ethos, in the appeal of Knowing and Acting and Doing.

I did come home to myself, though, the other night watching Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I remembered what it was like to not only consider but to actually linger for a bit over the past, over the other lives that we all have led and might yet lead–that I might yet lead, might yet do. I run and I write and I work and I parent and I am a partner to Dutch. But action is not the essence of me. This Deliberator may be part of my problem, but in this age, it is also part of my solution, part of who I am, what helps me step out of the stream of this insane world and laugh and feel. Anyway, I hope so. Maybe I’ll stop by the video store this weekend and get a copy of Annie Hall or Play it Again Sam.

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