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The Bourne Suicide

On Sunday night, I ended up watching the Bourne Ultimatum, the final in the three Jason Bourne films. It picks up directly after The Bourne Supremacy, so if you haven't seen the second film, it's probably best you do. My friend told me I should watch it beforehand, and I did, though I doubt you need to have watched the film before, since all the Bourne films are a retread of the same plot.

I don't really have much to say about either film, except that they're competent in what they do, but you won't remember either long after you've left. You got a spare Sunday night going, there are worse ways to spend your time.

What struck me, while watching the second film, however, was just what a cheap narrative trick suicide is. In the second film, Brian Cox, who plays the Prime Shadowy American Operative With Secrets (as he did in the first film), has the idiotic idea of connecting his plan to make illegal millions to the Amnesiac Killer Seeking Redemption for Half Remembered Evils in Hiding, Matt Damon. His plan is to frame him for a murder. Now, ignoring the simple stupidity of that concept, there comes a point, towards the end of the film, when the Amnesiac Killer Seeking Redemption Who Is No Longer in Hiding gathers the evidence he needs from Cox's character to clear his government assassin name, and leave the Prime Shadowy American Operative ruined. At this point, however, the Prime takes a gun, places it against his head, and shoots himself out of the film. The problem with this, of course, is that nowhere within the film do you get the idea that Cox's character, when pushed, will react this way; rather, throughout the film, you have this sense of desperation from him, this sense that when he is faced with a crisis, he will lash out at those around him--which he does, of course, in trying to have the Amnesiac Killer killed, bullying Joan Allen's Believer in America, and snapping the neck of The Innocent Associated with The Believer when he stumbles upon the plot. But, when presented with a tape recording of his own confession, Cox then waits until confronted by Allen to kill himself.

And I thought, as I watched that, "Who wrote this shit?"

And then I thought, "When was the last time I saw a convincing suicide in a movie?"

In fact, I'll move it moreso: when was the last time I saw a convincing suicide portrayed, anywhere?

Which, of course, has lead me to thinking that suicide, in fiction, is such a cheap narrative tool. It's a way to give a sudden, quick, and relatively clean end to your antagonist and the conflict he or she causes within a plot, because, once a character has suicided, their conflict is often reduced to either a simplistic one two, or is just removed from the fiction. It's almost the opposite of suicide in reality, wherein the family and friends who are left after the suicide, are left with the messy, difficult situation in which they are trying to make sense of it. Of course, there are fictions that do deal with this--but here, to the best of my shaky, early morning recollection, the suicide often starts the film, so it's credible portrayal is never needed. But so often you see suicide is a suitable end for villains, as if their moral corruptibility within the plot somehow allows for the audience to understand that, yes, of course, they will respond to any difficult situation by taking their own life, an action in today's society that is considered cowardly and reprehensible by most.

So, I am now on the look out for fictions that give convincing portrayals of suicide. I'm sure they're out there. I have never before thought, I want to read convincing suicides, but I do, now, and so I am looking for narratives in which the main character (or a main character) reaches a point in the text where the only answer, the only logical outcome for him or her, is suicide.

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benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
heh. no, i haven't seen the film, but that's an interesting little controversy over it--especially given that he admits to faking other credentials.
ataxi
Sep. 12th, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
"It's almost the opposite of suicide in reality, wherein the family and friends who are left after the suicide, are left with the messy, difficult situation in which they are trying to make sense of it."

Not if you think about murder suicides. Suddenly all the complexities of trial, evidence, sentence etc. go out the window - the criminal has shot himself. Happens all the time in "reality".

I'd hazard a guess that "no possible future quality of life" is a number two contender for suicide after severe depression.

The Bourne series is full of cheap cheese though. Cheapest of the cheap was the Franke Potente character's death at the start of the second one. Also, I really liked Ultimatum, because it was a superbly handled action film - many of the sequences were among the best few Hollywood action scenes ever, I thought - but it has an unquestionably shit climax.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
well, murder suicides still have impact. it's often a more difficult situation for the person who kills their family or loved one, and then kills themselves. but i do see your point.

i didn't find ULTIMATUM much of much, though i did like that scene in the train station and with the assest desh. which, i suppose, is most of the film.
chrisbarnes
Sep. 12th, 2007 01:46 am (UTC)
The French film Cache ("Hidden" is its English title) with Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche features a sudden and shocking suicide that seemed to me to make no sense at first, but did on further reflection. Interesting movie.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
cool. shall have a look.
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wyldemusick
Sep. 12th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)
Falling down. The only option the Michael Douglas character has is suicide by cop -- because he's not left himself the option of surrender or stopping.

Christopher Walken's character in The Deer Hunter pretty much commits suicide as well, via Russian Roulette; it's pretty much an act of final desperation.

Still, these are situations where the suicides are at the mercy of outside agencies rather than being direct and active in the suicide.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
yeah, see, the mercy of the ouside agencies thing is not what i'm looking for. what i want is when a character does it to themself.
I must protest, kind sir ... - box_in_the_box - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I must protest, kind sir ... - benpeek - Sep. 12th, 2007 03:13 am (UTC) - Expand
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frogworth
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)
"Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east."
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:18 am (UTC)
yeah, but BRAVE NEW WORLD is hardly recent, is it? and savage's suicide is not so much about him, i found, but rather the commentary about what he represents...
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elenuial
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:17 am (UTC)
Lots and lots of Japanese fiction. Lots and lots of American fiction emulating Japanese fiction (often poorly). But that's a different cultural context, and hardly what you're looking for, I think.

Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" ends in a powerful suicide in a (strangely) American context. And the protagonist's actions are based on his interpretation of a Japanese mindset.

For a very bizarre depiction of the effects of suicide on a modern/postmodern culture, I recommend the Japanese film "Suicide Club," which may border on realistic or absurd, depending on the scene. But it's very interesting.

I'm going to skip all the "heroic battle suicide" stories, and throw out some close-but-not-quite options: Toni Morrison's "Beloved" has something close to a suicide as the seminal event, but much more horrifying (to me); Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" has one major suicide and another almost-suicide that fuels the interweaving narratives; Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," which informs that former narrative, features a character who almost commits suicide but resolves not to by finding joy in the mundaneness and triviality of her socialite life.

Then there are stories where the protagonist chooses to accept death as the consequence of his/her actions. "Fatal Attraction" immediately comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others.

Nothing by Phillip K. Dick pings the radar, but I'm sure there must be something. "Ubik" comes close, but doesn't really fit the bill.

This is off the top of my head... I'm sure there are others, and I'd be interesting and hearing about them.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)
yeah, there is the japanese stuff. there's the film HARI KURI which has a very painful, very real suicide in it, and that is the centre of the whole film.

(that's the kind of thing i'm looking for, btw. i want the thing where a character kills him or herself, rather than someone else doing it for them; and i want it to be credible.)

but in the case of GHOST DOG, ghost dog's actual suicide is not done by himself, but by the gangster, and you can argue that it's not really suicide, but rather the final fulfilment of his percieved duty to the other character.

i'll check out SUICIDE CLUB.
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catsparx
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
what you say is interesting... but hands off the Bourne series. I utterly LOVE those movies!
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)
:P

they're bland.
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ataxi
Sep. 12th, 2007 04:01 am (UTC)
This whole post generalises pretty well to "death in fiction rarely reflects the reality of death", and then to "violence in fiction rarely reflects the reality of violence", and then to "fiction rarely reflects the reality of anything much".

If the suicide in Supremacy is a cheap narrative fixup, what about all the murders?
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC)
nah, that's not really what i'm talking about. i see your point, but what i'm more interested in his just if they can make the suicide a believable action for the character--that it is, somehow, a trait that you can see within him or her, and thus, when they reach the point where it happens, it is something that you can see in them.

of course, the same thing can be said about the murders. but i was just thinking about the suicide stuff.
mattdoyle
Sep. 12th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC)
too lazy to read all the comments, but can i make two suggestions:

Gods and Monsters (McKellan killing himself not really that tacky, but was kinda inevitable)

and, much as everyone hates the film, Alien 3. I actually think Ripley killing herself is one of the few good things about that movie...then they had to press the restart button with alien resurrection (sorta)
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
yeah, i guess i can kinda see the GODS AND MONSTERS one. as for ALIEN 3, that's not really a suicide, but a i'll sacrifice myself cause i know i'm going to die kinda thing. it's not really the same as real suicide, i don't think.
(no subject) - mattdoyle - Sep. 12th, 2007 04:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - Sep. 12th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC) - Expand
kaaronwarren
Sep. 12th, 2007 05:47 am (UTC)
Then there's the long and sickening suicide by alchohol in John O'Brien's "Leaving Las Vegas".
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 11:31 am (UTC)
yes, i suppose you're right about LEAVING LAS VEGAS. i don't think i ever thought much of that as a film, though, so i figure that's why it didn't pop into my mind.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 12th, 2007 05:57 am (UTC)
Lemming has an interesting variation on suicide.

---factory farmer
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
lemmings are ignorable ;)
paulma
Sep. 12th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)
I found the suicide in 2:37 unnecessarily repulsive and not particularly convincing.

As someone who has been recently touched by suicide (http://melbfilmblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/happy-18th-birthday-abhi.html), I found the depiction in Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely very authentic and moving. Of the 40 films I saw at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, it was my favourite.

I thought the suicide in Hidden was effective and believable, though its suddenness certainly made it shocking.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 11:36 am (UTC)
i'm sorry to hear about your son in this way, man. my sympathies for you and all of yours.

thanks for the recommendations of the two films. i'll be sure to check them out--who did HIDDEN?
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(Anonymous)
Sep. 12th, 2007 09:37 am (UTC)
Have you read The Virgin Suicides?

It was mostly from the perspective of friends and family, so we never really know why they commit suicide, but I felt that it dealt with the aftermath well.
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)
yeah, i've read THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. i found it particularly unconvincing about their suicides, actually, and i felt it was more about the boys, and the black comedy of coming of age and such. this probably sounds like i didn't dig the book, but i kinda did--enough to buy eugines (spelt wrong) next book, MIDDLESEX.
kazzibee
Sep. 12th, 2007 09:52 am (UTC)
so perhaps the trick is to come up with a suicide follow-up... something that complicates the viewer-presumed resolution caused by the suicide.

last night we watched cellular. while I kept jumping between "this is crap" and "ooh", I enjoyed the plot and I also enjoyed the way it was carried forward. predictable but good story movement. the lead guy was annoying. all the acting was bad. but i still enjoyed it... go figure!
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 11:39 am (UTC)
is cellular the one in the phone booth on the street?
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ex_chrisbil
Sep. 12th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
Once Were Warrior's Grace?
benpeek
Sep. 12th, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
never seen it--just seen the sequel.
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