I’ve seen all of the Bourne movies. Within the original trilogy, I think each one is a little bit better than the one before it. Throughout the course of the movies (including the recent Jason Bourne), Bourne learns more about himself and his mysterious past.

Let’s talk about identity for a moment.

I think Jason Bourne, as a character, is more compelling when he doesn’t know much about himself.

Odd? Maybe. As writers, we’re supposed to know ourselves and our characters. But do the characters need to know themselves? Many people would probably say yes, and I think most of the time, they would be right. Outside of self-discovery stories, I think the vast majority of characters know themselves. Those who are on that quest to discover themselves tend to succeed.

What if it’s better if they hadn’t?

The rest of the Bourne movies are quite good, and Bourne remains a good character. But in The Bourne Identity, there’s something going on behind the eyes. Bourne looks at things with the mix of a spy’s analysis and a sense of newness and wonder. (This is a big reason Matt Damon’s performance is so compelling.)

Bourne is a good example of a character who doesn’t need to–and maybe shouldn’t–know himself well. Self-discovery stories would be another example. There’s also unreliable narrators, who may not know themselves very well (and probably aren’t being honest about it anyway).

How well do your characters know themselves? Is it important that they do or don’t?


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