The Bourne Identity

An amnesiac with a bullet in his brain, he thinks he might be Carlos the assassin or the anti-Carlos just as bad.

He’s the wartime footing left for dead by enemy action.

The terribly poetic script gives him a Swiss bank account number on a piece of microfilm surgically implanted in his hip, as well.



The dramatic device of letting Joseph tell his troubles to Potiphar amplifies the latter’s role to fit the conception of a workaday Egypt visited by foreign traders such as the Hebrews whose patriarch is Jacob. It’s the several dimensions of the story brought into play like galleons in a naumachia that give it dramatic interest, and most strikingly the Egyptian court, ruled by a strange unwonted Pharaoh (perhaps echoing Christopher Plummer in The Royal Hunt of the Sun) not sober and rational like his steward Potiphar, but rather attuned to the spritely world of the gods and their communications, of which his dreams are an example revealed by Joseph (who is another, Pharaoh divines).

Joseph is seen as the type of Christ, which is just the sort of reading calculated to raise the backhanded hackles of Professor Bloom, who humorously rails against it in a collection of Bible essays, and who recently (in much the same spirit, one might fancy) regaled the world with Shakespeare as inventor of the human personality, thus ousting Giotto from pride of place in the ęsthete’s pantheon. There is enough refined thinking here to be going on with, and for the rest, who can understand the objection?

As Joseph’s brothers are making ready to depart from Egypt with their asses heavy laden with grain, a search is made for the golden chalice one of them is supposed to have stolen. The bags of grain are ripped open, the chalice is found, the brothers are hauled in, and a much lightened ass calmly munches the grain spilled out on the ground.

For an American television director, Roger Young is surprisingly adept in the British stage tradition exemplified by Don Taylor’s Oedipus at Colonus with its unerring epiphanies. Ben Kingsley’s Potiphar is the great spirit of Egypt, grave and reasonable, a subtle mirror to his Moses. Lesley Ann Warren as his wife is an inward construction along lines similar to her gangster’s wife in Victor/Victoria, but with an altogether different sort of refinement simmering along the fringes of her courtly wig. Martin Landau’s Jacob is Jacob, the part is filled to the brim by a great actor who knows it. The Australian dancer Paul Mercurio is a receptive Joseph, and his brothers are perhaps intended to be so rowdy.



The Ten Commandments and Moses the Lawgiver gave us the heroic Moses and the man of sagacity. This is the inspired prophet, modeled by Ben Kingsley on the older Cocteau in the exodus, and on the older Olivier for the Pisgah sight (the younger inarticulate Moses is an homage to Donald Pleasence). The entire production is characterized by a careful respect for tradition. Pharaoh Memefta wakes up in bed among frogs echoing The Godfather. Aaron emerges from the sanctuary in full Levitical garb like Alan Bates at prayer in The Fixer. Miriam stricken is tended by Moses out of Ben-Hur, and his last view of Canaan is a conscious reflection of Preminger.

A book can easily be written on the performances by Kingsley and Langella. The latter as Memefta is the worldly man par excellence, who speaks of the Hebrews as “Egypt’s workforce” and almost enjoys the impudence of anyone who dares to challenge him. Moses is in a contrary position expressed by a sequence showing the Hebrews brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai at their own behest to hear the voice of the Lord. Ten thousand shofars and a gale prostrate them, and Moses is implored to interpret. He begins to speak and gradually they stand to, uttering the commandments.

The miracles are done miraculously, based on the earlier models, and in particular the crossing of the Red Sea. As its waves crash on the rocks below him, Moses grasps his staff at the midpoint and holds it vertical for a very long time, then he begins to laugh. The Hebrews are huddling against the blowing sands, now they look up and see the parted waters.

“Celebrate its presence in our midst,” they are bidden at the consecration of the golden calf, “it represents the force that brought us out of Egypt.”

Young shows himself adept at building longer sequences as well as short, quick takes ending with a dissolve. The variety of rhythm thus achieved is remarkable.