Have you ever had amnesia? I have, and I don’t recommend it.
I woke up one night, my head pounding with pain that I don’t have words to describe, and couldn’t understand why I had such a bad headache. All I seemed to understand was that it was the worst headache I ever had. Why did my head hurt? And what time was it? The clock said 4:41, but was it the morning or in the evening? It had to be in the evening because it was still dark outside, but why didn’t I know? Then, feeling an itching sensation around my right wrist I noticed one of those plastic emergency wristband around it, and I had no idea why it was there. That in turn motivated me to try to remember what I did the day before, but doing that only made my head hurt worse. What day was yesterday, anyway? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what day of the week it was. I got up and looked at my calendar, but I couldn’t figure out what day it was. I knew what month it was, but when I tried to remember what year it was, I didn’t know. I looked at the back of the calendar to remind myself.
I recognized that I was at home in my own room, but I had no idea how I got there or why I was there. It was kind of scary, to say the least. And I’ve already mentioned how bad my head hurt. It was one of those hurts that you only understand if you’ve had a headache so bad that you don’t know how your skull is staying intact. And no, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I was reminded about what it was like to not remember anything when I first saw The Bourne Identity. You remember it. Jason Bourne, the protagonist, wakes up on a shipping boat at the beginning, and he has no idea who he is, where he is, or why he is there. Those questions permeate the entire series: as Jason searches for who he is, where he has come from, and what his purpose is in life, viewers are motivated to ask themselves the same questions. Who are we? Why am I here?
Jason gets his first clue from his body. You’ll remember that the fisherman that removed the bullets from his back also removed a device from his hip that projected a bank number and the location of a bank on the wall. The things that were in his body gave him clues as to who he was and where he should go to find out more about himself. Who he was is written in his body. And his previous actions affected his body. The body is a clue–its condition, its skills, and its fitness hint at who he is and has been.
At the bank, Jason opens a deposit safe box and finds money, a handgun, and a passport. Actually, he finds multiple passports. The first one he sees is for Jason Bourne, so he assumes that name. But as he puts this one aside, he notices that it is just one of many. There are many passports in the case, all with his picture on them, but all with a different name, birth date, and country of origin.
But all of these identities, while somewhat various, are all joined together in a single persona–him. He is the composite of the various identities, his different selves.
I say different, but they really aren’t so different. Depending on our perspective, we could say that he is a person with many different identities, or we could say that those many different identities can all be reduced to something in common–him.