Photo by Michael Heilemann
I like the Bourne movies.
A popular fanboy question is: who would win in a fight between Jason Bourne and James Bond? Those of us who find such discussions silly must nonetheless acknowledge that Bourne and Bond are competitors at least in the commercial sense. Though the Matt Damon Bourne movies have not been around nearly so long as the Bond films, I give them credit for carving out a distinct niche in the espionage thriller genre. Aside from the interesting political overtones, consider the differences between Bourne and Bond the characters: Bond is having fun. He gets to seduce women, visit casinos, drink expensive wine, and stay in luxury resort hotels. Bourne is not having fun. His fondest wish is to be left alone. He spends most of his time alone and probably never spends two nights in the same place. Bond is a master of the witty one-liner. Bourne never cracks a joke or even smiles (although there is humor in the Bourne movies).
Although I like Bond plenty, I find something especially appealing about Bourne. It's both the destination and path that he represents. Bourne embodies the pinnacle of versatile competence--fluent in a dozen languages, in peak physical condition, the baddest driver (interesting how "baddest" is the opposite of "worst"), and able to improvise a counter-response to any situation. Spiritually, he manifests a Zenlike lack of concern for nonessential frippery and responds to a crisis by becoming even calmer than usual. And he wasn't born thus--it comes as the result of long and intense training.
One of life's phenomena that I find most fascinating is the human being's ability to deliberately reshape himself or herself in a new image. Jason Bourne's training literally made him into a new person with a new name. A little bit of education (in the broader sense: mental, physical, or spiritual) gives you a little new knowledge. A lot of education transforms you into a new person. That's why the Bourne movies are the ultimate makeover story.
I'd like to resurrect the Greek word arete (defined by Wikipedia as "the act of living up to one's full potential") to describe the common thread running through the following:
Body for Life (physical training), Getting Things Done (personal organization), How to Develop a Super-Power Memory, Zen in the Art of Archery (philosophy), The Biggest Loser, Breaking Free (psychology/self-help), How to Learn Any Language, Thought and Choice in Chess (cognitive science), What Not to Wear, Clutter's Last Stand.
I'm interested in all these--so are a lot of people. Any of them has transformative potential. You could find plenty of things to add to the list, depending on where your interests lie, but to me they're all just parts of the big puzzle: arete.