(The following contains spoilers for the latest Bourne film – though its nothing you couldn’t reasonably guess if you’ve seen such a movie in the last 20 years.)
Towards the end of the latest Bourne movie, moralistic CIA cog Joan Allen - having acquired a black bag full of dirty agency secrets - hides herself in a basement, dutifully faxing off the incriminating pages. She is blowing the whistle on the Blackbriar program, an almost comically small-time (by present standards) assassin-training program, responsible, in addition to waxing several internationals, for killing a couple of U.S. citizens. The aggregate response to this information is consistent with the genre – outrage towards the Program, accolades for Allen, a fictional President commissions a special investigation, and our bad guy CIA cogs are shown being taken away in cuffs. Movie over - world safe.
It happens that in this week’s New Yorker there is a lengthy article detailing the set-up and operation of the CIA black-sites in the years following 9/11. Explained at length is the resurrection and perfection of Cold War torture techniques by head CIA policy makers, the process by which thousands were kidnapped and deported, regardless of nationality, and the generally illegal and reprehensible conduct of the agency over the past six years. The fact that none of this is really news mitigates only slightly the effect of reading this information in the New Yorker, and even less the resounding silence to which this article will, undoubtedly, be met.
Which brings us back to Allen in the basement, frantically hitting the send button, and begging the question - Who is she sending these documents to? The movie doesn’t specify, choosing instead to gesture vaguely towards that always-as-yet-uninformed justicemachine of post-Watergate spythrillercinema, the press, and by extension, the American citizenry. If only they knew what those agency rogues were up to! Then the bastards would really pay, and our hero’s three-picture odyssey of nifty carnage could be tidily brought to a conclusion. If only.
We all have different cinema fictions that irk us, little bits of untruth that, despite ninety or so minutes of credulity straining stunts and downright laughable plot twists, stand out as particularly outlandish, puncturing, at their worst, the delicate membrane of our suspended disbelief. Yesterday, after setting down the New Yorker and hopping the subway to the cinema, I added the-existence-of-a-populace-and-a-press-and-a-president-capable-of-meeting-the-
something-approaching-a-demand-for-justice to my list of things I simply cannot accept as realistic, even, as it were, in a spy movie.